The steamship San Francisco left New‑York on the 22nd of December, to take its place in the line of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, plying between Panama and San Francisco, and having on board the Third Regiment of the United States Artillery, as well as several cabin passengers. On Saturday morning, Dec. 24, when •about 200 miles east of Charleston, a violent northwester sprang up, and the sea commenced running very high. For several hours the steamer stemmed the waves nobly, and it was generally remarked by all the passengers on board, and also confirmed by Lieutenant Murray, of the United States Navy, that she was the easiest vessel that they had ever sailed in.
About 12 o'clock that night, the engine stopped, owing to the piston rod of the air-pump having broken, and the vessel was left to the mercy of the waves. During the whole of that night, such of the cabin passengers as could be gathered together, assembled in the lower cabin, where, with Mr. Cooper, an Episcopal clergyman, they united in prayer to God for their preservation from the impending danger. The sea ran high all night, and great fears were entertained that the vessel would be unable to hold together much longer. At about 8 o'clock in the morning, she was struck amidships by a violent sea carrying the entire main saloon, the paddle-boxes and smoke-stacks overboard, which caused the hurricane deck to break in half and fall upon the cabin floor. When the sea struck the vessel, it precipitated itself into the lower cabin, where the passengers were still engaged in prayer, and instantly there were three feet of water in that part of the vessel. The horror of the moment cannot be described. Families had been gathered together, clinging to each other. Fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters — from the gray-haired veterans of the Army, to the child which nestled at the mother's breast — all were seen groping their way through the water to the upper deck. Several, in the excitement of the moment sprang overboard, and many of the first who reached the deck were under the impression that the steamer was foundering, and that it would be useless to go below again. I was of the number who entertained this opinion. We remained many hours upon the deck, the sea washing over us at every lurch of the vessel, and the cold northwest wind chilling us to the heart. I never experienced such intense cold. It had been truly said by one of the oldest sailors on board, who had braved many a storm, and had saved many a life under perilous circumstances, that persons had never met so untimely a grave in such a glorious conflict of the elements; for while the sea was running — to use a cant phrase, but a true one — "mountains high," the sky was clear as on a Summer's day, and the sun was shining as brightly as I ever remember to have seen it. One of the most heart-rending sights that I ever witnessed occurred upon the deck. It was that of Dr. Satterlee, a veteran surgeon of the Army, whose hair had grown white in the service, and who, in answer to the orders of his Government, had left his family and home, although verging on his 60th year, to join the regiment on their way to California. He was lying on the deck with but his night garment upon him, and perfectly drenched with water. His limbs had been severely bruised in the general crash, and I could not help feeling, even in this imminent hour of danger, that it was improper that the Government should allow an officer who had served his country so faithfully and so long to be sent, at his age, to so distant a station. He was, however, carried below, and, I am glad to say, is among the number who were rescued in the Kilby. It was a fearful sight to look upon the water immediately after the accident. I saw not less than 100 human beings clinging to spars, doors, and such other fragments as they could obtain for the preservation of their lives, but the next wave sealed their fate, and they were hurried without a moment's notice into eternity.
"Then rose from sea to sky the wild farewell —
Then shrieked the timid, and stood still the brave —
Then some leaped overboard with dreadful yell,
As eager to anticipate their grave;
And the sea yawn'd around her like a hell."
Two of the passengers remained upon deck for five hours after the accident, under the supposition that nothing but the deck itself was left, and that it was floating at the mercy of the waves. One of these persons was brought down stairs with his hands and feet frozen, but owing to the kindness and prompt attention of Lieut. F. R. Murray, of the U. S. Navy, and Dr. Wirtz, of the medical staff, the torpid circulation of his limbs was restored by stimulating applications.
