Tuesday, April 20, 2010

pocket watch

the over crowded Sultana taken the day before the disaster

April 27th is the 145th anniversary of the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. The steamship Sultana, a Mississippi River paddle wheeler, contracted by the U.S. War Department, was loaded with Union soldiers, just released from Confederate prison camps. The legal capacity for the ship was 376, but it was crowded with 2,400 soldiers, desperate to get home. One of the Sultana's four boilers, poorly repaired just days earlier, exploded, sinking the ship, several miles north of Memphis on April 27, 1865.
No exact death toll is known, but the official count by the United States Customs service was 1,547 and estimates range from 1,300 to 1,900, even more than perished on the Titanic. This disaster received somewhat diminished attention since it took place soon after the assassination of President Lincoln, during the closing weeks of the Civil War.

Peachy Bright's statement of Civil War service
from the National Archives (click to enlarge)
My two great-great uncles, Peachy (don't you love that name? it's from the French family surname, Pechin) and Isaac Bright, born 1841 and 1843, in Madison Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, enlisted into service from Howard County, Indiana, with the 24th Indiana Artillery Regiment, were on board the Sultana. They both had just been released from horrific conditions at Andersonville prison camp and were finally on their way home to loved ones. Sadly, before they could make it back to Indiana, they both perished in the tragedy.

I'm fortunate enough to have been given Peachy's pocket watch by my late grandfather. When he presented it to me, and I slipped it out of an old wine colored Wollensak lens sleeve, I felt some powerful energies. The following piece was inspired for this week's Magpie Tales.

Peachy Bright's pocket watch

Pocket Watch
for Peachy Bright

You slipped
from that Wollensak pocket,
and hit my hand full and hard,
like a splash of cold Mississippi.

The day they marched him
to Andersonville flashed before,
and nearly blinded me.

I saw you, his sole possession,
tick and tock,
tucked in a tattered Union sock.

Then a scribbled note
sent out post-haste,
There's a chance
we'll be home in just a few days.

He steals a glance at your gold face,
marking time 'til daddy greets
his kith and kin,
feels his daughter's pinkest kiss,
Estellina's lips again.

April hope
swarms the homebound boat,
but dashed dreams blaze
as Sultana sinks that night,
at Paddy's Hen.

willow, 2010

For other Magpie Tales participants click [HERE].


  1. is fabulous story gave me shivers. What an amazing treasure you are the custodian of!

  2. marvelous,
    you have rich knowledge in history
    and your words reveal your passion or love for your great great uncle...

    cool magpie!

  3. http://jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/it-is-time-to/

    here is mine!
    I am learning the ropes to do tales...thank you kindly for the embrace.

  4. what a lovely poem and the watch is so beautiful. thanks for sharing the story behind it!

  5. That's a very interesting story and a lovely poem to go with it. It is a beautiful pocket watch and you will enjoy it whilst you are the custodian. Later on, others will enjoy it as we writers have, weaving our stories around it.
    Blessings, Star

  6. When we are bequeathed something as valuable as this pocket watch, the gift seems to carry a heavy responsibility. Are we worthy of such an emotionally charged and charmed treasure? What are we to do with something this weighty besides pass it on to our own loved ones? I think your post and poem do that gift justice, willow.

    Love that line "tick and tock,
    tucked in a tattered Union sock". Dances on the tongue when said out loud a couple of times.

  7. Beautiful Willow...my heart was touched by your words and love for an Uncle taken too soon.

  8. I read about the disaster on the Sultana before -- once read forever changed not one to forget even by time.

    I had a feeling that this was no order time piece that a rich history was attached to it, even remarked on the Magpie Tale site..

    A wonderful and timely Tribute to you kin and all the others aboard.


  9. This is a wonderful story because it takes the burry image of a catastrophe and makes it personnal. Then you, with your eloquent poetry bring us handshakingly up close 'til we feel too the heart wrenching sadness as if it were our own.
    I do enjoy witnessing your talent.

  10. Overwhelming sadness is what I'm feeling right now ... wonderful words you have bestowed upon us.

  11. Fasinating story. Boy! you have some interesting stories. The Prose was great too. Loved it .


  12. What an amazing story. It's so great you know this stuff about your history. And the poem was awesome.

  13. That story is so sad, Willow, but thanks for sharing it.

  14. I had no idea. I'm glad to now know the story of the Sultana and it's tragic fate. What a lovely gift you've received, even lovlier is your appreciation of such a gift. Tresures, both of you.

  15. Willow--I love that part "feels his daughter's pinkest kiss". You really have a way with words, Willow! I wish you lived down the street. You are a wealth of information. I'm happy that I have at the very least gotten to know you via your blog!

