Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Journal of POW Sgt. John Clark Ely: Tired, hungry -- and his 'brightest day'

Train carrying Ely passed through Montgomery, Ala. (Library of Congress)

Once out of Andersonville prison, Sgt. John Clark Ely of the 115th Ohio Infantry put a little more heft and color into his journal, adding descriptions of scenery as he and his comrades headed west through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. They were excited about their impending freedom at a parole camp. They would remain under Confederate guard until that occurred. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 25, 1865 (Saturday)
Left Columbus, Georgia, for Montgomery, Alabama, at 9 a.m., country looks like it did when we came through two months ago, though saw fields of corn planted and winter grain, looks green like spring.  Arrived at Montgomery at 8 p.m. went from cars to boat for Selma.  All along the road today wore many flowers in bloom such as peach, cherry, plumb, crab-apple, honey-suckle, wood-bine, June berry, soft maple, dogwood and many little ones.  We arrived at Selma at 9 a.m. on boat Cherokee.

March 26, 1865 (Sunday)
Took us in a small stockade just out of town a little, quite a cavalry force came in p.m.  There is some very fine bottom land between Montgomery and Selma at Montgomery is some force of Johnnys camping there looking for a yankee raid. Had big time lousing company all day, cooked but little.

March 27, 1865 (Monday)
Left Selma and got again to Demapolis near noon, it is a very fine rich farming country all the way oak, hickory, elm and birch timber between Fansworth and Macon is very fine with lime understratus, corn up fine in several places.  Moss on the timber a great deal, country rather flat but it is very rich, went down Tombigbee again on the boat Marringo to McDowells Landing, took cars and for a wonder we were put in passenger cars, one car run the rear track before we had gone very far.  Spent some time getting same back on track.  How the Johnnys did pile off, arrived at Meridian 8 p.m., went again to the old stocks to stay.  Hope it may be the last night in rebel ()

March 28, 1865 (Tuesday)
Left early for Jackson, Meridian looks very much as when we left January 19th for Andersonville, Ga.  Distance from Meridian Jackson 90 miles, arrived at Jackson about 5 p.m., feeling pretty well, went out of town and camped, this place has been much knocked to pieces, the route from Meridian mostly woody, low land. Lake Stations a little place, I did not see a good plantation till we got within 5 miles of Jackson.

March 29, 1865 (Wednesday)
Commenced raining early and rained all day. Broke camp and marched to Clinton, an awful day.  Had to wade many streams from knee to waist deep and of the march today, 1/3 has been wading water.  Maj. Tracy and I went up to a Mr. Johnsons and go r supper and stayed all night.  Had a good supper and got our clothes dry, gave the lady my fryer for what we had twas to us good.

March 30, 1865 (Thursday)
Started out quite early, wind blew cool from West, no rain.  There is some very fine rich country between Clinton and Edwards Station and before the war, must have been very rich in agriculture, the buildings now destroyed show evidences of wealth no often seen in northern states.  The timber is mostly oak with some elm and hickory, soil clay loam mixed with sand, should think the water scarce in summer and not at anytime fit for house purposes, use cisterns everywhere here for their water for drinking and we () till finally we came to Edward station, 33 miles from Jackson and we marched all over the country out of the way and we were all very tired, sore and hungry.  One man died of exhaustion by the way.

March 31, 1865 (Friday).
Fine morning, started out and arrived at Blk River bridge at about 9 a.m. the place we have looked for now have found.  The country after leaving Edward Station is like river bottom land, very rich and still high enough not to be over flowed by high water.  I am very sore, also Tracy and Way.  Distance from Jackson to Blk River bridge 32 miles, from bridge to Vicksburg 13 miles, at the bridge we were counted and names called, a singular coincidence that men of Jacksons division, Rosses brigade who captured us were the guard delivering us over to our own men again.  Crossed river, took cars, went to parole camp 4 miles East of Vicksburgh, found Lt. Eadie, Capt. Lowry and all the boys of Co. C.  Oh this is the brightest day of my life long to be remembered.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Looking at history -- through whiskers

You know the saying: What’s old is new again. Here’s one for you: Civil War facial hair. It’s what’s hot in 2015. The Valentine’s new show “Beard Wars” in Richmond, Va., re-creates 23 famous beards from Union and Confederate generals in the ultimate face-off salute to facial hair. • Article

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sultana disaster: New museum, events, documentary to mark 150th anniversary

Overloaded Sultana awaits its destiny (Library of Congress)

The campaign to keep alive the story of the largest maritime disaster in U.S. history has come to fruition, with the upcoming opening of a Sultana museum, a 150th anniversary weekend in an Arkansas river city and the private screening of a documentary backed by actor Sean Astin, best known for the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy.