Capt. Gardiner, an officer of the First Dragoons, was sleeping in one of the state rooms on the main deck, when the accident occurred. His servant-man had entered his state-room to tell him that they were in great danger; and had hardly uttered the words when the wave which had hurried so many into eternity swept the servant overboard, while Captain Gardiner, by a special Providence, was the only man on that deck who was saved. When I came down, I found my friend completely covered and surrounded by the débris of the hurricane deck, which had fallen upon him. He was slightly injured and very enfeebled, but, owing to the kindness of several officers, he was restored to comparative health, and when on board of the Kilby, afforded much valuable assistance to the other passengers, and was most justly esteemed by them as one of the most efficient of the officers of the Army who were rescued by that vessel. In the lower cabin, meanwhile, the consternation cannot be depicted. It baffles description. I noticed one family particularly when I went below. The affection which seemed to exist among its members, even in that hour of peril, was truly a beautiful sight. The mother, the father, the daughters and the grandchildren were all clinging together, and seemed each one more interested in the fate of the other, than in their individual safety. I allude to Major Merchant and his family. They are all saved — God be thanked! Lieutenant Colonel Burke, who was near me in the lower cabin, was struck by a brass railing from the skylight of the upper deck, which fell through upon him. He laid upon the floor on his back until the hour of our rescue, without a murmur, and bore his sufferings with Christian fortitude and resignation. Mr. Aspinwall, who had left New‑York for the benefit of his health, was in the cabin at the time of the accident, and on hearing that the ship was leaking immediately went below, and taking off his coat, assisted the men in bailing the ship. For several hours he continued there, cheering the people on until his strength gave way, and he was at length borne on a litter into the cabin in which the ladies were assembled. His conduct from the time of the catastrophe until our arrival in New‑York, has proved him to be a man of determined courage and energy, and perfectly resigned to his fate. Without a murmur he partook with the sailors the rations which were served out, while the soldiers and others around were grumbling. On Sunday, December 25, service was read to the passengers by Rev. Mr. Cooper, and prayers for speedy deliverance were offered up by Mr. Aspinwall and others. The storm continued to rage upon that day, and towards evening Lieutenant Murray, who had been the life and support, as it were, of others whose spirits had given way, reported a sail in sight. Soon after we found, as she approached, that she was the brig Napoleon, of Portland, and, in reply to a hail from Captain Watkins, her Captain promised to lay alongside until the passengers could be taken on board; but unfortunately that night a severe gale sprang up, and in the morning the Napoleon was invisible. Lieutenant Murray still encouraged us with the fond hope that we were in the track of vessels, and we need not despair. Towards evening the welcome words, "A sail in sight!" were again passed from mouth to mouth. On her approaching us we found her to be the Maria Freeman (bound to Liverpool, Nova Scotia). When she came with hailing distance we spoke her, and she promised to remain near us.
That night the gale continued still from the northwest, and the next morning, the Maria Freeman had also disappeared. A strange fate seemed to be hanging over us, and despair was more clearly depicted upon every countenance. All hopes seemed now to have vanished, and had it not been for Lieutenant Murray — the Good Samaritan of our little flock — many, I fear, would have lost their reason. The sufferings and privations of the ladies can only be imagined. Most of them had lost all their baggage, and every article of raiment, excepting a few which they themselves had saved about their persons. Such of them as had retained any extra clothing, generously distributed it to the needy. Several hours in each day were passed in substituting dry for wet clothes. The sea, which had been continually breaking over the vessel, came rushing in at intervals from the port-holes and skylights above, so that the floor of the cabin was always wet, and the mattresses upon which we laid were perfectly saturated.
On December 28, owing to the imprudence of the waiters in eating some pickled cabbage and such articles as they could procure, the diarrhoea broke out in the fore cabin of the vessel. Johnson, the head waiter, was the first victim, and the corpses of several others, dying from the same cause, were committed to the deep. This melancholy circumstance was only known to a few on board. During the morning the bark Kilby from New Orleans and bound to Boston, hove in sight, and reported herself short of provisions and water, and promised to remain alongside of us, which promise we had reason to hope would be fulfilled, from the fact of her being short of provisions. All hearts were cheered, and as the weather moderated our brave Captain was enabled on the following morning to ask the Captain of the Kilby to send his boats to the steamer, (our boats having of course been lost). On the next morning, when Captain Watkins boarded the Kilby, he, on behalf of the United States Government, contracted to pay the owners $15,000 to take as many of the passengers off the steamer on board his vessel as was possible. He further agreed to give the Captain $200 a day, on behalf of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, to lay alongside in case he should be obliged to do so for any great length of time. The Captain was also to receive $1,000 for his noble conduct in launching his boats when his crew had refused the duty, and the sea threatened to swallow him up with his frail craft, as well as five per cent primage on the amount contracted to be paid by the Government. At 3 o'clock P.M. the hawser was run to the bow of the Kilby, and soon after the disembarkation of the passengers commenced. Great fears were entertained by many that the boats would be swamped, owing to the rush to get into them. Several of the officers had provided themselves with weapons to keep back the crowd, and Colonel Gates addressed the troops, declaring that he would be the last to desert the ship, and that he hoped the officers and soldiers on board would follow his example, and wait with patience until their names were called. The first boat soon after came alongside. I was on the deck at the time, and shall never forget the scene of confusion which ensued. The first boat which left carried Col. Gates and family. After this the officers followed according to grade, and the boats continued plying to and fro until dark, at which time about one hundred passengers had been transferred to the Kilby. The last boat which crossed was swamped alongside of her, and the captain of the Kilby stated that he would prefer discontinuing the further disembarkation of passengers until the morning, as the sea was beginning to rise, and a violent northwester was again springing up.
