Friday, June 30, 2017

Fort Pulaski reopens: Savannah-area site weathered hurricane, and then a tornado

One of the torn and smashed signs that were sent flying (NPS)

Barely two months after Fort Pulaski National Monument returned to full operations following Hurricane Matthew, another storm system came calling on May 23. This time, it was an EF-2 tornado coming from the west, at about 6 p.m.

“If we are talking an hour earlier, I don’t want to think about what could have happened,” said Joel Cadoff, park spokesman and chief of interpretation. Before 5 p.m., people were still in the fort, on trails or in the visitor’s center at the site, which is a dozen miles east of Savannah, Ga.

Two employees hid in this demilune during tornado (NPS)

The twister sent two staffers to shelter in Pulaski’s demilune, an earthen fortification between the fort’s main walls and the moat. A couple of personal vehicles were lost.

And while it did not cause near the damage as Matthew, the storm slammed a “vulnerable place” – the visitor’s center complex. The building suffered extensive roof and ceiling damage. The restroom roof was destroyed (it is still in service). Several historic signs were ripped from their posts and sent flying, one piece landing 1,000 feet away. Trails were temporarily closed.

The park staff – with considerable outside help from other National Park Service entities – toiled to patch things up, clear paths and make the site again safe. The monument reopened on Thursday, about six weeks after the latest weather calamity.

(NPS photos)

Until the visitor’s center can be repaired, the staff and bookstore are operating out of a casemate inside the fort.

“It’s interesting,” Cadoff said in a bit of understatement about two events coming so close together. Matthew caused an estimated $1.8 million in damage and forced a six-month recovery. The tornado’s bill is at least $400,000 and repairs continue.

Cadoff said Fort Pulaski benefited from what it learned following Hurricane Matthew. “We were much better prepared in an initial response in getting the right people and right knowledge, to get them here to assist us,” he said.

The storms reinforced the need for good shelter points, such as the demilune. The west side of Cockspur Island has a couple World War II-era naval magazines.

Cadoff said visitors can still see some snapped and damaged trees in the marsh.  “You can definitely see the (tornado) path.”

The staff has had enough excitement for the time being. “We would love a very uneventful hurricane, weather season,” he said. 

Pieces of wood jammed by twister into trunk (NPS)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

At Pea Ridge battlefield, students search for structures, evidence of a hamlet's culture

Student Madison Atchley and archaeologist Jerry Hilliard (U. of Ark.)

University of Arkansas archaeology students learning excavation techniques have identified the remains of at least four structures in a hamlet that was transformed into a Federal field hospital during the Battle of Pea Ridge.

“There is a whole lot more to discover,” said Jamie Brandon, a professor and an Arkansas Archeological Survey archaeologist.

Brandon, working with staff and faculty, supervised 10 students in this summer’s field school, which concludes Friday.

Excavation of a Leetown kitchen cellar (U. of Ark.)

“We are trying to reconstruct the best we can the footprint of Leetown, this mid-19th century hamlet,” he told the Picket by phone this week.

Leetown was only a half mile from the pitched fighting of March 7, 1862. Homes were used for hospitals, woods and fields were filled with battle debris, and the stench of death permeated the air, according to the National Park Service.

Two Confederate generals died near Leetown during assaults after their units were separated during a flanking movement. The Confederates were forced to withdraw.

Unlike the famous Elkhorn Tavern some 2 miles to the east, what’s left of Leetown is buried.

Jamie Brandon (second from left) supervises field work. (U. of Ark.)

The Arkansas Archeological Survey, a part of the University of Arkansas system, is in a four-year project examining up to nine areas in Pea Ridge National Military Park. The park, Brandon noted, wants to better interpret to visitors what the village meant to the battle, perhaps through shadow buildings or signs.

Archaeologists want to reconstruct past cultures. “We are interested in how (the fighting) impacted the civilian landscape.” The hamlet was largely unoccupied by the early 1880s.

Brandon said students conducted excavations and were washing artifacts this week. They did find evidence of a Union presence (it is unlawful for the public to dig for artifacts on federal property).

Another view of the kitchen cellar

Maps of the area are not exact, but there could be the remnants of eight to 12 buildings, including farmsteads, a store and Masonic lodge. One that was noted this year was a detached kitchen to the Mayfield log cabin.

The Picket has published posts about spring 2016 excavations in Ruddick’s Field, a couple miles to the east of Leetown. Archaeologists recovered 540 artifacts – the largest a 6-pound solid artillery shot – from the cornfield and in wooded areas. They will be used to plot locations of artillery pieces.

Foundations are all that remain in Leetown (NPS photo)

Brandon said a report on Ruddick’s Field is being prepared for submission in 2019. Archaeologists will return to Leetown next year and a survey of areas on the eastern side of the battlefield – site of an artillery duel -- is planned, Brandon said.

He said this year’s exploration at Leetown was an “initial foray.” Officials hope they can lead a larger volunteer dig, perhaps as soon as next summer.

Work at Pea Ridge is believed to be the first time large-scale remote sensing has been used on such a battlefield, archaeologists told the Picket.

A workshop put on this year for the National Park Service drew expects from all over the world wanting to know more about the mix of technology, said Brandon.

(University of Arkansas)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Md. community recalls 1863 skirmish

As bagpipes echoed throughout downtown Westminster, Md., residents who poked their heads out of their windows were greeted with the possibly surprising sight of Union and Confederate soldiers marching together peacefully down the streets Saturday. This weekend, Emerald Hill, the grounds surrounding Westminster City Hall, have been transported to the 1860s, as the Pipe Creek Civil War Roundtable commemorates the Battle of Westminster at their annual Corbit's Charge event, which continues through Sunday. • Article

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Out of the water: CSS Georgia casemate section is remarkably preserved

(Video by Panamerican Consultants Inc., via USACE)

One down, and one much bigger piece to go.

