Death of Ben Furlong ~ Was it Suicide?

Ben Furlong (circa 1854-1886), Desperado of Berrien County, GA

As Halloween approaches we revisit the scene of Ben Furlong, who was perhaps  most famous ghost ever to haunt Berrien County.

After the 1886 death of Ben Furlong some said his ghost still haunted the scene of his final, heinous crime. In life, Ben Furlong may have been Berrien County’s  most notorious outlaw.  Furlong, a sawmill man when he wasn’t on the bottle, frequented the communities along the tracks of the Brunswick & Western Railroad – Alapaha, Vanceville and Sniff.   He was a wife beater and a murderer wanted for dozens of criminal charges. His infamous deeds were published around the globe.

Furlong died on Friday, September 24, 1886 from an overdose of laudanum, also known as tincture of opium. The compound was commonly available in the drug stores of Berrien County and elsewhere for just five cents a bottle.

Laudanum bottle

Laudanum bottle

Certainly by  the time of Furlong’s death, the dangerous potency of opioids was well known. Still, some thought Furlong’s laudanum overdose was accidental.

The prevailing opinion in Alapaha, GA, the community that perhaps knew Furlong best, was that he intended to take his own life, either out of a guilty conscience or to escape the hangman.

The October 2, 1886 edition of the Alapaha Star examined the question:

 

Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star, October 2, 1886 questions death of Ben Furlong

Alapaha Star
October 2, 1886

Was it Suicide?

    There is a difference of opinion as to whether B. W. Furlong committed suicide, but the preponderating belief is that he did. The murder of the colored man, the closing of his mill by his creditors and the effects of a severe spell of drinking were amply sufficient to —- —– —-perate step of his life – that of self-destruction.
    It is reported that he drank two bottles of laudanum Thursday night, about twenty hours before he died, and that when he sank into the last sleep, his breathing indicated poisoning. Every effort was made to arouse him. He was walked about, slapped and rubbed vigorously, but the seal of death was upon him, and he breathed his last about four hours after he fell asleep.
    We are satisfied that Furlong while temporarily insane from the causes we have mentioned, took his own life.

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Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island: Part 6

Berrien County in the Civil War
29th Georgia Regiment on Sapelo Island
Part 6: In Regular Service

Berrien Minute Men on Sapelo Island

  1. Arrival On Sapelo
  2. Place of Encampment
  3. Camp Spalding
  4. Election of Officers
  5. Tidewater Time
  6. In Regular Service

During the Civil War,  two companies of men that went forth from Berrien County, GA were known as the Berrien Minute Men.  From October, 1861 to January, 1862, the campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  were made at Sapelo and Blackbeard islands protecting the approaches to Darien, GA on Doboy Sound and the Altamaha River.  The Berrien Minute Men arrived in early October and were stationed on Sapelo Island along with the Thomas County Guards, Thomas County Volunteers and Ochlocknee Light Infantry.  Regimental officers were elected by the first of November. Through the fall, the men bided their time on the tidewater, fighting boredom and disease…Finally, the 29th Regiment was reported ready for service.

On January 14, 1862, Brigadier General Alexander Robert Lawton informed Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper that the regiment had been properly mustered in as the 29th GA Volunteer Infantry.

Head Quarters, Dept of Geo

Savannah Jany 14th 1862

General S. Cooper
Adjt Inspector General
             Richmond
                               General
                                             I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a letter of the 10th inst from the Ajt General’s Office, inquiring if Col R Spalding’s 29th Geo Regiment has been properly mustered in or not.
                                            In reply I beg leave to say that it is a full regiment and has been for some months regularly in service
                                           I have the honor to be, very Respy
                                                                         Your Obdt Servt
                                                                          A R Lawton
                                                                         Brig Genl Comg

Brigadier General A. R. Lawton letter of January 14, 1862 confirming readiness of the 29th GA Infantry

Brigadier General A. R. Lawton letter of January 14, 1862 to Adjutant Inspector General Samuel Cooper confirming readiness of the 29th GA Infantry.  (In 1864, General Cooper stayed the execution of Confederate deserter Burrell Douglass. Cooper is credited for the preservation of Confederate service records after the war).

A Regimental Surgeon, William P. Clower, was finally appointed on January 18, 1862. Surgeon Clower’s brother, John T. Clower, would later serve as the doctor in Ray’s Mill (now Ray City, GA). The surgeon was a welcome addition, but the health conditions of the Regiment did not immediately improve.  James Madison Harrell was sent home sick.  Alfred B. Finley, who joined the Berrien Minute Men at Darien, contracted measles and lost an eye to complications; despite that disability he would continue to serve with the 29th Regiment.  Hiram F. Harrell contracted measles and died at Darien, GA.  Edward Morris contracted measles and “camp fever” and never recovered; he died a few weeks later at Savannah, GA.