So much has already been said with reference to the noble conduct of Captain Watkins and Mr. Mellus, that it would seem idle to add a further tribute to their bravery. The community are in possession of the facts, which will tell their own story, and further comment is unnecessary. I am desirous, however, of saying a few words of such of the officers of the vessel as have been less noticed by the press. Of these, the Purser, Theodore L. Schell, and the Storekeeper, Mr. Wickham, deserve special commendation. They were at the most prominent points of danger, doing their duty like men. The former came frequently into the passengers' cabin with a cheerful countenance, always bringing words of hope and comfort to the passengers, and making the best of everything. The chief engineer, Mr. John Marshall deserves the highest credit for his conduct throughout the whole of these trying scenes. When his assistant engineers had given out, he proved a host in himself, and performed the duties of a dozen men. In fact, there are many subordinates besides those I have already mentioned, who were equally tried and who equally proved themselves to be men. I cannot help here repeating the name of Lieut. Murray of the United States Navy, who deserves the highest credit that words can bestow for his activity, courage and intrepidity. Several of the officers of the Artillery displayed great courage and energy in their efforts to have the steamer pumped. Of these I feel myself in duty bound to allude particularly to Lieut. Charles S. Winder, Lieut. James Van Voast, and Lieut. Chandler.
Too much praise cannot be awarded to these young officers, who worked night and day to preserve the lives of those on board.
The provisions which were to have been sent on board the Kilby were not received, and we retired that night fully confident that on the morrow the necessaries of life, as well as the remainder of the passengers would be transferred to her. The names of those who, up to this moment, had reached the Kilby were:
Col. Gates, wife and family; Maj. Merchant (disabled) and family; Lieut. Col. Burke, severely injured; Dr. Satterlee, severely wounded; Captain Judd and wife; Dr. Wirtz, of the Medical Staff; Capt. Gardiner, 1st Dragoons, wounded; Lieut. Loeser, wife and Miss Eaton; Lieut. Fremonta and family; Lieut. Van Voast; Lieut. F. R. Murray, U. S. Navy; George Woolsey Aspinwall; James Lorimer Graham, Jr.; Antonio Fales, Belgian Consul; Madame Alex Besse; Mr. and Mrs. Alrio;º Rev. Mr. Cooper, wife and four children; Mrs. Maj. Wyse and child; Mr. F. H. Southworth; Mr. Farnworth, engineer, and about 100 soldiers.
At about 10 o'clock that night the hawser which had been run from the steamer was parted, and fears were entertained among the gentlemen passengers that we should lose sight of the steamer, which only proved too true, for the northwester which had threatened us returned with renewed force, and drifted us off. The following morning, finding ourselves out of sight of the steamer and exceedingly short of provisions, council was held in the cabin as to the most judicious course which should be pursued. I regret to say, as an impartial narrator, that several of the superior officers suggested the propriety of our giving up all hopes of the steamer, and steering for the nearest land. Lieutenant Murray, however, and some of the junior officers, came forward promptly and appealed to the sympathies of those on board, calling upon them in the names of those who were left behind to stand on her course towards the latitude where the steamer was supposed to be, which noble suggestion was finally determined upon. Thus two days were spent in a fruitless search. Meanwhile the provisions on board of the Kilby were fast diminishing. A rigid system of economy was immediately adopted, and an officer of the day was appointed in turn to deal out the rations to the passengers, as well as to the soldiers and crew. Biscuit on the second day was denied to the officers and the other male passengers throughout the vessel, and we were obliged to break open and make use of the corn which constituted part of the cargo, and which seems to have been most graciously provided, as if by a kind Providence, for our subsistence. This corn was used by roasting it like coffee, and then dealt out by the handful. Water was also a scarce commodity, and it was served out to us twice a day — our rations being a tumblerfull to every four men. To complete our frugal fare, each person received a piece of bacon, varying from the size of a fifty-cent to a dollar piece. During the fortnight which we passed on board the Kilby we were in constant fear of the water giving entirely out. On several occasions we were favored with rains, from which we were able to add to our little store, and a snow storm also fell, when we gathered a small supply of the refreshing element. The effect of our diet became quite apparent after the first two or three days, and all on board, were, more or less, affected with violent attacks of diarrhaea. We were constantly alternating between hope and fear. The Kilby, when we boarded her, was not only short of provisions but was deficient in the supply of sails and rigging, and had left New Orleans on her way to Boston, to be refitted there, as the Captain stated, because it could be done cheaper than in New Orleans.
Several times we approached ports in the United States, when by adverse winds we were driven back into the Gulf Stream. We were at one time in sight of Nantucket Shoals, and had to stand out to sea to avoid running ashore. At another time, by soundings, we supposed ourselves to be within •ten miles of Sandy Hook, and three lights being in sight, the Captain became quite sure that they were the Sandy Hook lights, (probably these lights proceeded from the relief steamer Alabama, as she took out a reflecting light). The greatest state of uncertainty prevailed as to our whereabouts, the weather being so thick that for several days the Captain was unable to take his observation. During all this time, the greater part of us has been stowed away in the hold, where one hundred bales of cotton had been taken out to make the necessary room — the Government officer having contracted to pay the highest market value for the cargo that was thrown overboard.
