William Fies

Perhaps no Civil War record is more compelling than that of William Fies. Born in Germany in 1841, Fies relocated to the United States with his parents, settling in Marion, Ohio. At age 20, Fies joined Company B of the 64th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in October 1861. Fies and five fellow soldiers were captured at the 1864 battle of Franklin. He and 1800 other prisoners marched hundreds of miles through winter weather with few rations to Meridian, Mississippi. They spent a few days in stockades before heading to their next destination: Andersonville Prison. Andersonville was so traumatic that Fies wouldn’t attempt a “description of this hell on earth; nearly all have read descriptions of it.” On March 26, 1865, Fies and other parolees were sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi; they boarded the SS Sultana on April 24 for the trip up the Mississippi. After a stop at Memphis on April 26, the steamer resumed its journey. Around 2 a.m., the extremely overcrowded ship’s boilers exploded. Those not killed instantly were fighting for their lives in the burning wreckage or cold floodwaters. With a bleeding face, a severely burned hand, and dislocated shoulder, Fies tied a bundle of wood to help him float and abandoned ship. One man jumped ship and landed on him; another grabbed him in a desperate attempt to keep from drowning. Fies fought them off and, with his damaged shoulder, swam away. When he could swim no more and began to accept his imminent death, a man on a large board floated near. Fies clamped onto the board, and the frightened man tried to shake Fies off by rolling repeatedly. The man tired and drowned, and Fies took over the board. After floating a great while, Fies reached a tree and perched there. Hours later, rescuers arrived and took Fies to a Memphis hospital. After three years and seven months in the Federal army and surviving numerous battles (Stones River and Franklin, especially), the horrors of Andersonville, and an explosion, Fies left the army. He returned to Ohio where he worked as an undertaker and furniture dealer.

  • Survived many battles, captured at Battle of Franklin
  • Imprisoned in notorious Andersonville Prison
  • Survived explosion aboard the Sultana