The 29th Regiment’s tenure on Sapelo would soon be over.  Before the end of January, the 29th GA regiment would be called up to the coastal defenses at Savannah.  When the regiment finally left Darien, John Lindsey, William Hall, and James Newman and John R. Langdale were left behind, sick. William Anderson, who had been on sick leave in October, had a relapse and was also left in Darien.  Thomas J. Lindsey, David D. Mahon and Robert H. Goodman were detailed to Darien as  nurses. John W. McClellan was also detailed to remain at Darien. Malcolm McCranie died of measles at Darien on February 2, 1862 and Ellis H. Hogan  died February 25, 1862. In the Ochlocknee Light Infantry, George Harlan was disabled and discharged at Darien on February 17, 1862 and Francis M. Dixon died of typhoid pneumonia at Darien the following day.

The defense of Georgia’s sea islands quickly proved untenable against the strength of the Union Navy. By early December 1861 U.S. forces had occupied Tybee Island off the coast of Savannah, and were landing ordnance and constructing batteries there.  By the end of January, 1862 U.S. Navy vessel  were maneuvering to enter the Savannah River, and threatened to cut off Fort Pulaski from Savannah. On the South Carolina side, U.S. troops occupied Daufuskie Island and constructed batteries on Bird Island and at Venus Point on Jones Island.
General Lee was desperate to shore up Confederate artillery defending Savannah, Georgia’s chief seaport. To strengthen the Savannah defenses, General Lee instructed General Mercer at Brunswick to remove the  batteries on St. Simon’s and Jekyll islands if the defense of those positions became untenable, and to forward the artillery to Savannah.  By this time the sea island planters had moved their property inland, and the residents of Brunswick had abandoned the city. By February 16, 1862 General Mercer reported the guns had been removed from Jekyll and St. Simons and shipped to Savannah and Fernandina. At the retreat of the 4th Georgia Battalion and Colonel Cary W. Styles 26th Georgia Regiment from Brunswick, General Mercer wanted to burn the city as a show of determination not to be occupied by U.S. forces.
With the withdrawal of the 29th Georgia Regiment from Sapelo Island, the Confederates abandoned the defense of Darien altogether. Indeed, the Savannah Republican newspaper of June 27, 1862 reported “two Yankee gunboats had passed Darien some four or five miles up the river, seemingly to destroy the railroad bridges across the Altamaha… A gunboat had been up the river as far as Champion’s Island – Nightingale’s Plantation…she was seen lying at Barrett’s Island, about three miles from the town, having in charge a two mast schooner that had been hid up the river.”  The schooner was believed to have been loaded with rice. The coast around St. Simon’s, Doboy, Sapelo and St. Catherines was said to be infested with Yankee steamers. The coastal inhabitants feared that crops in fields bordering the rivers would be destroyed by the Union forces;  “They have already stolen a goodly number of our slaves, thus curtailing our provisions crops…” 
Current navigational chart showing Sapelo Island, Blackbeard Island, Doboy Island, Queens Island, Wolf Island, GA. The Berrien Minute Men, Company G & K, 29th Georgia Regiment, were stationed at Sapelo Island and Blackbeard Island during 1861, defending the Altamaha River delta from Union forces.

Current navigational chart showing Sapelo Island, Blackbeard Island, Doboy Island, Queens Island, Wolf Island, GA. The Berrien Minute Men, Companies G & K, 29th Georgia Regiment, were stationed at Sapelo Island and Blackbeard Island during 1861, defending the Altamaha River delta from Union forces.

 

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Berrien Minute Men On the Square

Before the Civil War, some 32 percent of the population of Lowndes and Berrien County, Georgia were enslaved African-Americans.  In neighboring Thomas County, 51 percent of the people were enslaved. These numbers paled in comparison with the slave population of the coastal counties, where as much as 86 percent of the population toiled in bondage on the sea island cotton and rice plantations of Georgia’s tidewater.  In all, the State of Georgia estimated its citizens owned  three billion dollars worth of slaves.

Almost immediately after the election of Abraham Lincoln,  Levi J. Knight formed the Berrien Minute Men, a company of 103 volunteer infantrymen. Levi J. Knight, original pioneer settler of Ray City, GA was the military leader of the community and a slave owner. He had served as a captain of the local militia company in the Indian Wars, and as a general in the state militia.

The Berrien Minute Men drilled and paraded in the local communities before being called up for deployment. By May, 1861 newspapers reported, “the county is alive with volunteers, and all eager for a fight with the Abolitionists. Our citizens have liberally contributed funds to equip and prepare for service the poor men connected with the companies, and also to supply with provisions and clothing the destitute families of those who shall enter the service.

In 1888 a visitor to Nashville, GA met with surviving veterans of the Berrien Minute Men. A brief passage on their reminiscences was printed in the Atlanta Constitution.