The confusion which had existed on board for several days, in regard to cooking in the galley, had been so great that stringent regulations were enforced by the officers on board, and orders were given that none but two cooks, who were appointed, should enter the galley. Guards were stationed at the doors to prevent intrusion. On the 11th of January, Lieutenant Fremont, the officer of the day, having gone forward, found two sailors in the galley, and gave orders to them to retire, which they refused to do, and on his attempting to eject them, they drew their knives upon him. On this, Lieutenant Fremont called for the corporal, and ordered him to bring the guard up to use the necessary force to carry out his orders, and demanded of the Captain the immediate arrest of the two sailors. Captain Low, however, pacified him by stating that in case these men were placed in irons the crew would mutiny, and they would lose the necessary assistance to work the vessel. Upon these grounds the Lieutenant allowed the matter to pass. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Fremont armed himself with a club the only weapon which at the moment was within his reach — and was about to drive the sailors from the galley. Upon this the crew collected together, and had the Lieutenant not desisted, there would undoubtedly have been a mutiny upon the spot.
On the evening of January 12, while standing in for Sandy Hook in a state of uncertainty as to our positive proximity to the coast, the Captain concluded to put out to sea again. In fact it was his only alternative, as a violent northwester was then blowing, and he was fearful of being driven on the Long Island coast. The crew, however, on ascertaining that the ship was again standing away from the shore, went in a body to the Captain, and refused any longer to perform their duties unless he would steer shoreward. Lieutenant Murray, on ascertaining the facts, immediately went forward, and after stating his position as a naval officer to the crew to give weight to his remarks, convinced them that the Captain was acting judiciously in bearing away, although they had actually extorted a promise from the captain that at 8 o'clock on the next morning he would make for the nearest shore, regardless of consequences. But few of the passengers of the Kilby were informed of this circumstance, and it can readily be imagined in the complication of our miseries, how much additional anxiety was thereby created. All night long we laid upon our cotton bales, praying for the morning. About 4 o'clock I was on deck with many other passengers, when a cry was heard that a ship was lying close by us, which we had not observed in consequence of the dense fog which prevailed at the time, but immediately upon our attention being directed to the quarter in which she lay, a vessel was plainly visibly looming up through the mist. The Captain immediately hailed her, and to the joy of all on deck, a light was seen passing along her deck. The hail was soon answered. Capt. Low stated that we were short of provisions, and the cheering answer, delivered in a stentorian voice, was "Send your boats alongside." The passengers now tumbled out of their berths and from the hold, in every style of garment, anxious to hear anything which might be communicated. The greatest state of anxiety prevailed as to her destination, and this was continued for some time. Owing to the officers being unable to determine who should man the small boat to go on board, Lieut. Murray promptly offered his services; but as it was necessary to effect a contract on behalf of the Government, it was the duty of Lieut. Fremont, the Quartermaster of the Regiment; and he was obliged, at the solicitation of all the officers, to go on board. On the return of the boat which carried Lieut. Fremont on board, word came to send all the passengers over; and, to our joy, we noticed, as the fog cleared away, that the Lucy Thompson was lowering two of her boats, which soon came alongside.
The second disembarkation of the passengers then commenced, which continued for about six hours. All were at length transferred, with the exception of Mr. Faleo, Madame Besse, and Mr. and Mrs. Abrio,º who, with about twelve of the United States troops, volunteered to remain behind to assist the captain in bringing his vessel into port. On reaching the ship, Capt. Pendleton immediately sent provisions and sails to the Kilby, sufficient to last them for several weeks.
I cannot describe the joy which followed, when the passengers, one by one, entered the cabin of the Lucy Thompson. Upon the table we found a most delicious meal of bread and butter, together with abundance of porter. The treatment we received from Capt. Pendleton was the most kind, generous and warm-hearted that one human being could show to another.
The ship was soon under way, and in a few hours a pilot-boat came in sight, and furnished us with a pilot.
The bark Kilby was then almost out of sight. About five hours after the pilot had boarded us we approached in sight of the light ship off Sandy Hook, where we remained until Saturday night, when the steam tug Titan arrived laden with every essential of clothing and provision for our comfort. She had been dispatched by Wm. H. Aspinwall, Esq. The passengers stepped on board and were conveyed to this City. On our way up Mr. Lloyd Aspinwall read a letter from his father tendering the hospitalities of his house to the officers and passengers on board; and my brother, who had also come in the Titan to receive us, read to a crowd of eager listeners the papers containing the particulars relating to the fate of our fellow passengers whom we had left on board the wreck.
I have thus endeavored to give the particulars of our shipwreck in the simplest matter-of‑fact language, without attempting to describe the sufferings of those on board, or to do justice to the noble conduct of the various officers and sailors, or to the Christian resignation and heroism of many of the passengers. No language can adequately describe the scenes of danger and terror through which we have passed; and words of gratitude and thankfulness are fittest to close my hurried narrative of the disaster of the ill-fated steamer San Francisco.