  16. What a story! What a poem! And how wonderful that his watch has inspired so much creativity!

  17. wow. wonderful story willow...a cool treasure though with a tragic memory attached. love the verse as well...

  18. A great tribute to our ancestry! Your poem tells it all. Thanks for sharing the Peachy Bright's statement of Civit War service.
    :) The Bach

  19. Family heirlooms and their stories are about the most precious things around. This makes me feel the bite of the genealogy bug again!

  20. The picture of this pocket watch has caused the blog writers to come through better than ever before. This is a wonderful story and your poem is superb. Talkin to the watch. Great way to write.

  21. Willow Drar, I am not neglecting you on purpose....there are a few unfortunate healthissues that prevent me concentrating.

    Love Arija

  22. A peach of a story, and so sad. re. The watch. You're going to have to think very carefully about who will be its future custodian.

    Bisou, Cro.

  23. How nice for you to have that watch; I'm sure that watch has a tale or two more to tell. Having just attended the Titanic Exhibit in Wiesbaden, GE last week, I seem destined to read and learn about tragic personal stories of those lost to sinking ships.

  24. Dear Willow, What a terrible tragedy and one, unlike that of the Titanic, about which one hears almost nothing. How splendid to have the watch as a link with this past event, and person, and how well your poem commemorates this piece of history connecting it with the present day.

    Unfortunately, I shall be unable to comment, or post, for the next ten days or so. But, I shall return!

  25. Wow. Your heritage is so fascinating and intense. Thank you, as always, for sharing it so beautifully and artfully. The poem is genius --

  26. this tragedy increased because he's become real to me through your haunting words. very nice read!

  27. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

  28. I love your tribute to Peachy. Here's a coincidence - I've just been reading another blogger's post which features a 'sultana' - in this case the nick name of a lovely south American town.

  29. Whoa! what a history! seriously, i had goose bumps while reading the story behind the watch... it must be so nice to have a family going so far back in history :)

    the poem came out very nice. a wonderful tribute :)

    PS: i m very glad that i joined is for the Mags... i loved writing my first entry :)

  30. Of all your posts that I have read, I like this one best. I'm fond of poignant poetry and histories with a personal twist.

  31. Nice tribute in addition to this, luv~ HUGS!

  32. Hello Willow,

    I recall your mentioning the shipping disaster before and this poem is a beautifully fitting extension. I particularly love the penultimate stanza.

  33. Every war is hell, and perishing so close to being safely back home, is horrendous. The impact on your family back then must have been devastating.
    Your poem is a powerful reminder.
    Your family must be so proud of you.

  34. Thank you, Derrick. (I actually had to look up penultimate...shh...don't tell)

  35. Powerful story and poem. Reminds me of the iolaire disaster, when a ship carrying sailors home to Lewis after the Armistice to end the First World war was wrecked within a mile of Stornoway harbour.

    "The green washed over them. I saw them when
    the New Year brought them home. It was a day
    that orbed the horizon with an enigma.
    It seemed that there were masts. It seemed that men
    buzzed in the water round them. It seemed that fire
    shone in the water which was thin and white
    unravelling towards the shore. It seemed that I
    touched my hat which seemed to float.....
    In sloppy waves,
    in the fat of water, they came floating home
    bruising against their island."

    Iain Crichton Smith

  36. Willow, this is such a good one. Do you have a ms. of poems? Any thought of sending it out? This poem rivals those in our so-called best literary magazines. Splendid!
    Once April is over, I'm thinking of doing a Poet of the Week or Month, depending on how much time I have and would like to feature several of your poems.

  37. Mr. Jackson, a Civil War buff, tells me that some of those prisoners were locked away for four years---a horrible time...a beautiful tribute to your uncle..he lives on with your words--c

  38. What a remarkable historical chronicle with family connection. Thanks for sharing this.

  39. A wonderful tale, well told without slipping into schmalz. Some great images there, the slap of the Mississippi etc

  40. Such a magnificent but sad story. How wonderful that you are honoured with taking care of such a treasured family heirloom & keeping the memories of your great-great uncles alive and well. I really enjoyed you post Willow! Such a great & interesting family history you have!

  41. I had never heard of this disaster before now. Your words are imbued with both courage and sadness. There is spirit contained in them; both his and yours. You impart the powerful experience of holding his watch in your hands so beautifully. How amazing that your uncles' lost hopes and dreams have been re-birthed again in your own words.

  42. I so want to write something eloquent . Something that would relay the goosebumps, the awe, the weight.

    I am moved to silence .

    you rocked me.

    Thank you for sharing in the way only you can Willow.
    I am certain the watch is in good hands.

  43. Shug, thanks for the tidbit on the Iolaire. I was unaware of this similar tragedy.

    Loved the Smith! The sloppy waves, the fat of water. Fabulous.

