NP, AI 10/16/1863

From the Atlanta Intelligencer
October 16, 1863
Terrible Conflagration and Loss of Life
Steamboat Mary Wilson Destroyed by Fire
Twenty-two Lives Lost
   It is our painful duty to chronicle a terrible disaster which occurred yesterday. The particulars, so far as we have been able to gather them, are about as follows: The steamboat Mary Wilson, used as a ferryboat to carry the mails and passengers on the line of the Mobile & Great Northern Railroad, between this city and the railroad wharf in Baldwin country, while on her way over yesterday (Sunday), at about 1 o'clock, and within about two miles of Blakeley {four miles from Mobile}, with variously estimated) between 150 and 200 cabin passengers, 67 bales of cotton, the mails and sundries, accidentally caught fire, as we learn, from sparks from the furnace. The wind was quite fresh from the North at the time, blowing the sparks clear through the engine room over the guards, &c., which set the cotton next to the boilers on fire. The alarm was immediately given, and the passengers and crew attempted to throw the cotton overboard, but so rapid did the flames spread that in a few minutes all the cotton was on fire, which almost enveloped the boat in flames.
   The pilot, a negro named Dan, the property of Col. Kitchen, of Stockton, seeing the imminent danger of the passengers and all on board, with undaunted courage stuck like Casabianca to his post, and turned the boat's bow in to the left hand marsh, thus enabling most of those on board to get on shore and save their lives. A number who were on the stern of the boat, when she turned around towards the marsh, were driven overboard by the flames and drowned.
   After all was done that possibly could be for the safety of those on board, the captain, H. L. Toulmin; the engineer, Robt. Valtz; and Dan, the pilot, got ashore safely. Within a few minutes afterwards, the boat drifted on the opposite shore, burnt to the water's edge, and set the marsh on fire, which at first created another panic amongst the rescued people, causing them to scatter in the marsh, but it was soon over. The news reached Mobile from Blakely under the following circumstances:
   It appears that during the afternoon one of the telegraph operators was out gunning and saw the Mary Wilson on fire. He repaired immediately to the telegraph office and transmitted a message to Mobile. Mr. Sandford, happening to be in the office at the time, received it, saw its contents, and communicated the facts to the officers of the road. Soon the steamer Robert Watson was made ready and started to her assistance. On arriving they found her as described above -- everything a complete wreck. The mails, the books, cotton, and the boat, all a total loss; and, as near as can be ascertained, 22 lives were lost.
   It is said to be an impossibility to tell how many persons were on the boat at the time therefore, it would seem impossible to tell how many are lost. A lady by the name of Mrs. Gunter, of Montgomery, (her husband is a member of the first artillery company at Fort Morgan,) was burned to death. The body of a little child of Mrs. P. E. J. May, who was on her way to Americus, Ga., has been found drowned; another child was lost but the mother is safe. There were twelve ladies on board, three of whom are lost.
   A great deal of praise is given to the officials mentioned above for the coolness and courage which they manifested during the whole time of the danger, and particular praise is given to Dan. As an evidence the passengers within a few minutes raised the sum of $180 in cash and handed it to him.
   Major Jack Reiley, Jr., of Gen. Longstreet's staff, who was en route to his command, succeeded in reaching terra firma safely. We learn that the Major was quite effective and gallant in saving some of his companions from an untimely grave.