James Lorimer Graham, Jr.
New‑York, Jan. 15, 1854.
The narrative of the events in relation to the disaster on board of the steamer San Francisco, I perceive, has been given by different persons who have preceded me. They are mainly correct. The whole number of persons under my command was about 520. This includes the women and children. Of these 106 were transferred on board of the Kilby, and brought to this port. I estimate that of the whole number which embarked for California from 200 to 220 were swept overboard by the raging sea. The names of the officers and citizens who were lost, including my son, Charles, have been given. On the second night of our voyage, when the vessel received the most furious dash of the wave which swept off the saloon, taking with it about 180 souls, the baggage and other property on deck, and throwing upon me and upon the heads of those below above a ton and a half of water, every soul believed that our time had come. Com. Watkins came aft and called for volunteers to aid him in endeavoring to save the ship. I cannot say too much in praise of this gallant commander and his equally gallant officers, to whose unremitted and untiring zeal for several days we are indebted for the salvation of our lives. When the good ship Kilby appeared in sight, on the morning of the 28th inst., notwithstanding the sea was then running at a great height, the Commodore boarded her with his boat, and soon made arrangements for the Kilby to receive on board all that vessel would contain. On his return the Commodore requested me to embark those under my command on that vessel. Fortunately the storm abated considerably, and we were able to carry to the Kilby 106 souls. The vessels had been tied together with a hawser, to facilitate the embarkation, but during the night the force of the gale parted the hawser, and in the morning we were out of sight. We cruised about, endeavoring to find the San Francisco, for three days without meeting with any success. It was fortunate for us that our Commissary, Lieut. Loeser, had contrived when the embarkation took place, to send over some bread and bacon. The boats which were used to convey us over were in a leaky condition, from not having been used for some time. The boats of the San Francisco — eight in number — had all been swept away, previously, by the gale. After we had searched for the San Francisco three days, Capt. Low — a most skillful commander, and a noble fellow — stated he considered it to be his duty to put all on board on short allowance, and to make his way, without further delay, to the nearest land. His sails, at that time, were badly tattered; and this, with the high seas, conspired to prevent their making more than •three miles an hour. The entire amount of provisions which we had on board, it was estimated, would last six or seven days, but we contrived to make them last sixteen days, by putting all upon an allowance of •a gill of water, a gill of tea, and a gill of corn per day. The corn was cooked in various ways, but latterly was parched. The Almighty was pleased to send us rain and snow on two occasions, to relieve our wants; and had it not been for these fortunate supplies we must have perished. So short of provisions, indeed, was the Kilby, that I think if it had not been for provisions and water taken by us from the San Francisco, the crew of the Kilby must have perished, for they had not a pound of meat on board when we reached that vessel. We feel bound to thank Captain Low for his noble conduct, and to praise the Almighty for his providence while we were tossed about in the Kilby at the mercy of the waves. As it is, we have been able to reach the land without the loss of a single person on board of that vessel, although we were afflicted with distresses and slight diseases from the want of sufficient food and water, more or less. On Wednesday last, although we were within •ten or twelve miles of land, we had the horrible prospect presented to us of being compelled to put out to sea again. We were during the night blown off •fifty miles or more. But, on Friday last, while in the midst of utter despair, the good ship Lucy Thompson, under the command of the generous Capt. Pendleton, hove in sight; and thus the Almighty again sent to our rescue a noble ship. It is with unbounded gratitude that I express my thanks to this gentleman for his kind and humane reception and entertainment of us all.
At the time when the prospect was most fearful in the San Francisco, and while the soldiers were driven to despair and almost to madness by their sufferings, and great confusion followed as a necessary consequence, they became almost reckless of life, and thought of nothing but immediate gratifications. Hence, they indulged of drinking all kinds of liquor which they had secured from the stores of the ship's officers. For a time the officers of the troops found against difficulty in restoring order; but, by using extraordinary exertions, they got the good and excellent men to carry out the orders that were given to them. I consider it my duty to speak of the meritorious conduct of Maj. Wyse, Capts. Judd and Fremont, and Lieuts. Chandler, Loeser, Charles Winder, Wm. Winder, and Van Voast. Their conduct is above all praise, and I think that, at least, they deserve the thanks of the Government, for the safety of all on board depended greatly upon their untiring and incessant services. To Lieut. Murray, of the Navy, for his judicious advice and noble conduct in times the most fearful and appalling, too much praise cannot be bestowed. Whilst on board of the Kilby, Capt. Low, as well as the rest of us, looked up to him with the greatest confidence.