  44. KSB, yes, of course! I would be thrilled for you to post any of my pieces. I consider it an honor.

  45. Sad. Beautiful photo and watch image, Willow. Your poem is poignant. Well done.

    I have a second cousin whose whole family but for him were tragically killed in a boat accident during World War I. The boat was torpedoed by the Germans. I intend to blog about them one day...

  46. Peachy's pocket watch is so so beautiful, as if your poem and the story about Isaac and Peachy.

    May they rest in peace.

  47. Willow this is your very best. Wonderful stories and keepsakes and antiques in your keep, you are the perfect on to spearhead this exciting Magpie Tales. I love it and proud to be part of it.

  48. What an amazing tale of family history! Your poetry is very moving.

  49. Powerful energies indeed! Experiencing the photo of it in a whole new way. (Oh - I guess that's the power of story!)
    Thanks for sharing it Willow.

  50. What a legacy!
    Thank you for sharing it with us.
    mine is here
    this is my first magpie tale.
    have you a great week.

  51. Lovely! As a history widow I have spent my share of time mourning over soldiers - this story gives me a personal story to add to the others.

  52. How wonderful to have the watch and what a story! I was amazed reading it that it had actually happened. Social history is so interesting, sad though that so many had lost their lives.
    The poem was.... 'tick tock' too!


  53. What a terrible tragedy for all those men and their families, thinking they had survived the worst and discovering that they were wrong!

  54. wonderful post,story, watch. just wonderful!
    By the way, it takes so long for your blog to load these days...is there a reason that you might know of?

  55. Linda Sue, I noticed it with the up loading of my new template. It was slow for me, too, until I switched to Google Chrome, which I highly recommend. Lightening fast, now!

  56. Thanks willow; a tragedy I was unaware of and a marvellous poem.

  57. From Andersonville to Sultana..an unbelievable fate..thank you for this historic and very personal post..will remember Peachy..great poem!

  58. Having moved to the American South a long time ago its only been since I've been old enough to drive about my state that I've really noticed the plethora of Civil War Memorials to the Confederate dead. It was so odd to me because although I know my family fought with the Union I didn't remember seeing a third of the number of memorials to their memories and sacrifices. But then I hear stories like this one and the pictures my grandfather showed me of his grandfather and I started to realize that the Union memorials are on the dusty top shelves of closets, shared on special days with special people.
    You truly have a treasure.

  59. Your kind and generous comments always make posting my poetry so enjoyable. Thanks everyone. xx

  60. Reminds me of my uncle a merchant marine who was buried at sea during WWII.(he had an appendicitis attack). His last souvenir from India a 6-sided table with ivory four inlay elephants arriving after his memorial. This table sat in my Grandma's parlour for years, along with the satin naval pillows. After my grandma's passing my mom is owner of the auspicious table. The table gives me some residual feelings of sadness felt from the grief continued to be experienced by my mom for her only brother. I always felt the table somewhat "cursed" as if it somehow had been implicated in my uncle's death. The table oozed ominiousity. Unless that much bad luck produces good luck which I thought may be possible, considering the extremes; the two-sided coin. Maybe one day I should try to rub the elepant tusks on the legs. This watch of your uncle's also withstood so much tragedy that it can only bring about something good now; opposite and equal reaction now powerfully lucky for you. Odd how these mechanical things tell stories so much greater than any fantasy one could conjure. Powerful. Thank-you Willow for this treasure of such grand historical and personal significance. Most fascinating a story and an excellent and well-written verse/ballad particularly marking time with the Union time piece. Most amazing these following lines;

    'til daddy greets
    his kith and kin,
    feels his daughter's pinkest kiss,
    Estellina's lips again."


  61. The history of that watch is rich. The prose and poetry are wonderfully written. And you have a beautiful timepiece to cherish.

  62. Lovely again Willow. April hope ... makes it immediate. I read the poem first and then went to your background and my second reading really came alive.
    Re my Magpie. Believe it or not I looked a lot like the young fella in the photo when I was that age. Time takesits toll. I now value much more the lines of experience we gather with passing years.

  63. willow,
    the story, as always,
    is fascinating (and tragic).

    your piece is beautiful and the images are great.


  64. Very interesting history revealed through the prompt; all the other comments beat me to it, wonderful writing, very enjoyable. I also enjoy knowing the background of the possessions....lots of magpies to read again this week

  65. Top stuff, this, Willow. Fascinating provenance and an excellent poem personalising the context.

  66. I love the language from long ago...a very interesting take on the prompt. :)

  67. Do you know, I could feel that pocket watch hit my hand as it slipped from the Wollensak pocket!

  68. love the intricate rhyme scheme and the way the poem is addressed to the watch.

  69. A beautiful poem, Willow--lots of wonderful sounds & a well-told story.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)