I found this interesting note on the sinking of the Steamer General Lyon,
I wonder if Brian Williams was on board ?
This story has propagated all over the net in recent years, just as it was propagated though various newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic in 1875.
It was apparently all a hoax, per this article in the National Republican, July 7, 1875 (available on the Library of Congress newspaper archive site):
" A Hoax.
The Secretary of War some weeks ago received
letters from persons in Illinois, stating that Henson
G. Raines, a private in company K, 56th Illinois
volunteers, who was supposed to have been
lost at sea on March 31, 1865, by the burning of
the steamer General Lyon, was in Grey's hospital,
London, without means to reach home; that he
jumped into the sea when the General Lyon was
lost, and drifted four days upon a cabin-door, with
a man named Butler, when they were picked up
by a schooner and left on an island inhabited by
cannibals, where Butler died. Raines remained
there ten years until March last, when he escaped
aboard the British man-of-war Vengeance, and
taken to London.
General Schenck was instructed to inquire Into
the case and aid Raines, if necesary to retnrn to
his home and parents near Golconda, Ill. A letter
received at the War Department yesterday
morning, from Minister Schenck, reports that no
such man as Henson Raines has been in Gray's
hospital during the past ten years, and it is believed
the whole story is a hoax. Minister
Schenck also reports there is no such British
vessel as the Vengeance."
A rather cruel joke to perpetrate if Raines' family really was pulled into it, and actually seeking to get their 'castaway' home.
I dug around until I found the article above because I thought the whole story seemed very dubious. What deserted-but-habitable island exists near Cape Hatteras? And in looking into the "HMS Vengeance", I found there was no active warship with that name in the British Navy in 1875. Also, I could find no local account in 1875 London of Raines ending up in hospital there - this would have been quite a sensational "Robinson Crusoe" story, and certainly would have gotten coverage in the London papers.
Amazing how a 130+ year old hoax can take on a life of its own...
You can read more about the sinking HERE -