I forbear to say anything of the machinery of the San Francisco, as I have no knowledge in relation to it; but the general impression is, that the steamer had received too large a cargo for her preservation, as the paddle-wheels, from that cause, were under water at least •three feet deeper than they ought to have been, and to this fact I think may be attributed the cause of the machinery giving way. When the ship headed the sea and the waves came dashing against it, some of the weaker parts gave way, and the vessel was left at the mercy of the waves. At the time we left the San Francisco for the Kilby, Capt. Watkins assured me, in the most confident manner, that with forty good volunteers from my command, and all others removed he could sustain himself on shipboard at least thirty days, and keep his vessel up. I learn that the sufferings on board the San Francisco were very great after we left, but I cannot believe that they were greater than were ours. Although we have returned to port bereft, dispossessed of all we had, except the clothes on our persons, we consider ourselves favored by the Almighty. I cannot fail to speak of the services of Drs. Satterlee and Wirtz, whose judicious advice both to those afflicted and well, contributed much to the general good, and was instrumental in saving many lives. The lives of many persons who were in the upper saloon were saved by their coming below before the saloon was swept overboard also. Mr. Cooper and his family were thus spared. It is impossible to estimate the losses of the military until the arrival of the survivors in the Antarctic. The hardships which the officers and men endured cannot be described, for none except those actually engaged in the labors they performed can properly appreciate them. They were required to bail water from the floor of the engine-room, to prevent the fire from being extinguished, and with the perplexities of working among the machinery and the suffocating and debilitating steam and heat, there were but few men who could stand to work here more than half an hour without fainting. The bailing was done with buckets, and forty or fifty men to work at a time. Notwithstanding all these difficulties the good fellows persevered to the last.
The scenes exhibited in the lower cabin after the saloon had been swept away were horrible beyond description. The soldiers in their despair and consternation rushed down below, compelling the women to betake themselves aft, and there men, women and some thirty or forty young children were mingled together in a place not sufficiently large for half of them. This was unavoidably endured for two nights, until the ship was put in a better condition. Whenever alarm or despair occurred it was difficult to preserve discipline or order, but upon the assurances of the Commodore that the ship was in safety, good order soon prevailed. All on board, indeed, were made comparatively happy by his manly and cheering assurances.
By this disaster our regiment, through the death of many of its officers and soldiers, is entirely broken up. With this loss I may add the loss of its books, records, regimental colors, arms, accoutrements, baggage, and the entire personal property of officers and men, and many who have been rescued did not have a single suit of clothes when they arrived.
On the morning of Wednesday, the 21st of November, we were informed that Mr. Aspinwall had everything in readiness for a departure. We had delayed going on board for some time on account of my children having the measles. We hurried on board on Wednesday afternoon, in anticipation of an immediate departure. When we reached the San Francisco, however, we found that Major Taylor and his lady were not on board. Inasmuch as he and his lady were both lost, it may be interesting to state the entire facts connected with their departure on the ship. We waited for their arrival, in hopes that they would come in the remaining boats, but they did not. Col. Gates felt unwilling to wait any longer for them, and on Thursday morning Capt. Watkins sent the Colonel word that he was ready to embark if orders were given to that effect. The Colonel gave orders to leave, but on intercession of Capt. Fremont, reconsidered his decision, and told Capt. Watkins that he would wait a little longer for him, inasmuch as if he did not it would put Major Taylor to a large expense to reach California by the way of the Isthmus. He and his lady finally arrived on board. He had previously commissioned another person to secure a state-room for him, which was done. It was below, but he was much dissatisfied with it, because it was too far aft. He wanted two or three officers to be removed, that he might be better accommodated, and finally he was given a state-room above, in the saloon, to oblige him. It will be seen from these circumstances that each step that was taken seemed to conspire to lead him on to his fate. Had the vessel not waited for him he would have been saved, and had he occupied the state-room designated for him he would not have been swept overboard when the saloon went over. Maj. Taylor and his wife were last seen with life-preservers around them, and hand in hand. He sank first, but she was seen buffittingº the waves for five minutes. They were seen to jump overboard together.