“The Sultana is beginning to receive her acknowledgement as the great tragedy to end the Civil War,” said Louis Intres, an adjunct history instructor at Arkansas State University.

The steamboat, traveling on the Mississippi River, exploded and caught fire early on the morning of April 27, 1865, at war’s end. It claimed about 1,800 lives. Most of the victims were freed Union prisoners headed north, believing they were going home.

The incident received little publicity because Americans were weary of the Civil War and still mourning President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated only two weeks before.

Intres and others expect that anniversary events in Marion, Ark., and nearby Memphis, Tenn., planned for late April will bring folks from around the region and country to check out the museum, hear lectures, attend a wreath-laying ceremony and take a bus tour and a “riverboat cruise into history.”

Gene Salecker with Sultana model (Courtesy of Mark Randall)

On Saturday, April 25, passengers will board a vessel in Memphis, and travel on the Mississippi River to the site of the disaster and the wreckage, which lies beneath a cultivated field on the Arkansas side near Marion. The site is on private property, and the field may be underwater because of flooding this time of year.

“The captain has agreed to take the boat upstream, farther than ordinary, in order to get into the area where the (ship) remains are,” Rosalind O’Neal of the Sultana Historic Preservation Society told the Picket.

The Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends (ASDF) will be holding its annual reunion in Marion from April 23-27. Members who go on the cruise may drop roses into the water as a tribute to relatives who died or survived.

In 2012, the Picket wrote extensively about the Sultana, quoting several people as saying they hoped a temporary exhibit that year in Marion would be a precursor to a lasting memorial.

The first step in a permanent Sultana museum will occur April 9, said O’Neal, one of the organizers of the April 23-25 commemoration in Marion.

Sultana artifacts, memorabilia belonging to Gene Salecker

That’s when members of the Arkansas Historical Association will tour the interim Sultana Disaster Museum, leased at 104 Washington St. near the courthouse.

Among items on display will be memorabilia, a large riverboat model and Sultana artifacts belonging to Gene Salecker, who has written and lectured extensively about the vessel. A wall in the building has a list of known passengers.

“It’s almost like a memorial wall for the people on the Sultana,” said O’Neal.

The historical society, the city and the Marion Chamber of Commerce are planning a second, permanent location for the museum. The city, hoping for the benefits of heritage tourism, last year voted to spend $400,000 for such a facility.

(Interesting, an ancestor of Mayor Frank Fogleman was among residents who came to the aid of badly injured or burned Sultana passengers).

“We are in the beginning stages of planning for a permanent museum, and are close to retaining a firm for architectural and exhibit design services,” Michael Demster, president of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, told the Picket. “We have received some nice seed money, but will need to raise more to get the museum worthy of the Sultana.”

Salecker defies sabotage theories (Mark Randall)

O’Neal said there’s a desire for a small theater and interactive exhibits in the future permanent location.

For now, the community’s focus is on the anniversary weekend. Officials encourage people to register now for key events, because many spots are filled.

They hope about 200 people will sign up for the lectures, museum tour, reception, bus tour of Civil War related sites in Arkansas and Tennessee and the $50 riverboat cruise, which includes a barbecue dinner and lecture by Salecker, entitled “It Was Not Sabotage!”

PBS’ “History Detectives” examined whether the ship’s destruction was the act of Confederate sabotage, faulty machinery or “dangerous conditions.”

The overcrowded steamboat sank near Marion. In the end, no one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana and sailing despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers.

Salecker and Jerry Potter have written about a kickback scheme between the vessel's financially-strapped captain, J. Cass Mason, the steamer's captain and master, and an Army quartermaster, Lt. Col. Reuben B. Hatch. According to Potter, the transport fee was $5 for an enlisted man, $10 for an officer. Mason agreed to take the enlisted men for $3; Hatch kept the $2.

Salecker collection includes passenger's comb

The Sultana, with nearly 2,300 people on board, was way above passenger capacity at the time of the explosion. Hundreds of Union soldiers died only a day and a half from a prisoner exchange and freedom.

Local residents, including freed slaves, helped the passengers, who found themselves swimming for shore, or thrashing about in the chilly Mississippi River.

“There were some amazing stories of heroism," said Intres. About 700 people were saved, with 200 dying for their wounds. Bodies were recovered over the next several months.

