Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Effort to build a permanent Sultana disaster museum in Arkansas city gets a boost as society members pledge $156K

Rick DeSpain's drawing of Sultana disaster (
Ten supporters of a plan to raise money for a larger museum focusing on the Sultana maritime disaster have put their money where their dreams are in the form of personal pledges totaling $156,000.

The board of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society in Marion, Ark., recently announced the gesture to further drum up interest and financial support for a modern and permanent venue.

Marion is a bedroom community just a 10-minute drive from Memphis, Tenn., across the Mississippi River. It was the closest town to where the steamboat Sultana exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing between 1,200 and 1,800 passengers and crew.

Hundreds of Federal soldiers, many recently freed from Confederate prisons, including Andersonville and Cahaba, perished on their way home, a cruel fate after enduring months or years of privation.

Museum director Louis Intres told the Picket in an email this week that the board pledges and another by the city total $656,000.

With building costs, a desired foundation or endowment, and exterior infrastructure, the society is tentatively planning to raise $12 million to $15 million. He said. It recently hired a Little Rock company to lead the campaign, which may officially begin in October.

Current museum on Washington Street (Courtesy of Gene Salecker)
The society once preferred a standalone building in the town of 12,500, but the project is now going with a 1938 former high school auditorium-gymnasium that will feature about 17,000-square feet of exhibit space. A small museum dedicated to the Sultana is a few blocks away.

“We’ve come a long way,” Intres recently told the Evening Times newspaper. “We’re not looking at just a Sultana museum that is going to bring a few thousand people in. We are actually promoting and designing a museum that will be a national destination site with around 35,000 to 50,000 visitors a year.”

Officials told the Picket the coronavirus pandemic slowed plans for campaign but they continue to look for possible government and grant funding sources as they prepare to launch a national campaign. Television station KAIT reported that the Union Pacific Foundation contributed a $10,000 grant. Officials would like the new venue to open in summer 2023.

Retired judge and society president John Fogleman and Intres said those interested in contributing to the cause should visit the museum website or contact Intres at

“The soldiers who were on the Sultana deserve more than a footnote in history and we intend to finally, at long last give them their due,” said Fogleman.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Saving the Adam Strain: Crews take first step in shoring up building that survived Darien's burning during the Civil War

Phase one focuses on clearing the interior (Courtesy of Marion Savic)
In the port town of Darien, Ga., the Adam Strain building – which survived a fire set by Union troops during the Civil War – has withstood hurricanes and tropical storms for more than two centuries. It will feel the effects of yet another storm system through Monday.

As I write this post, Tropical Storm Isaias is churning northward off the Florida coast,.making its way toward Georgia before making a run for the Carolinas and beyond.

But for all it has withstood, the Strain is fragile these days, and its new owners know they must first stabilize and repair the tabby walls before the landmark building eventually finds new life: Milan and Marion Savic are thinking of putting a nano brewery on the first floor, with retail in the front and event space or class areas on the second floor.

“Hopefully, we can get some beams and a support system in the next month or two,” said Marion Savic, a Marietta, Ga., businesswoman, a few days after the restoration of the Strain formally began.

The Picket wrote in April about efforts to save the 1813-1815 building after decades of deterioration. At one point in a long campaign to save the Strain, it appeared the beloved piece of history might be demolished. Made of oyster shell tabby and stucco, the oldest structure in Darien is beloved by 2,000 residents who were thrilled the Strain was saved when the Savics made the purchase.

The Strain has been filled with shoes, antiques and a lot more (Marion Savic)
During the Civil War, the Strain -- which sits on an upper bluff -- was used to store cotton prior to shipment in 1861 and 1862 before the Union naval blockade clamped down on Georgia’s coast.

Darien held little strategic value to the Union, but Col. James Montgomery, commanding the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, supposedly believed it was a safe haven for blockade runners. Montgomery, who was a notable abolitionist, ordered Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the famed 54th  Massachusetts Infantry to participate in the town’s burning in 1863.

The Strain, which was burned in the fire but remained standing, was repaired and saw a rebirth for several decades before it was used for storage following World War II and then shuttered. 

