Samuel Beard Risien:
From the "CSS Alabama" to the "Titanic."
by Terry Foenander.
At the end of 2000, one of my regular correspondents, Tom Brooks, of Gravenhurst, Ontario, in Canada, sent me a list he had compiled, containing the names of a number of Confederate Navy personnel, from the material he had at hand. Tom knows of my interests in the Union and Confederate Navies, and regularly keeps me advised of interesting or obscure information that he locates during his research.
Amongst the names he sent at this particular time, was that of Samuel Risien, whom he noted as having been a member of the Confederate Navy, and was aboard the Titanic when that vessel went down in the Atlantic, nearly a half century after his service in the CSN. Tom's original source, Confederate Veteran magazine, volume XX (1912), page 579, had indicated that Beard, a native of England, had been a member of the Joe Johnston Camp, number 94, in Mexia, Texas, and had been a sailor aboard the CSS Alabama. No further information was shown at this source.
I then checked some sources on the Titanic available on the Internet, and found that Samuel Beard Risien and his second wife, Emma, had been third class passengers on the vessel when it went down in 1912. A query posted on one of the forums at a web site relating to the Titanic brought forth several replies, including one or two from descendants of the Risiens. (Some of the replies also indicated that there were three or four other Civil War veterans who had been on the Titanic on that fateful night, but this is another story.) That particular web site, titled "Encyclopedia Titanica" also included the biographies of just about everyone on board the Titanic, when she hit the iceberg in the Atlantic, including brief biographies of Samuel Beard Risien and his wife, Emma.
The biography of Samuel Beard Risien, contributed by Philip Gowan, does not however, include any mention of his service in the Confederate States Navy. It shows that Risien was born in England on June 3, 1842, and was first married to Mary Louise Lellyet in 1867, in London. They went to the United States to live in 1870, and settled in Groesbeck, Texas. Sam and Mary had three children, before Mary's death sometime between 1880 and 1890. At an unknown later date Sam remarried, this time to Mary's sister, Emma. Emma's family is noted as having an interest in some diamond mines in Durban, South Africa, where they were resident at the time. Sam and Emma had apparently gone to Durban in 1910 to visit the family, and were on their way home, via London, when they decided to travel aboard the Titanic on it's maiden voyage to America. They embarked aboard the Titanic, on April 10, 1912, at Southampton. Family lore speculates that they were carrying some diamonds from the Lellyet family mines, when they boarded the vessel, and were using the third class facilities so as not to arouse suspicion.
A descendant, Frances Reynolds, has also attempted to gather additional information about Risien's service, but is unable to shed any further light on his service. To obtain membership in the Confederate Veterans' groups, the applicant would have had to have shown proof, or been recommended by a fellow serviceman. Thus Risien's membership in the Joe Johnston Camp of Mexia, Texas, indicates that he did indeed serve in the Confederate Navy. It is rather unfortunate that because of the scarcity of documentary records for the Navy, that his service cannot be confirmed by official documentation. None of the rosters in the several publications on the CSS Alabama include his name amongst the sailors of that vessel, but no roster compiled for that vessel is really complete, as the documentation is, and will always be, incomplete in relation to the Confederate States Navy.
A final sad note about Sam and Emma Risien is that their bodies were never recovered, or may have been amongst those of the unidentified.
© Terry Foenander.