Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

lady who was a fellow-passenger from New Orleans, a Mrs. D-, called

to me to secure her and her lady friend berths on deck, saying that

those below were unendurable. I spoke to the purser, who, at the

moment perplexed by the crowd and clamor, answered: "I must put

their names down for the other two berths of your state-room; but,

as soon as the confusion is over, I will make some change whereby

you shall not suffer." As soon as these two women were assigned to

a state-room, they took possession, and I was left out. Their

names were recorded as "Captain Sherman and ladies." As soon as

things were quieted down I remonstrated with the purser, who at

last gave me a lower berth in another and larger state-room on

deck, with five others, so that my two ladies had the state-room

all to themselves. At every meal the steward would come to me, and

say, "Captain Sherman, will you bring your ladies to the table?"

and we had the best seats in the ship.

This continued throughout the voyage, and I assert that "my ladies"

were of the most modest and best-behaved in the ship; but some time

after we had reached San Francisco one of our fellow-passengers

came to me and inquired if I personally knew Mrs. D---, with flaxen

tresses, who sang so sweetly for us, and who had come out under my

especial escort. I replied I did not, more than the chance

acquaintance of the voyage, and what she herself had told me, viz.,

that she expected to meet her husband, who lived about Mokelumne

Hill. He then informed me that she was a woman of the town.

Society in California was then decidedly mixed. In due season the

steamship Lewis got under weigh. She was a wooden ship, long and

narrow, bark-rigged, and a propeller; very slow, moving not over

eight miles an hour. We stopped at Acapulco, and, in eighteen

days, passed in sight of Point Pinoa at Monterey, and at the speed

we were traveling expected to reach San Francisco at 4 A. M. the

next day. The cabin passengers, as was usual, bought of the

steward some champagne and cigars, and we had a sort of ovation for

the captain, purser, and surgeon of the ship, who were all very

clever fellows, though they had a slow and poor ship. Late at

night all the passengers went to bed, expecting to enter the port

at daylight. I did not undress, as I thought the captain could and

would run in at night, and I lay down with my clothes on. About 4

A. M. I was awakened by a bump and sort of grating of the vessel,

which I thought was our arrival at the wharf in San Francisco; but

instantly the ship struck heavily; the engines stopped, and the

running to and fro on deck showed that something was wrong. In a

moment I was out of my state-room, at the bulwark, holding fast to

a stanchion, and looking over the side at the white and seething

water caused by her sudden and violent stoppage. The sea was

comparatively smooth, the night pitch-dark, and the fog deep and

impenetrable; the ship would rise with the swell, and come down

with a bump and quiver that was decidedly unpleasant. Soon the

passengers were out of their rooms, undressed, calling for help,

and praying as though the ship were going to sink immediately. Of

course she could not sink, being already on the bottom, and the

only question was as to the strengh of hull to stand the bumping

and straining. Great confusion for a time prevailed, but soon I

realized that the captain had taken all proper precautions to

secure his boats, of which there were six at the davits. These are

the first things that steerage-passengers make for in case of

shipwreck, and right over my head I heard the captain's voice say

in a low tone, but quite decided: "Let go that falls, or, damn you,

I'll blow your head off!" This seemingly harsh language gave me

great comfort at the time, and on saying so to the captain

afterward, he explained that it was addressed to a passenger who

attempted to lower one of the boats. Guards, composed of the crew,

were soon posted to prevent any interference with the boats, and

the officers circulated among the passengers the report that there

was no immediate danger; that, fortunately, the sea was smooth;

that we were simply aground, and must quietly await daylight.