Last week, cleanup of the interior, which is packed with old shoes, antiques, papers and other items, began. Marion Savic said the plan is for crews to bring in dirt to fill spaces at the foundation and then begin supporting the walls with steel rods and braces.

The stabilization process is expected to take three to six months.

View of waterfront (Landmark Preservation)
“We have started,” she told the Picket last week. “Everybody is very excited to get it restored.”

One of the walls is particularly weak and experts are installing digital monitors to monitor the integrity of the walls during the shoring-up and subsequent work. Any significant movement in the walls will set off an alarm alerting everyone to get out of the building.

“Any time you work with old buildings, you have to be prepared for anything happening,” said Marion Savic.

For example, part of a wall could fall when crews try to straighten it. One of the contractors is a tabby expert and will help with any repairs, she said.

The Strains put a new wood framing inside the building after the Civil War. It currently supports the existing second floor and is independent of the tabby.

Savic maintains a Facebook page on the revitalization of the Strain. She recently posted a photo of wooden planks that cover the original tabby walls. “Looking forward to getting the wood off and seeing the tabby and whatever else is hidden there.

The building interior will have the appearance of its immediate post-Civil War days. The Savics haven’t yet decided whether wood will cover the tabby. Tabby is a type of cement made from crushed oyster shells and was popular in the region in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Stucco is placed on the exterior to protect it from water damage.

Adjoining the Strain is a one-story annex that once housed a bank and law offices.
The Savics plan to establish there a small maritime museum that will convey the Strain’s and Darien’s history -- including shrimping, timber and the story of thousands of enslaved people who were the backbone of the economy in McIntosh and neighboring counties.

Wooden plans are currently covering tabby (Marion Savic)
Kit Stebbins Sutherland, who grew up in Darien and is a retired historic preservation planning consultant living in Atlanta, told the Picket she hopes to provide the Savics with photos, stories and other information that can help with interpretation.

“I will strongly encourage them to touch upon the long history of Broad Street and the Darien waterfront, as well as aspects of Gullah-Geechee culture and history.

Missy Brandt Wilson, a Darien native and former chairman of the McIntosh County Historic Preservation Commission, told the Picket she is feels “like a miracle is happening” with the planned restoration of the Strain.

“I also hope it will demonstrate to Darien and McIntosh County they should preserve their vast cultural and historical resources, and be good stewards of them,” she said.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Vandalism? Nope. That dark material at Gettysburg's Arkansas monument was actually the byproduct of regular cleaning

During and after first pressure washing on July 23 (NPS photos)

Gettysburg National Military Park has a suggestion to visitors after a misunderstanding this week: If you think you have seen an act of vandalism, tell us about it first before you put photos on social media.

That occurred when some people who saw a dark-colored substance on the Arkansas Memorial posted images on Facebook, saying it was vandalism, said park acting public affairs officer Jason Martz.

In a news release, the park said monument preservation staff had sprayed a biological cleaning solution, known as D2, at the memorial on Wednesday afternoon as rain began falling.

“This biological cleaning solution requires the surface to be cleaned to be wet before application and passing summer rains provide a perfect opportunity to quickly and effectively begin this process. The solution was allowed to set up overnight and monument preservation staff began cleaning the memorial the following morning on July 23,” Martz said.

Staff uses biological agent before second washing (NPS photo)
Monument maintenance targets mold, algae and lichens on the stone. Those growths turn different colors as they are being killed. “When the reds, yellows, and oranges mix over time, the overall color turns very dark. This is what was reported as vandalism by park visitors.”

Repeated applications clean such monuments, and any residual staining will be bleached out by the sun within a few days.

It appears photos posted on social media were taken between the application of the solution and the pressure washing the next day. Martz told the Civil War Picket a Facebook page that had a post alleging vandalism took the item down.

The park, while acknowledging public interest in protecting monuments, said concerned visitors should email staffers by email via the “Contact Us” link on its website, send a direct message on the Facebook page or contact any park employee they may see.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Work continues on James Warfield house at Gettysburg

Restoration of a home at the core of the Gettysburg battlefield continues, with roof trusses up and foundation and water abatement work completed, park officials said.