On the second night out the storm broke upon us, and it increased in fury, but we did not apprehend any danger until we heard the clergyman, Rev. Mr. Cooper, in fervent prayer. At 10 o'clock the water came into the state-rooms through the port holes, and also from above. The waves came against the vessel one after another with a crash, and with a force that would seem to crush the vessel. The furniture and dishes were dashed about in the greatest confusion. This continued until daylight. Each wave seemed to be harder, and it seemed to us that our vessel would be rent in two. I was in my berth when the last fearful crash came. The Colonel had gone on deck just before, and he saw the wave coming, which appeared, he says, more like a mountain wall than anything else. He rushed below as quickly as possible, and was standing in the stateroom when it broke over us, sweeping off the upper saloon and crushing in the deck over our heads. We rushed out of our stateroom into the cabin, as well as we could, with our children, and clambering over chairs and tables, all in confusion. We were then in momentary expectation that the next wave would sink us. The Colonel said to us to come aft. We did so, and once there, others seeing us, followed. The hold was open there, and Major Merchant, in bringing his family aft, fell into the hold below, and when picked up he was more dead than living. Soon after this, the steward passed, and I asked of him what we could do. He replied, "Nothing — we can trust only in God." Major Merchant's daughters were shrieking out that their father was dead, and Colonel Gates, in going below to help him, was thrown violently over against a rocking-chair, which created a severe wound in his eye, and subsequently he was again struck in his other eye. Others had followed us aft, and soon the space was occupied, and each was seeking a place where he could lie. We were all in our night clothing, and were saturated with the water and shivering in the cold. Each wave would dash more water upon us, and after it receded would return with renewed force. As the waves struck, voices could be heard simultaneously with "Oh God!" all being in expectation that it would be our last. Some were praying, the children were screaming lustily, but the ladies were almost universally calm. The camp women, however, were shrieking a great deal, but the ladies were clinging to each other and the little ones, and were calm and speechless. In this condition, drenched with the water and spray which dashed in upon us, we remained throughout the day. During the day the steward came down and stated that the captain had said her hull was sound and that there was great hope of our being saved. With this intelligence our hopes revived, and all were more quiet. Towards night the fury of the gale had subsided a little. When night came on, during the confusion which had prevailed, no provision had been made for lights, and we remained for two or three hours in total darkness, immersed partially in the water. This was Saturday night, and Christmas eve. A piece of the candle was subsequently found by the steward, I believe, and was placed in a bottle. I cannot speak in terms of too high praise of the steward, of a sergeant named Adams, another named McIntyre, and a soldier named Williams, all of whom were conspicuous and indefatigable in their exertions to assist. They were running at all times for blankets, and were stopping up the port holes to prevent, if possible, the water from rushing in. After dark the scene was more fearful, if possible, than before. The storm had recommenced with greater violence, but Capt. Watkins reassured us that the hulk was perfectly sound and that the sea must go down soon, and we felt encouraged. We were lying at this time in •about three inches of water. During the whole of the time subsequently every person was begging the soldiers and waiters for more dry blankets. The officers, soldiers, and indeed all who were able, took turns in bailing out the vessel. Christmas night we passed in prayer, in which even the children participated, as we hardly dared to hope to see the morning light again. When morning did come, however, and with it a bright sunshine, though the sea was running very high, we were like renewed beings. It was on Monday, I believe, that a bark hove in sight, but it stood off and did not render us any assistance. When Monday night came, our hopes again sank, but the Captain and Lieut. Murray would visit us and give us assurances that we were safe, as there was but little water in the vessel. About this time the raw recruits among the soldiers became discouraged, and believing that no hopes of being saved remained, became insubordinate in their despair. They rushed down into the cabin where the women were, and threw themselves down anywhere. By the efforts of the young officers who, by dint of persuasion, and coercion when persuasion would not answer, they would return to their work again. On Sunday, I think it was, that the potted meats and sardines were brought out. Prior to that we had feasted on sea biscuit while lying rolled up in wet blankets. At one time we suffered much for water, and several of the soldiers who had gone forward to get water had been washed overboard. Towards night Colonel Gates determined, if possible, to get some at the risk of his life. He was advised not to undertake it, but he attempted it and succeeded. On Tuesday morning the men came into the cabin where the women were, in great consternation giving us no further hope of being saved. The wind was blowing in most fearful squalls from the northwest. Men were called after by the Captain, to batten down the hatches, to prevent, as far as possible, the water from rushing in upon us. It was whispered around that the cabin where we were had given way. Major Wyse then put on his life-preserver, and fastened his babe around his neck. The Captain, Col. Gates, and several of the men, succeeded in securing the hatches. Gradually, however, the force of the gale was less violent, and in the afternoon it was more quiet. During the afternoon, the Kilby hove in sight. When we learned that she would remain by us, we were in excellent spirits, and the entire night was passed in a most pleasant mood. The passengers were in clusters together, laughing and talking with one another, in excellent spirits. Mrs. Chase and my sister, (Miss Carter), fainted away, however, from the exertion caused by four days and nights being passed without rest. In the morning, much to our joy, the bark was still in sight, and we were still more overjoyed when Captain Low said that he would take us aboard. About noon the wind had subsided sufficiently to commence disembarking. The ladies were let down into the boats by ropes tied around their waists. I was the first lady that descended. The boat was nearly full of water at the time. We were taken across according to the rank in the regiment. Our family was first, then came Major Merchant's family, and then Major Wyse's lady. Major Wyse requested to be allowed to remain on board himself, in order to disembark the troops, as it was expected that all would be taken over before dark. Unfortunately, however, the life-boat stove the second trip. Nobody was lost, however. It was fortunate that Lieutenant Loeser thought of sending over a barrel and a half of sea biscuit and three or four hams. He also sent over three or four casks of water and three boxes of sardines. The Kilby was without provisions except a quantity of corn. She had only •about 400 gallons of water. During the night the hawser by which we were attached to the steamer was broken by the p8 force of the waves, and in the morning we had drifted out of sight.