They advised the passengers to keep quiet, and the ladies and

children to dress and sit at the doors of their state-rooms, there

to await the advice and action of the officers of the ship, who

were perfectly cool and self-possessed. Meantime the ship was

working over a reef-for a time I feared she would break in two;

but, as the water gradually rose inside to a level with the sea

outside, the ship swung broadside to the swell, and all her keel

seemed to rest on the rock or sand. At no time did the sea break

over the deck--but the water below drove all the people up to the

main-deck and to the promenade-deck, and thus we remained for about

three hours, when daylight came; but there was a fog so thick that

nothing but water could be seen. The captain caused a boat to be

carefully lowered, put in her a trustworthy officer with a

boat-compass, and we saw her depart into the fog. During her

absence the ship's bell was kept tolling. Then the fires were all

out, the ship full of water, and gradually breaking up, wriggling

with every swell like a willow basket--the sea all round us full of

the floating fragments of her sheeting, twisted and torn into a

spongy condition. In less than an hour the boat returned, saying

that the beach was quite near, not more than a mile away, and had a

good place for landing. All the boats were then carefully lowered,

and manned by crews belonging to the ship; a piece of the gangway,

on the leeward side, was cut away, and all the women, and a few of

the worst-scared men, were lowered into the boats, which pulled for

shore. In a comparatively short time the boats returned, took new

loads, and the debarkation was afterward carried on quietly and

systematically. No baggage was allowed to go on shore except bags

or parcels carried in the hands of passengers. At times the fog

lifted so that we could see from the wreck the tops of the hills,

and the outline of the shore; and I remember sitting on, the upper

or hurricane deck with the captain, who had his maps and compass

before him, and was trying to make out where the ship was. I

thought I recognized the outline of the hills below the mission of

Dolores, and so stated to him; but he called my attention to the

fact that the general line of hills bore northwest, whereas the

coast south of San Francisco bears due north and south. He

therefore concluded that the ship had overrun her reckoning, and

was then to the north of San Francisco. He also explained that,

the passage up being longer than usual, viz., eighteen days, the

coal was short; that at the time the firemen were using some cut-up

spars along with the slack of coal, and that this fuel had made

more than usual steam, so that the ship must have glided along

faster than reckoned. This proved to be the actual case, for, in

fact, the steamship Lewis was wrecked April 9, 1853, on "Duckworth

Reef," Baulinas Bay, about eighteen miles above the entrance to San


The captain had sent ashore. the purser in the first boat, with

orders to work his way to the city as soon as possible, to report

the loss of his vessel, and to bring back help. I remained on the

wreck till among the last of the passengers, managing to get a can

of crackers and some sardines out of the submerged pantry, a thing

the rest of the passengers did not have, and then I went quietly

ashore in one of the boats. The passengers were all on the beach,

under a steep bluff; had built fires to dry their clothes, but had

seen no human being, and had no idea where they were. Taking along

with me a fellow-passenger, a young chap about eighteen years old,

I scrambled up the bluff, and walked back toward the hills, in

hopes to get a good view of some known object. It was then the

month of April, and the hills were covered with the beautiful

grasses and flowers of that season of the year. We soon found

horse paths and tracks, and following them we came upon a drove of

horses grazing at large, some of which had saddle-marks. At about

two miles from the beach we found a corral; and thence, following

one of the strongest-marked paths, in about a mile more we

descended into a valley, and, on turning a sharp point, reached a

board shanty, with a horse picketed near by. Four men were inside

eating a meal. I inquired if any of the Lewis's people had been

there; they did not seem to understand what I meant when I

explained to them that about three miles from them, and beyond the

old corral, the steamer Lewis was wrecked, and her passengers were

on the beach. I inquired where we were, and they answered, "At

Baulinas Creek;" that they were employed at a saw-mill just above,

and were engaged in shipping lumber to San Francisco; that a

schooner loaded with lumber was then about two miles down the

creek, waiting for the tide to get out, and doubtless if we would

walk down they would take us on board.

I wrote a few words back to the captain, telling him where he was,

and that I would hurry to the city to send him help. My companion

and I their went on down the creek, and soon descried the schooner

anchored out in the stream. On being hailed, a small boat came in

and took us on board. The "captain" willingly agreed for a small

sum to carry us down to San Francisco; and, as his whole crew

consisted of a small boy about twelve years old, we helped him to

get up his anchor and pole the schooner down the creek and out over

the bar on a high tide. This must have been about 2 P.M. Once over

the bar, the sails were hoisted, and we glided along rapidly with a

strong, fair, northwest wind. The fog had lifted, so we could see

the shores plainly, and the entrance to the bay. In a couple of

hours we were entering the bay, and running "wing-and-wing."