Berrien Minute Men in formation at Nashville, GA

Berrien Minute Men in formation at Nashville, GA
About the Illustration: The Berrien Minute Men of the Georgia 29th Regiment in an 1861 pre-deployment ceremony at the Nashville, Georgia courthouse square. The mounted officer depicts Captain Levi J. Knight (1803-1870) a prominent leader in the area and retired major general of the Georgia militia. The building in the background represents the Berrien County Courthouse, the only known structure from Civil War era Nashville, GA which is documented in photographs. The balcony shown on the courthouse was actually not present until the building was converted to a hotel in 1898. Illustrator: Alan H. Archambault. Image courtesy of Jim Griffin.

The writer of the 1888 news clipping recalled the company of men in their uniforms on the courthouse square.

April 6,1888 Atlanta Constitution. A visitor to Nashville, GA recalls the formation of the Berrien Minute Men during the Civil War.

April 6,1888 Atlanta Constitution. A visitor to Nashville, GA recalls the formation of the Berrien Minute Men during the Civil War.

Atlanta Constitution
Friday April 6, 1888. Pg. 2.

A Brave Band of Men.

Berrien Correspondence Quitman, Ga., Herald.  May the brain that dictates and the hand that indites this sentence be paralyzed if we ever forget our friends and comrades in the days that tried men’s souls. From this county went forth the “Berrien Minute Men” to battle for the lost cause. They were the finest body of men we ever saw in line, and they belonged to the old Twenty-ninth Georgia. Twenty-five or thirty of them on the right of the company were over six feet high. They wore a grey uniform, cut on the claw-hammer style, with a black breast, and trimmed with large gilt buttons. They were a dangerous looking set, and truer, braver, manlier hearts never beat beneath the confederate grey.

Where are these stalwart forms now? We did not see them on the courthouse square at Nashville, where they once mustered so bravely.

Alas! nearly all of this gallant band have passed over the river and are resting under the shade of the trees. We met Henry Knight, John Knight, Lacy Lastinger, Jim Roberts, Jack Parrish, Frank Parrish, and a few others that we knew in the long ago, and we were welcomed, aye, thrice welcomed.

 

About the Courthouse

According to the Berrien Historical Foundation, the Berrien Courthouse was a two-story wooden structure that served the county’s judicial needs from 1858 until around 1897.  The courthouse occupied the square in Nashville, on lands purchased from pioneer, Daniel Griner, and chosen by a commission appointed by the Judge of the Inferior Court.

New Hansell Hotel. Image courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

New Hansell Hotel. Image courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

When the present brick courthouse was to be constructed, the two story wood structure was purchased by Dr. William Bryan Goodman, who moved it to the northeast side of the square and converted it into a hotel.

September 20, 1901 Tifton Gazette reported a new hotel in Nashville, GA

September 20, 1901 Tifton Gazette reported a new hotel in Nashville, GA

Tifton Gazette
September 20, 1901

At the entertainment given by Dr. and Mrs. W. B. Goodman in Nashville Thursday evening last, at which a voting contest for a name for the new Nashville hotel was held, about $20 was realized for the Nashville Methodist church fund. The name “Hotel Hansell,” was selected, in honor of the Southern circuit’s veteran judge.

October 25, 1901 Tifton Gazette reports Hotel Hansell under new management.

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An Otranto Funeral in Belfast

An Otranto Funeral in Belfast

Perhaps no county paid a greater toll in WWI than Berrien County, Georgia. Twenty-three of her young men perished in the sinking of the H.M. S. Otranto just weeks before the war ended.

When survivors of the Otranto shipwreck  were ferried by the H.M.S. Mounsey to Belfast, Ireland  the American Red Cross was there waiting for their arrival.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City GA, connections, and James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 450 men who had managed to leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship Mounsey and were landed in Belfast.

A hundred and fifty of the survivors  had been badly injured in the jump, the injuries ranging from split skulls to broken ribs, broken legs and the like.  On the decks of the dangerously overloaded Mounsey, the men clung for their lives to whatever handholds they could grab.  Many suffered from exposure on the trip to Belfast, some perished. Others contracted pneumonia and died after reaching Belfast.

Most of the hundreds of soldiers who were left behind on the Otranto perished in the sea. A scant 17 managed to survive the swim to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland, among them Early Stewart of Berrien County, GA. For the hundreds of dead who washed ashore, two funerals were held on Islay.

A Third funeral for American soldiers from the Otranto occurred at Belfast, Ireland on October 11, 1918. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto were interred in the city cemetery in Belfast, victims of the Otranto Disaster and men who had died from Pneumonia after reaching Belfast.   Belfast stopped in respect as the funeral procession passed from the Victoria barracks, through Royal Ave, to the City Cemetery. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The flag-draped coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers marching alongside.  There were many floral wreaths, sent by the American Red Cross, the Belfast Care Committee, and other Belfast civic organizations. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included the Lord Mayor of Belfast, the American Consul, and representatives of the American and British army and navy,  the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations.