The James
 and Eliza Warfield farmhouse is being returned to its 1863 appearance, says Gettysburg National Military Park spokesman Jason Martz.

Work has included the removal of postwar additions, including aluminum siding and side buildings. The home’s height has essentially been chopped in half to its original 1.5 floors, while retaining the original stone walls. The park acquired the home in the 1970s.

Warfield, one of many free African-Americans in Adams County, and his family fled as Confederates neared Gettysburg. They were afraid they could be sent south and enslaved. The blacksmith’s home overlooked much of the July 2-3, 1863, battlefield, including the Peach Orchard, and was in the thick of action.

Upcoming work includes selection demolition of a modern three-car garage and driveway, Martz told the Picket. Park officials hope work at the farm site is completed later this year so that the site can open to visitors.

Civil War Times recently spoke with Chris Gwinn, chief of education and interpretation at Gettysburg, about the project. Gwinn said officials don't know how many people lived in the tiny residence at the time of the battle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fritz Kredel: Versatile illustrator and wood-cut artist left Nazi Germany, depicted uniforms of Civil War, other American soldiers for book

The five Kredel illustrations that I have had for years (Civil War Picket)
A journey of discovery can begin with a few pictures hanging on the wall of your garage.

That’s my story, anyway.

Five illustrations of American soldiers in uniform – including two from the Civil War era – have been hanging from a piece of pegboard in my garage for more than three decades. Back in the 1960s, they were lacquered onto pieces of thin board and sold in shops. Now, (like me) they are showing their age, scuffed and a little weathered.

My parents bought them while my dad was attending command and general staff school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The $2 mounted prints made multiple moves until I settled in the Atlanta area years ago.

Fritz Kredel
A few months ago, I took them down to have a closer look. The illustrator’s signature -- not surprisingly -- was a little tough to discern, but after a few Google tries I came up with his name: Fritz Kredel.

That’s where the journey to learn more about these five prints began. Who was this man?

My internet searches peeled back multiple layers of a renowned German-born artist whose work was distinct and was enjoyed by millions of Americans for decades. I felt sheepish about my ignorance of his prodigious illustrations and wood cuts.

Kredel learned wood engraving at a young age and that helped him become, as one observer writes, a master illustrator of books and prints. Yale University has a collection about his artwork.

He had the great ability to show personality, movement and emotion with a tremendous economy of line,” wrote graphic designer Mark D. Ruffner in a 2012 post on his blog.

Depictions in "Soldiers of the American Army" (
Kredel, born in Michelstadt in 1900, was trained as a graphic artist and designer, and became adept at wood cuts, pen and ink and water colors.

Kredel fled Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, moved to Vienna and ended up in the United States, where his career really took off. He and his family lived in New York City and Kredel taught at Cooper Union. He was much in demand as a book illustrator, and is remembered for his fairy tale characters and botanical drawings, among many genres.

Kredel teamed up with military historian and author Frederick Porter Todd for the volume “Soldiers of the American Army, 1775-1941,which came out just before America’s involvement in World War II. It was updated in a 1954 edition. My prints are reproduced from the book.

I asked his granddaughter, Tilda Brown Swanson, about Kredel’s interest in uniforms and other forms of militaria.

He had a love for the heraldry, the uniforms, the helmets and the details that distinguished the various uniforms of different soldiers, and he was good at distinguishing those in various illustrations,” the Iowa glass artist wrote in an email.

Dover, the current publisher, has this description: “Splendid pictorial history of military apparel includes meticulously researched, beautifully rendered illustrations of regimental attire from the Revolutionary War, uniforms worn by the Texas Rangers (1846), Louisiana Zouaves (1861), Philippine Scouts (1904), and members of the Women's Army Corps (1954). Descriptive text accompanies each illustration. 32 full-color plates.”

The five in my small collection are:

-- Federal Infantry (1862) – Iron Brigade of the West and Vermont Brigade. Both saw intense fighting and endured high casualties. The Iron Brigade was known for its Maltese cross insignia and black felt hats. The Vermonters had a staggering 1,200 casualties at the Wilderness.