The South, focused on its own devastation, wasn't particularly sympathetic about enemy soldiers perishing, said Potter, a Memphis lawyer who has written extensively about the topic.

“I was giving a talk one time, and a man made a comment that they were just Yankees, too bad more of them didn’t die," Potter told the Picket in 2012. "I just lost it. A few people felt that way, but few people knew about the Sultana.”

Jimmy Ogle, a tour guide and community engagement manager for the Riverfront Development Corp. in Memphis, that same year said it was up to societies and local communities to build a Sultana museum. “It was just perceived as a small steamboat disaster in the South.” 

That’s appears to be changing. More Americans are learning about the disaster, and Intres believes the 150th anniversary and the new documentary on the disaster will do even more.
Sean Astin and Mark Marshall have created the “Remember the Sultana” through a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Monument in Hillsdale, Mich. (Stephenie Kyser)

A private screening is planned for Monday evening, April 27 (the actual sinking anniversary), at the Paradiso in Memphis.

O’Neal said a Civil War encampment in Marion on April 25 will feature re-enactors, a Civil War medicine wagon and an exhibit on the role of African-Americans during the war. Organizers are bringing in students taking Advanced Placement history.

“If they can feel it, see it, touch it, it makes an impression,” she said.

Norman Shaw, of Knoxville, Tenn., a member of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends, said he expects about 100 members to attend their reunion and related events in Marion.

About half may remain for the documentary screening Monday, an event independent of Marion's plans. Shaw is planning a visit to the presumed wreckage site for that Sunday, weather permitting.

The cruise the evening before will be an emotional experience, he predicted, especially with the tossing of roses into the Mississippi River.

“I think it will be very moving. It is very meaningful to our people,” Shaw told the Picket. “One person emailed me this is the closure to the story” of an ancestor who was among the victims.

The Sultana Disaster Museum will be open Thursdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Contact the Chamber of Commerce at 870-739-6041 to arrange a group tour. Admission is free for April. Beginning May 1, the cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Confederates' last great offensive

It was the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on North Carolina soil. On Saturday and Sunday, more than 40,000 people are expected to watch more than 2,500 Civil War re-enactors refight the Battle of Bentonville on its 150th anniversary. Commanding the remnants of four battered armies, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston tried to ambush one wing of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army. • Article 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely: Beautiful sight for departing 'skin and bones' POWs

Something big is about to happen to Sgt. John Clark Ely. He’s been languishing at Confederates prison camps, including Andersonville, for more than three months, praying for an exchange. Finally, like thousands of other prisoners held by both sides, he gets some important news. Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry, courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 18, 1865 (Saturday)
Fine day, cool night, exchange rumors again numerous and men some excited over the news.  Hathaway tried hard to get out on parole by siding with the rebs all right p.m. a thousand men including those at the hospital and officers were taken for exchange twas sad.

March 19, 1865 (Sunday)
Beautiful day but cool night.  I feel quite poorly with diarrhea. The monotony of camp again broken by the Johnnys coming in for men to go out on parole. Carpenters, woodchoppers etc took out nearly or quite 100 men.

March 20, 1865 (Monday)
Fine day, felt very badly all day. Rumor in camp that 3000 are going tomorrow, may it prove true and may Co. C be of the number. Some excitement in regard to it.

Sgt. Ely
March 21, 1865 (Tuesday)
Rain heavy in night. Raining still this morning and continued through day, feeling better today, no prisoners away today.

March 22, 1865 (Wednesday)
Beautiful day again, late p.m. great excitement through camp occasioned by the reb sutler coming in and selling chances to leave in first squad, chances selling from 15 to 30 dollars confederate.

March 23, 1865 (Thursday)
Beautiful day, same excitement as yesterday.

March 24, 1865 (Friday).
Very fine morning, peach and cherry trees all in full bloom outside, for the Co bought our chance to go by the first train.  We gave eighty dollars greenback, 80 confed and my watch valued at 60  dollars, hope the chance will prove a good one.  Late p.m. a train came for us and we bid goodby to Andersonville.  Left at 8 p.m. and arrived at Columbus (Ga.) at daylight.


Emaciated prisoners including Ely were bound for a train headed westward for prisoners exchanges. An eyewitness recalled the scene as the men left Andersonville:

Coming like cattle across an open field were scores of men who were nothing but skin and bones ; some hobbling along as best they could, and others being helped by stronger comrades. Every gaunt face with its staring eyes told the story of the suffering and privation they had gone through, and protruding bones showed through their scanty tattered garments. One might have thought that the grave and the sea had given up their dead.