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland from a troopship. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetary. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10185a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldier victims of the Otranto Disaster and men who had died from Pneumonia after being landed from a troopship were buried in the City Cemetery. The photograph shows the funeral procession passing through Royal Ave. The wreaths shown in the picture were chiefly gifts of the Belfast Care Committee of the American Red Cross http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10185a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland from a troopship. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetary. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10184a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, a public funeral was held in Belfast for twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto disaster, and men who died from pneumonia after being landed in Ireland. The march through the city, from the Victoria barracks to the City Cemetery. Everywhere the streets were crowded with people who had gathered to pay tribute to the honored dead. The coffins were carried on open hearses, two on each conveyance, with a guard of honor composed of British soldiers, marching beside the coffins, each of which was covered with an American flag
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10184a

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British soldiers escorting American flag draped coffins http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01511a

British soldiers escorting American flag draped coffins
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01511a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included representatives of the American and British army and navy, of the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations. There was also the Lord Mayor, the American Consul and others<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10186a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. The band of mourners who marched behind the coffins included representatives of the American and British army and navy, of the Red Cross, and various local civic organizations. There was also the Lord Mayor, the American Consul and others
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10186a

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An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. British soldiers formed the guard of honor for the coffins, as they were carried through the principal streets of Belfast. The photograph shows the procession entering the gates of the cemetery http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10187a

An American military funeral in Belfast, Ireland. On Oct. 11, twelve American soldiers, victims of the Otranto and also several pneumonia cases, were buried in the City Cemetery. British soldiers formed the guard of honor for the coffins, as they were carried through the principal streets of Belfast. The photograph shows the procession entering the gates of the cemetery
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10187a

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<br /> An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Reading the funeral service for twelve American soldiers in the City Cemetery. The officiating clergymen were the Rev. William Maguire and the Rev. Father O'Kelly, CC. Eight of the soldiers belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, three to the Methodist church, one to the Baptist. American and British army officers and American Red Cross officers were the official chief mourners<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10188a


An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Reading the funeral service for twelve American soldiers in the City Cemetery. The officiating clergymen were the Rev. William Maguire and the Rev. Father O’Kelly, CC. Eight of the soldiers belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, three to the Methodist church, one to the Baptist. American and British army officers and American Red Cross officers were the official chief mourners
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10188a

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Burying a Coffin. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01512

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Burying a Coffin. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01512

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. The buglers sound the last salute to the dead. The graves are those of twelve American soldiers, part of them victims of the Otranto disaster, the remainder, men who died of pneumonia, in Belfast hospitals, after being landed from a troop ship http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10189a

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. The buglers sound the last salute to the dead. The graves are those of American soldiers from the sinking troopship HMS Otranto who died of injuries received in the rescue, or of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals, after being landed.
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10189a

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An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Firing squad from the British army (Northumberland Fusiliers) fires the last salute at the graveside. The funeral was of twenty American soldiers on Oct. 11. Part of the men were victims of the Otranto disaster, others were men who died of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals shortly after arriving in Europe http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10190a

An American military funeral at Belfast, Ireland. Firing squad from the British army (Northumberland Fusiliers) fires the last salute at the graveside. The funeral was of twenty American soldiers on Oct. 11. Part of the men were victims of the Otranto disaster, others were men who died of pneumonia in Belfast hospitals shortly after arriving in Europe http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10190a

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A Third funeral for American soldiers from the Otranto occurred at Belfast, Ireland. The men interred in the city cemetery in Belfast, there were many floral wreaths, sent by the Red Cross and by Belfast civic organizations. On this occasion, one of the finest was inscribed “A token of esteem and sympathy from their comrades of the British army” http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10121a

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Graves in Belfast, Ireland, of American soldiers who died of Pneumonia after being rescued from the ill-fated troopship Otranto. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto are buried in this plot in the City Cemetery, Belfast. The officers are shown in front of the graves are Lieut. Horace O'Higgins of New York and Lieut. R.E. Condon of Kansas City, two of the most indefatigable workers in the task of relief and recovery after the disaster<br /> http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10120a

Graves in Belfast, Ireland, of American soldiers who died of Pneumonia after being rescued from the ill-fated troopship Otranto. Seventeen of the men of the Otranto are buried in this plot in the City Cemetery, Belfast. The officers are shown in front of the graves are Lieut. Horace O’Higgins of New York and Lieut. R.E. Condon of Kansas City, two of the most indefatigable workers in the task of relief and recovery after the disaster
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.10120a

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City Cemetery, Belfast, Ireland; American soldiers graves http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01521a

City Cemetery, Belfast, Ireland; American soldiers graves
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/anrc.01521a

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General Biddle thanks Belfast for honors paid to victims of the Otranto Disaster

General Biddle thanks Belfast for honors paid to victims of the Otranto Disaster

New York Times
October 29, 1918

BIDDLE THANKS BELFAST.