-- 7th Regiment, New York State Militia (1861) – private in overcoat and private in full field equipment. This volunteer, “silk stocking” militia unit was mustered into service early in the Civil War, and was reactivated a few times, mostly in support roles.

-- The Regiment of Artillerists (1812) – matross and drummer, parade uniform

-- Thompson’s Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion (1775) – musketman and rifleman

-- Cuban Expedition (1898) – trooper, Rough Rider, in stable dress and private, 71st New York, in full field equipment

"Corps d'Afrique (NY Public Library)
Other Civil War subjects in the book are Stuart’s Calvary Division, CSA (1862), colonel of cavalry and major of horse artillery, Corps d’ Afrique (1864), brigade bandsman and sergeant of heavy artillery, New York Zouaves (1863) 5th New York and 44th New York, Confederate Infantry (1863), and Louisiana Zouaves (1861), captain and Zouave.

The Corps d’Afrique was a predecessor of U.S. Colored Troops. It was comprised mostly of recently freed slaves in Louisiana.

An order from Washington created several regiments that would fight for the Union.

One of the first to form was the 1st Louisiana Native Guard. It originated in 1862 in New Orleans during the Federal occupation. It was made up of freed men and slaves who came for nearby plantations.

Famed Army Gen. Matthew Ridgway wrote a message on the back of hardbound copies of “Soldiers in the American Army” published in the 1950s.

Volume for sale at
“The readers of this volume will become acquainted with the colorful story of our American uniform,” Ridgway wrote. “To every American soldier, his uniform is a symbol of the tradition of the past, of determination for the future. It is a reminder of the noble heritages which has been handed on by those who wore the uniform before us – a heritage of integrity and honor, of courage and steadfastness, of selfless devotion to country.”

While the book may be the most well-known reminder of Kredel’s talents, there was so much more to his creative output.

“My grandfather illustrated around 500 books and did dust jackets for many more, and so the books on soldiers are only a small part of what he illustrated,” says Swanson. “He also was very good at botanical illustration, fairy tales and suiting his illustration to the time of a text.”

"Grimm's Fairy Tales" work by Kredel. Courtesy of Mark D. Ruffner
His illustrations, many of them whimsical, were published in “Andersen’s Fairy Tales” (The Heritage Press, 1942) and “Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Grosset and Dunlap, 1945).

Ruffner, the graphic designer, said Kredel’s illustrations for children’s book were charming, witty and romantic.

Illustrators of children's books inform and influence us at our most formative stage. At an early age -- if we are lucky -- we are introduced to so many morality plays, and while the morals of the stories are important, so too are the indelible cast of characters, and the way in which they are presented.”

In 2000, there were three major shows on Kredel’s work, according to Swanson. One was in his hometown of Michelstadt, about 30 miles southeast of Frankfurt. The New York Times wrote about an exhibition that year at the Grolier Club in New York City.

“Drawings, watercolors, woodcuts, lettering, book illustrations, maps, marionettes, political cartoons, paper dolls, the presidential seal for John F. Kennedy's inauguration and other works on paper sprang in profusion from Kredel's fertile imagination,” according to the article.

Another major Kredel work, the article said, is a woodblock map of Michelstadt as it appeared around 1650, replete with medieval buildings and narrow streets.

Begun in Germany, it was completed in the United States in 1954. “Woodcuts, he felt, had a crispness and sharpness that could not be achieved in any other medium,” wrote Times art critic Grace Glueck.

His earlier works in his native country included “The Offenbacher Haggadah,” which was published in 1927 and is considered “a landmark in German-Jewish bookmaking in Weimar Germany.” The Haggadah is text cited at the Seder table during Passover.

Kredel died in 1973 at age 73. His obituary cited several accomplishments, including winning the gold medal for book illustration at the 1938 Paris World Exhibition, about the time he came to the United States.

Promotional card for 2010 event at the University of Kentucky
Swanson and her mother, Judith, over the years have written and spoken about Kredel’s work.

“I have many things I hope to write, develop, and do in honor of my grandfather,” says Swanson. “I am currently working on a documentary and I hope to release that sometime in the next year or so.”