Outside the wind was simply the usual strong breeze; but, as it

passes through the head of the Golden Gate, it increases, and

there, too, we met a strong ebb-tide.

The schooner was loaded with lumber, much of which was on deck,

lashed down to ring bolts with raw-hide thongs. The captain was

steering, and I was reclining on the lumber, looking at the

familiar shore, as we approached Fort Point, when I heard a sort of

cry, and felt the schooner going over. As we got into the throat

of the "Heads," the force of the wind, meeting a strong ebb-tide,

drove the nose of the schooner under water; she dove like a duck,

went over on her side, and began, to drift out with the tide. I

found myself in the water, mixed up with pieces of plank and ropes;

struck out, swam round to the stern, got on the keel, and clambered

up on the side. Satisfied that she could not sink, by reason of

her cargo, I was not in the least alarmed, but thought two

shipwrecks in one day not a good beginning for a new, peaceful

career. Nobody was drowned, however; the captain and crew were

busy in securing such articles as were liable to float off, and I

looked out for some passing boat or vessel to pick us up. We were

drifting steadily out to sea, while I was signaling to a boat about

three miles off, toward Saucelito, and saw her tack and stand

toward us. I was busy watching this sail-boat, when I heard a

Yankee's voice, close behind, saying, "This is a nice mess you've

got yourselves into," and looking about I saw a man in a small

boat, who had seen us upset, and had rowed out to us from a

schooner anchored close under the fort. Some explanations were

made, and when the sail-boat coming from Saucelito was near enough

to be spoken to, and the captain had engaged her to help his

schooner, we bade him good by, and got the man in the small boat-to

carry us ashore, and land us at the foot of the bluff, just below

the fort. Once there, I was at home, and we footed it up to the

Presidio. Of the sentinel I inquired who was in command of the

post, and was answered, "Major Merchant." He was not then in, but

his adjutant, Lieutenant Gardner, was. I sent my card to him; he

came out, and was much surprised to find me covered with sand, and

dripping with water, a good specimen of a shipwrecked mariner. A

few words of explanation sufficed; horses were provided, and we

rode hastily into the city, reaching the office of the Nicaragua

Steamship Company (C. K. Garrison, agent) about dark, just as the

purser had arrived; by a totally different route. It was too late

to send relief that night, but by daylight next morning two

steamers were en route for and reached the place of wreck in time

to relieve the passengers and bring them, and most of the baggage.

I lost my carpet-bag, but saved my trunk. The Lewis went to pieces

the night after we got off, and, had there been an average sea

during the night of our shipwreck, none of us probably would have

escaped. That evening in San Francisco I hunted up Major Turner,

whom I found boarding, in company with General E. A. Hitchcock, at

a Mrs. Ross's, on Clay Street, near Powell. I took quarters with

them, and began to make my studies, with a view to a decision

whether it was best to undertake this new and untried scheme of

banking, or to return to New Orleans and hold on to what I then

had, a good army commission.

At the time of my arrival, San Francisco was an the top wave of

speculation and prosperity. Major Turner had rented at six hundred

dollars a month the office formerly used and then owned by Adams &

Co., on the east side of Montgomery Street, between Sacramento and

California Streets. B. R. Nisbet was the active partner, and James

Reilly the teller. Already the bank of Lucas, Turner & Co. was

established, and was engaged in selling bills of exchange,

receiving deposits, and loaning money at three per cent. a month.

Page, Bacon & Co., and Adams & Co., were in full blast across the

street, in Parrott's new granite building, and other bankers were

doing seemingly a prosperous business, among them Wells, Fargo &

Co.; Drexel, Sather & Church; Burgoyne & Co.; James King of Win.;

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