General Acknowledges the Funeral Honors to Otranto Victims.

Special Cable to the New York Times.

Belfast, Oct. 28 – Major Gen Biddle, writing to the Secretary of the Belfast Chamber of Trade, has expressed deep appreciation for the many kindly acts shown by Belfast citizens to American survivors of the Otranto. The letter says:

“Reports reaching us of the splendid funeral honors accorded to our dead soldiers in Belfast indicate that your authorities and citizens have been more than kind. Thanks also are due to those Belfst ladies and others who sent floral tributes and in other ways showed such a generous and sympathetic spirit.”

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Otranto Doctor Writes of Ship’s Final Hours

Otranto Doctor Writes of Ship’s Final Hours

In November, 1918, a few weeks after the  Otranto disaster in the closing months of WWI, survivor Dr. Charles A. Dixon, a Captain of the U.S. Medical Corps from Akron, OH, wrote a letter home to his wife describing the voyage of the ill-fated vessel.

Dr. Dixon’s harrowing escape from the doomed Otranto mirrors that of Berrien county men James Marvin DeLoach,  James Grady Wright, Henry Elmo DeLaney,  and Ange Wetherington.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA was among the very few who went into the sea and survived the swim to the rocky coast of Islay.   Almost two dozen Berrien County men  were among the hundreds of soldiers who perished in the sinking, including  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA.

 

Dr. Charles A. Dixon sailed on the ill-fated Otranto.

Dr. Charles A. Dixon sailed on the ill-fated Otranto.

     

In a daring rescue the H.M.S. Mounsey, pulled alongside the Otranto allowing men to jump from the sinking ship to  the deck of the  destroyer. The Mounsey carried the survivors to Belfast, Ireland where the American Red Cross was  waiting for their arrival.  Some of the rescued succumbed to exposure or mortal injuries and were buried in Belfast, Ireland.

Many, many bodies washed ashore on Islay, Scotland. Among the hundreds of Otranto dead  were Benjamin F. McCranieJim Melvin BoyettJohn Guy CoppageHiram Marcus BennettLafayett Gaskins,  William C. Zeigler and other men.  The lost Georgian soldiers were buried in mass graves  would later be honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book, (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I), and Berrien County, GA would commission the first monument to commemorate American soldiers killed in the Great War. and .

Dr. Charles A. Dixon  had boarded the Otranto at the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ with the Berrien County men and other replacement recruits from Fort Screven, Georgia.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto had sailed for England from New York, NY on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 PM with 699 military passengers. The Otranto joined Convoy HX50 transporting troops across the Atlantic to the war in Europe. But on the trip over, the HMS Kashmir collided with the Otranto, resulting in the sinking of the latter.  Charles Vogt’s harrowing story was published February 3, 1919 in the Allentown Morning Call:

 

Akron Beacon Journal
November 30, 1918

Dr. C. A. Dixon, Akron Physician Writes
Detailed Story of Sinking of H.M.S. Otranto
Off Irish Coast

         Dr. Charles A. Dixon, Akron captain of the United States Medical Corps, one of the hundreds who passed through the thrills and dangers of the sinking on Oct. 6 of the British naval vessel Otranto as a result of a collision at sea with the Kashmir, another vessel of the same convoy party, has written a long letter to his wife, residing at 143 Lods St., in which he gives some of the intimate details of the disaster from which he escaped so fortunately.
        Opening his letter with an account of the early days of the trip, during which he was very busy with an outbreak on board of the flu, he comes down to the morning of the disaster. He continues:

        “I had breakfast at 8:30 and I guess because it was Sunday, I didn’t go right into C hold as I usually did, but went up on B deck, in the officers smoking room, and was smoking a cigar and talking to the naval paymaster, when one of our army lieutenants ran from port deck into the smoking room door and yelled for us to “look out,” and sprinted away.
        “We ran to the smoking room door, which was open, and through which we could see outside on B deck, and there about a hundred yards away was the Kashmir (next boat on our port side) headed straight toward us, and looked as if it was going to hit right where we stood. The paymaster let out a yell and ran to to the starboard side deck and grabbed a stanchion, me following a close second. The crash came a moment later and did not seem to jar us greatly; in fact, so little that I sort of smiled at the way we ran.
       Then I walked around to the port side and met one of the ship’s crew who told me how badly we were damaged. It had cut us from B deck clear down to the water line, about 30 feet, anywhere from ten to 20 feet wide. Cut right into the after boiler room in such a way that the boilers were out of commission inside of ten minutes. Those who were in the stoke hold were either killed or drowned. One of our soldiers had his right foot mashed clear off at the ankle, and three non-commissioned officers in a state room were all killed. In ten minutes all lights were out, but I had rushed to my stateroom, secured my overseas orders and my life belt and got back to B deck. (My stateroom was down on D deck).
         “I then gave the soldier with the smashed foot a hypodermic and first dressing. (I forgot to say that before the collision we sighted land off starboard bow; we thought it was Tory Island on the northeast coast of Ireland.) By this time the ship had lost steerage and was wallowing in the trough of those mountain high billows. The deck was such a slant that we could not walk, except as we hung on. At the time of the collision our captain signaled the convoy to move on, as per rules of convoys. The Kashmir, with her bow all stove in, had drifted out of sight.
         The weather was so thick that we could not see very far, but it was estimated that we were six miles off shore when in collision and now we were only two miles from shore. (It sure was a rocky one.)
         The sea was so rough that it was impossible for a boat to live in it or to even launch one.  One roll of the the ship and our starboard deck at ‘B would be about ten feet from the sea, and when she rolled the other way, it was at least 50 feet. At 10:20 (the collision was about 9:20) we saw a little torpedo boat destroyer off port side, and the first leftenant came to the smoking room window and called out, “Abandon ship, every man to his boat or raft station.
          “I never hated to do anything so badly in my life as to go to C deck for my boat position (Boat No. 5) for I knew we never could launch them in that awful sea, but I thought we were all bound to swim anyhow, so went. When we got to our stations we were ordered to get out of our overcoats and take off our shoes, which we did. By that time, the crew were lowering boats on A deck and by the time they were down even with B deck they would swing out 15 feet or more when our side rolled down.  Then I saw the torpedo boat coming up on the starboard side, about 150 feet away.
         And then I thought we were to jump into the sea and she would try to throw the line out and haul us on board, but no, that daredevil of a commander had signaled to us to lower life boats to act as a buffer and he came right up to us and yelled for us to jump. Life boats were splintered like egg shells, but saved the torpedo boat’s side as she bumped. Well believe me we jumped as we got the chance. Sometimes way up forward of me then perhaps way back aft, for you must know every time she bumped, the impact with the high seas would throw the two vessels apart, and then he would either reverse his engines or go ahead and steer her back against us.
         “About the fourth time we bumped together it was favorable to our position and I had an easy leap for life. But while I was waiting for my chance I saw many leap too late or too early – either fall into the sea between the two vessels and later be crushed, or dash themselves on a rising deck from such a distance they were killed or maimed. Then again after reaching the deck of the Moundsy [HMS Mounsey], every sea was washing clear over her and many were washed off her decks into the sea and lost that way.
         After reaching the Moundsy deck, I passed aft on Starboard side, hanging on with others to anything stable enough to be safe and was repeatedly submerged by waves that would have washed me overboard had I not hung on like grim death. Our position became so crowded that we were finally shown the way into the inside of the destroyer. Manholes about the size of a sewer opening were raised up and they crowded us down into these holes as thick as we could stand, in our compartment in an engine room that seemed to be some kind of an auxiliary, anyhow, neither the boilers or engine were working, but the seas when they broke overhead would run streams down over us after taking up grease or oil from the pipes until we were sights to behold. “But it was warmer than above decks and we fared infinitely better than those on the decks who were not only wet to the skin like ourselves, but were being submerged regularly and exposed to the cold gale. Of
course, after going below we knew nothing of what went on above, but they told us that she stood by until the poor old Otranto bit the reefs and then staggered away, loaded far past the limits of safety, trying to make three different havens, but on account of the high seas could not do so and finally brought us clear to Belfast, about 140 miles distance. We landed there soon after 8 o’clock in the evening about nine hours after taking us off. The Moundsy was in command of Lieutenant Craven who is a perfect daredevil.
       “The rescue is one of the most thrilling known to the marine world and what makes it more remarkable is the fact
that our commander (Captain Davidson, who went down with his ship), ordered him not to attempt the rescue as he considered it would only mean the foundering of the Moundsy, which, by the way, was badly damaged and had to go into dry docks for repairs. Her plates were only three-eights inch steel and were loosened up so that it took three pumps all the time to keep her from filling up. Three hundred and ten soldiers and officers and about 200 of the crew were rescued, making a loss of life of a little over 600.
        “The storm held with unabating fury until Tuesday, and when boats were able to land on Isley (pronounced Iley) off the coast of Scotland they found the natives had rescued but 20 alive (17 soldiers and three sailors.) They say the Otranto had all broken up and disappeared by Monday morning, and the shore covered with wreckage 20 feet high. About 200 dead bodies were recovered, the rest were carried to sea by the tides which run very swiftly between Scotland and Ireland.
          “I lost everything, even my shoes, but have no regrets as I consider that I am indeed very lucky to be alive to enjoy the damnable weather which prevails here. I had my money belt on and so am able to buy things as I need them, except uniform, I am still wearing that greasy and dirty. When I am relieved, will no doubt be allowed to re-equip in either Liverpool or London. At each place we have quartermaster stores, and then I can draw my pay which I still have coming for September.
          “Everybody is mighty nice to me here and in a way will be sorry to leave Belfast (which by the frequency of the name leads me to suspect, must be the home of my ancestors), but I am anxious to get on to France before our victorious armies have the boches all killed or captured.
             “I did not even take a cold from my exposure, lost all my remedies and my dear little high potency case, so have not taken a dose of any kind of medicine since the collision. Never felt better in my life and now after all I have been through I do not believe I will have any more bad luck.
           “The ‘subs’ got the Irish mail steamer between Dublin and Kingstown a week ago today with a large loss of life, mostly due to high seas though, and I find that the popular idea at home that our convoys have all come through unscathed is all bunk. They have been getting some right along but no serious losses yet. War news makes very good reading these days and maybe we are licking them but I cannot believe the war is anywhere near over.
          “This letter started last night has run over into another day. It is now Saturday morning and I have to be chief mourner for another funeral which I think will be our last one as the rest are doing nicely. This makes 20 burials here (one a captain of artillery from Nebraska) and each one makes a three mile march at slow time to the cemetery.
          “I might say here that the steamer Kashmir, who rammed us, finally made port at Glascow and she was very bad with pneumonia; had signalled us Sunday morning before the collision that she had six dead on board and I hear she buried about 50 in Glascow. We think the accident was due to her having some sort of trouble with her steering gear, but I do not know.
        “But I must close and get this down to the city to the man who says he will carry it across to you.”

