The Late Disaster.
Since our last issue we have gathered many particulars concerning the explosion of the Ben. Lewis, at this point, on the 25th ult., which may be of sufficient interest to authorize their publication.
The concussion created by the explosion was not unlike that of an earthquake. It was very violent in Cairo, and was distinctly felt by many persons in Charleston, Missouri, a point twelve miles from the scene of the disaster. A gentleman of that place who was watching a sick wife at the time, says that he not only heard the report, but felt the tremulous motion of the earth unmistakably. The shock was also felt at several points along the line of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad, several miles from Cairo.
Some minutes elapsed after the explosion, before it was discovered by lookers-on at Cairo, that the wreck was on fire. The fire broke out in the ladies' cabin, and progressed so slowly that the Bay City, which was then in port, with steam up, might have repaired to the wreck and taken off every survivor who was not blown into the river by the explosion. But Capt. Miller refused to "risk his boat," and, as a consequence, assistance was delayed until all were driven into the river by the flames, where no doubt as many as forty or fifty perished. Let this loss of human life be charged to the infamous murderer, the cold-blooded monster, who commanded the Bay City.
The survivors were all brought to Cairo early Monday morning. Quite all of them were without other clothing than their under garments, and some of them were quite scantily clad in this respect. For their accommodation every house was thrown open, and willing hands generously ministered to all their wants.
The wounded were conveyed to the St. Charles Hotel, where they received careful nursing, and the undivided attention of every physician in the city. Everything that could be done to alleviate their sufferings, was done, with a promptness and willingness that must reflect everlasting credit upon the citizens of Cairo. The naked were all clothed, and the hungry fed, at the expense of the city, and if the sufferers had wants that were not ministered to, such was the case because our citizens knew nothing of the existence of those wants.
Of the wounded brought to Cairo, Edward Farrell, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Merrit Tyler, colored, of St. Louis, Mo., died during Monday; and T. Flannegan, of Dubuque, Iowa, died Tuesday morning. Farrell and Tyler had the appearance of having been boiled alive. They were awfully scalded, seeming but a mass of raw flesh. Flannegan's left leg was most shockingly torn, the flesh hanging from it in great folds. He was also scalded, and injured otherwise. All others who were injured will recover.
The family of Mr. Geo. W. Williams, (of Memphis), consisting of a wife, three daughters and two sons; were on the boat at the time of the disaster. Charles, the oldest son, was forward at the time of the explosion, and received serious injuries. He rushed back to the ladies' cabin, the blood streaming from his head, his clothes torn and features disfigured, and embracing his mother, brother and sisters, charged them to keep together, assuring them that he would save them. After throwing the trunks into the river, he assisted his mother to the lower guards, placed his sister Georgianna, upon the rudder, and gave into her keeping his little brother Jimmy. His sister Sallie jumped from the cabin window to the lower guards. By this time portions of the wreck came floating by. He plunged overboard and securing a plank he placed Sallie upon it, and bid her to cheer up, that she would be saved. He then secured a piece of the upper deck, which came along in the drift, and placing his mother and Jimmy upon it, swam away, pushing it before him. Georgianna clung to the rudder until the flames scorched her shoulders, when she was rescued by the second mate, who had, previously, placed little Nannie, the youngest daughter of Mr. Williams, upon the scuttle, and believing her safe, gave her into the charge of another man. Of all this family Sallie and Georgianna only were saved. Mrs. Williams, Nannie, Jimmie and the noble Charlie were drowned. In his efforts to save others he sacrificed himself, and that too without preserving lives that seemed dearer to him than his own. To the memory of such a young man, too high a tribute cannot be paid.
The part acted by the mate of Lewis was most praiseworthy. He saved no less than eleven lives. Mr. Tom Watson, of Spaulding & Rogers' Circus, also rendered services that will always be remembered by several whom he rescued at the very time when they seemed struggling against immediate death.
The body of Mrs. Williams was found a few hours after the explosion, while yet warm, supported by an oar under her arm. We hear that she could have been resuscitated, but that the inhuman wretches who had her in charge concluded that the necessary means would involve too much trouble! The body when brought to Cairo had been rifled of everything valuable about it. There are grave suspicions existing that Mrs. Williams was foully dealt with.
Including the officers and crew, there were about two hundred persons on board the Lewis at the time of the explosion. The names of about one hundred survivors have been registered at the different hotels in Cairo. We are quite certain that no less than sixty lives were lost, eight or ten, perhaps, directly killed by the explosion, as many more burned up with the wreck, and the balance by drowning. By those who reached the spot first, it is said that the whole river about the boat seemed as if alive with screaming, shrieking and dying human beings.
By the arrival of the Platte Valley, last Saturday morning, we learn that as many as twenty-two bodies have been found between Cairo and the Tennessee line. Among this number we hear that the body of Charley Williams, and Mr. Dudley, of Nashville, have been recognized. The body of Mr. Nanson, who was in command of the Lewis, was on board the Platte Valley, having been recovered near New Madrid. The back of the head was blown away and the body shockingly mangled.
Be it said to the disgrace of mankind, that some wretches wearing the human shape, repaired to the scene of disaster with the sole view of plunder, and that while cries for help reached them from every side they were busied rifling trunks and mail bags, gathering up everything of value they could lay their hands on. We hear it stated that one of these hell-mortgaged villains was appealed to by a drowning man for assistance, and that the reply was: "Swim ashore or go to h—ll, d—n you — we're in better business." How deeply it is to be regretted that these heartless plunderers of the dead and dying cannot be designated beyond uncertainty? To assist in meting out to them the penalty even-handed justice would award, every citizen of this place would esteem one of the highest and most pressing duties. Diligent inquiry in this behalf has already been instituted, but thus far no facts have been gained which give rise to more than bare suspicion. Watchful eyes and attentive ears are employed, however, and may God have mercy on the villain they mark out as such a plunderer, for the people of this community will be too eager to punish his enormities, to temper his reward with clemency or forbearance or even the semblance of mercy.