During the night Lieut. Murray was frequently with us, endeavoring to cheer us up. Major Wyse having been left in the steamer, his lady felt very uneasy to know whether it was still in sight, in order to be assured of her husband's safety. Whenever Lieut. Murray came down she would ask him if the lights were in sight, to which he would invariably give an affirmative reply, that her fears, in her enfeebled condition, might not be excited too much. We found that we were scantily supplied with food, with 108 additional persons on board. The next day a half cask of molasses was found within reach, and for two days we feasted upon sea biscuit and molasses. When that was gone, however, we could not obtain any more as it was lying below the cotton in the hold. There was a meeting of the captain and officers held, and it was concluded that on account of the low state of our provisions, we must go upon short allowance immediately. And with the short allowance of water, all suffered much. On the first night out, the best accommodations were given to Colonel Burke, on account of his injury and sickness. Mr. Aspinwall, too, was quite sick. We sat up all night. The next day we were placed each upon an allowance of a slice of fried bacon and a biscuit. For two or three days we fried our bacon, but afterwards eat it raw, in order that none of its nourishment might be lost in cooking. We had port wine and brandy to drink for two or three days, and our lack of water was partially made up by them as long as they remained. Our sufferings were great during the fourteen days we was on board, but nothing transpired worthy of special note, aside from the sufferings, till last Wednesday morning The sun shone brightly, and we confidently expected that by the next day we would be near Sandy Hook. During the night, however, the wind sprung up again and drove us back, and at this time we were nearly out of water, and on Thursday we were again desponding. On Friday morning the news came to us that the Lucy Thompson was in sight, and as soon as practicable one of the officers went on board of her, and found Capt. Pendleton willing and desirous to assist us, and furthermore, he refused to accept anything from us or from the Government for the valuable services rendered. We were taken on board of her, with the exception of four of the passengers, who preferred to remain on the Kilby. Two days before we left the Kilby, I might mention that the crew were given larger rations, to effect which our rations were reduced. The proposition was acceded to with perfect readiness. There were some rather amusing incidents that transpired on board the San Francisco during the gale. On Monday, the wife of a sergeant was asking everybody in the most supplicating tones if they had seen anything of her husband, mentioning his name. She repeated the inquiry scores of times, till at last one of the officers said to her, "Good Heavens, woman, you make more noise than all of the rest on board; one would think that you was the only lady who had a husband in the ship."
The officers, too, worked with an effort almost superhuman. Of Lieutenants Chandler, Van Voast, and the two Lieutenants Winders, I cannot speak in terms of too high praise for their noble exertion. If anything was wanted, they did not require asking, but rushed to the spot eager to do all they could. Lieut. Chandler, particularly, seemed possessed of power to do and stand up under anything, and never, during the whole time, did he seem likely to falter. But in this, however, it is impossible for me to draw a distinction. The whole four worked with a zeal which is almost beyond commendation. If ever men deserved brevets they deserve them. Major Wyse, too, was indefatigable in his efforts. Major Merchant and Dr. Satterlee were sick and could not do anything. Col. Burke was also unable to do anything from the injuries he had received. He had been knocked over violently when the saloon was swept off, by an iron railing, by which his hand was broken. Of Lieut. Murray, of the Navy, I cannot speak in too high terms. He was, as it were, the saviour of the whole. His nautical skill was such that we had reason to trust him; and, as every announcement he made but confirmed the hopes raised by the cheering words of Captain Watkins, he did much to support our drooping spirits. He did all he could to make us as hopeful as he could; and his countenance was watched with intense anxiety whenever he entered the cabin. They relied upon his word almost as much as they did that of the Captain.
During the raging of the gale, when in the San Francisco, many of the waiters, soldiers,º and camp women became perfectly reckless of their situation and commenced robbing and sealing everything valuable they could lay hold of. Watches, jewelry, and indeed everything that could be obtained was stolen. Trunks were rifled, and some of the waiters, I am told, covered the rings on their fingers with pieces of rags, saying, when asked, that their hands were injured. Capt. Low, of the Kilby, who is quite a young man for the position he occupies, has endeared himself to every one who was in the vessel, by his noble, gallant, and generous conduct. Lieut. Murray says that he managed his vessel, under the difficulties which they encountered, with great skill.
Mrs. Gates spoke also in high terms of approbation of several others who had been instrumental in saving life. Among them were Dr. Satterlee, Lieut. Charles Winder and others. She also spoke highly of the attentions of several of the waiters, among whom was a young man named Isaiah Carter; and further, of the hospitable treatment in the Lucy Thompson, by the officers and crew.b
a Sewall Fremont is given his correct rank of Captain in Colonel Gates' account.
b Among those not mentioned in these accounts, West Point graduates Lt. Col. John M. Washington and Capt. Horace B. Field both drowned.
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