 

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Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

When the troopship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918 near the end of World War I,  Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll.  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA were among the Berrien County men who were drowned.

Before she broke up on the rocks many men were taken off the sinking Otranto  in a daring rescue by the H.M.S. Mounsey, Lt. Francis Craven commanding.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections, James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 600 men who attempted the leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship.

Survivors were ferried by the Mounsey to Belfast, Ireland where the American Red Cross was  waiting for their arrival. Not knowing when or where the disaster would come, The American Red Cross had prepared in advance for disaster.  Of those who succeeded in leaping to the deck of Mounsey, some perished from injuries or exposure and were buried in Belfast, Ireland.

Many, many bodies washed ashore on Islay, Scotland and were buried in mass graves. Berrien men among the hundreds of Otranto dead  included  Benjamin F. McCranieJim Melvin BoyettJohn Guy CoppageHiram Marcus BennettLafayett Gaskins,  William C. Zeigler and other men.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA was among the very few who washed up on the rocky coast of Islay still living.   The lost Georgian soldiers would later be honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book, (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I), and Berrien County, GA would commission the first monument to commemorate American soldiers killed in the Great War.

In the U.S., the first news of the Otranto Disaster broke in the New York Times,  in page after page of reporting.  For weeks official news of the disaster trickled in, until finally in early 1919, returning Otranto survivors were able to tell their own stories.

Charles Vogt, a soldier from Allentown, PA  had boarded the steamship Otranto at the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ with the Berrien County men and other replacement recruits from Fort Screven, Georgia.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto had sailed for England from New York, NY on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 PM with 699 military passengers. The Otranto joined Convoy HX50 transporting troops across the Atlantic to the war in Europe. But on the trip over, the HMS Kashmir collided with the Otranto, resulting in the sinking of the latter.  Charles Vogt’s harrowing story was published February 3, 1919 in the Allentown Morning Call:

Allentown Morning Call
February 3, 1919

Allentown Soldier Home After Having Seen Hard Service. Was on the Otranto.

      Now that the boys of the 57th Field Artillery are home little by little some of the experiences they have gone thru are coming to earth. Charles Vogt, son of C. C. Vogt, the jeweler, who returned with the other Allentown boys who were members of the 57th F. A. told a Morning Call reporter of the story of his trip across on the ill-fated Otranto.
      He did not leave this country with the members of the 57th Field Artillery but left this country late in September of 1917 with replacement troops from Fort Screven. On the trip across there were two troop ships, the Otranto and the Casmir [HMS Kashmir], and the convoy [HX50]. The trip across had been without incident of notice until within twelve miles of the coast of Ireland, when they were caught in the worst storm in nineteen years.
     The Casmir which was to the left of the Otranto suddenly turned about at 8:40 a. m. in the heavy sea and bore down upon the Otranto. It was lifted to the crest of a huge roller and then descended on the Otranto, catching it aft of midships on the port side and ripping the Otranto from the B-deck to below the water line, cutting a hole in the Otranto below the water line thru which a large sized touring car could be driven without trouble. The water poured into the Otranto and silenced its engines. At the same time the convoy seemed to have been swallowed in the storm and nothing was heard of it until after the storm had calmed.
      The calmness with which the Americans took things was remarkable. None of the men on board was seized with fear but calmly stood by and waited for orders. Few of the soldiers realized the serious position they were in. All imagined that a large number of boats would set out from shore and come to the rescue immediately.
      Sixteen coast destroyers set out from shore to help the damaged ship. But owing to the heavy sea only one of them was able to get within reach where she could lend assistance. That was the H.M.S.G.I.A. Mouncy [ HMS Mounsey G1A] in command of Lt. Commander Craven. Thru the semaphore system the condition of the Otranto was made known to the commander of the destroyer. He ordered that the lifeboats on the starboard side of the Otranto be lowered so that they might act as fenders and he would draw close to the Otranto. The Otranto’s commander replied that such a course would be foolhardy. The destroyer’s commander said that it was the only chance. And they took it.
The boats were lowered, strung out along the starboard side of the Otranto. The destroyer neared to a distance of one hundred feet and then caught by the tide was thrown hard against the Otranto’s side crashing the life boats. With the striking of the side of the boats the sailors of the Otranto set the example for the soldiers aboard by leaping to the deck of the destroyer. This leap was made from heights ranging from twenty to fifty feet. Many of the men missed the deck of the destroyer and went into the sea.
        The shock lasted but a short space of time when the destroyer was caught by the tide and drawn away from the Otranto’s side. The Otranto was going down rapidly and was in the trough of the waves. This was at 10:30 a. m. It was again caught by the tide and sent against the side of the Otranto and more men leaped, among them Vogt. This bumping against the side of the Otranto happened four times during which six hundred of the eleven hundred aboard the Otranto made the leap of which one hundred and fifty were killed in the leap and one hundred and fifty badly injured, the injuries ranging from split skulls to broken ribs, broken legs and the like.
        During the excitement of the leaping for life Vogt saw many horrifying sight. One man who had missed the deck of the destroyer was holding on to a rope ladder on the side of the Otranto when the destroyer crashed against the side of the boat and crushed him as a fly is crushed by a finger. Another who was holding to the rail of the destroyer had his head caught in a wire and when the destroyer was washed from the side of the Otranto his head was torn from his shoulders. Shortly before his leap, Vogt saw John Geiger, of this city [Allentown, PA], who was lost in the sea. Geiger was formerly employed by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company in its office.
         At eleven a. m. the destroyer was not in condition to stand another trip to the side of the Otranto and pulled away. The men who boarded here from the Otranto were sent below to prevent the destroyer from capsizing. The funnels filled with water and the boat many times rode at an angle of forty-five degrees. The men in the hold sat for ten hours in water three feet deep and when the ship would lunge would almost be submerged. One man was dragged for three hours in the sea hanging to a rope from the destroyer. Many who were afraid of going below lashed themselves to the deck of the destroyer and suffered from exposure, some dying from it. While the destroyer was within sight of the Otranto the latter was washed upon a reef and split in two, the five hundred who had remained aboard being cast into the sea.
        Of the five hundred who remained aboard the Otranto only seventeen reached shore alive and only sixteen survived. One of the men surviving was Sgt. MacDonald who had been chased from deck to deck as the boat gradually listed and who with three others got hold of a piece of wreckage and started on their journey. During the trip the three companions were washed away and he continued alone. He was washed into a cleft in the rocks after four hours of drifting but was carried out again by the tide. He then evidently lost consciousness for when he opened his eyes he was on the top of the rocks looking into the faces of a group of Irish peasants.
         The destroyer docked at Belfast, Ireland at 8:55 p. m. Before the men were allowed to leave the boat the boat was lifted out of the water. So bad was her condition that ten miles more of sea would have finished her. The people of Belfast were well prepared to meet the issue. The men who were a sorry shoeless lot, were put into every kind of vehicle that could be pressed into service and taken to the Victoria barracks. Many of the men were forced to walk the five miles to the barracks as the supply of taxis and the like was inadequate.
        The men were here divided into two sections some sleeping in the chapel, others in the gym. The American Red Cross supplied the men with clean underwear and socks and bedding while the British troops saw that they had plenty to eat, sacrificing bread and eating hard tack in order that the Americans might be fed. The society folk and the Lord Mayor of the city gave them everything and anything that was necessary that was in the city.
        During the night, the storm continued without showing signs of abating. The men were nervous wrecks. The least sound or noise such as the breaking of the limbs of a tree near the barracks would cause them to jump from their beds shouting while many of the men repeated in nightmare the incidents which meant the saving of their lives.
       The commander of the destroyer which managed to make one of the most memorable rescues in the history of the world was loudly praised and cited by the British government for bravery as was his crew. Owing to the fact that it was not done in the face of enemy fire he was not awarded the much coveted cross. After the boat had set off from the Otranto he had to be carried below where for thirty-five minutes his men worked on him to bring him back to his senses, so hard had been the nervous strain during action.
        Howard Strohm, Vogt and Geiger were the only Lehigh county boys aboard. Strohm, hails from Emaus. He and Vogt were saved while Geiger was lost and buried with the first two hundred who were found dead among the wreckage of the ship.

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