Crews working from barges in Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday evening lifted a 20-foot-by-24-foot piece of casemate that once protected the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia.

Officials are excited because it includes a corner of the structure

Timbers used to support the armor – which was made from joined railroad iron – were “massive and so impressive,” said Jeremy S. Buddemeier, new media and social media manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Savannah office.

Stephen James, leader archaeologist with Panamerican Consultants, one of the contractors on site, told the Picket on Thursday afternoon that the wood "is shiny smooth, just like it was cut." The piece was lying in the mud, with the armor up and the wood down.

A bottom timber appears to be a foot in diameter, while the upper layer is about 6 inches in diameter, he said.

Corps senior archaeologist Julie-Morgan Ryan said that a mix of roots, biomass and mussels had covered and preserved the artifact with up to 3 feet of sediment, Buddemeier said. That layer protected the 47-ton casemate from wood-damaging Teredo worms that were evident in 2015 recovery dives.

The Corps is removing the scuttled vessel’s wreckage as part of a massive harbor deepening project.

They placed a prefabricated frame under this particular piece of armor, which is called the east casemate because of its position in the debris field.

Section of CSS Georgia casemaste (USACE)

Divers are having to deal with the Savannah River’s strong current and are working around “slack tides” that can have them in the water longer. They were able to do three dives Wednesday and the daylight and the tides lined up for the east casemate lift, officials said.

Next up is the west casemate, which is about 68 feet by 24 feet and weighs an estimated 120 tons. Lifting that one intact will be a bigger challenge, requiring beams and two cranes.

The earliest that lift will occur is next weekend, the Corps said. Following that comes the mechanized phase, in which a clamshell device will scoop up remaining artifacts from the river floor.

The U.S. Navy, which owns the shipwreck, would like to see artifacts and a reconstructed section of casemate to be displayed in a museum. James said in order to conserve the two casemate sections, conservators would have to separate the iron and wood.

And while the timbers that came up Wednesday are remarkably preserved, he said, they probably wouldn't hold up in the open air, even after extensive conservation. A display could feature the iron armor and new wood.

The crews will rebury the casemate sections in a secure part of the river until a decision is made on future conservation. For now, the east casemate, resting on a barge, is being kept wet with sprinklers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

$3 million Lincoln, Civil War collection donated to Mississippi State University

Officials say a large Civil War donation will transform Mississippi State University into one of the nation's leading Civil War research destinations. Former Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, a nationally known authority on Abraham Lincoln, will donate his collection, amassed over the past 50 years. The collection -- valued at nearly $3 million -- features more than 17,000 items, including artifacts, signed documents, books and artwork from the Civil War era. • Article

Saturday, June 17, 2017

CSS Georgia recovery: Crews back on river will try to lift 2 casemate sections intact

(All photos USACE)

Julie Morgan
Two years after the recovery of much of the jumbled remains of the CSS Georgia in Savannah, Ga., divers and crews will be back on the Savannah River starting next week (June 19) to go after two prize casemate sections and more artifacts. The ironclad, which served as a floating battery, was scuttled in December 1864 before Federal forces took the city. Julie Morgan, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the removal of the CSS Georgia as part of a harbor deepening project, spoke this week about what’s new this time around. Update! Casemate section lifted

Will this be as interesting as the 2015 effort?

“It is another chapter. The possibility of seeing these large sections of casemate is pretty exciting. It is the casemate that makes the Georgia pretty unique,” said Morgan. “To bring up something this size intact is an amazing engineering feat.” She cautions officials may have to go to a Plan B of separating sections if the casemate doesn’t have the integrity to be brought up in a single lift. Much of the wood backing has deteriorated. Officials said their hope is to bring up a “corner” of the casemate to demonstrate how the sloped pieces of wood-backed armor were designed and fastened.

What’s the importance of the casemate?

It was the protective armor that covered both sides of the Confederate vessel and housed the artillery pieces. What’s unusual about the Georgia was instead of rolled plate, the casemate was composed of railroad iron (above) attached to multiple layers of supporting wood. The recovery will be no easy task, and crews did not have the proper equipment (and big enough cranes) to lift the two sections in 2015, Morgan said. The west section, about 68 feet by 24 feet, weighs about 120 tons. The largest piece of the east casemate, at 40 tons, is about 27 feet by 24 feet. 

Frame that will be used on east casemate (USACE photo)

What’s the approach this summer?

“We are approaching this as an intact recovery,” said Morgan. The team will go first after the east casemate and will strap a prefabricated frame beneath to serve as support. For the much larger and heavier west casemate, beams will be used and two cranes will make the lift to a barge.

A 5,000-pound casemate after recovery in 2013.

What else may be recovered?

The project will be done in two phases, with the casemates first. In 2015, the east section was moved and many artifacts beneath were scooped or brought up. But crews couldn’t get to the other section, lending a bit of mystery as to what may still be there. “There is no telling. What is under that west casemate won’t be discovered until we get it up,” said Morgan. The mechanized phase follows. Crews will use a large clamshell device to bring up items from the river floor. All manner of artifacts were brought up that way in 2015.

What has been learned about the gunboat in the past couple years?

“Even from the artifacts we recovered in 2015 it really did verify a lot of the archival accounts of the inadequacies of power and components,” said the archaeologist. Conservators have found maker’s marks on cannon and gun sights. “She was built underpowered and the rationale for why is an interesting question.”

Artist's rendering of the CSS Georgia

What’s going to happen to the casemate?

They’ll be placed back into the river by the end of this summer’s work, in a “secure location” away from the shipping lane. As Morgan explains, there needs to be a spot and plan for conservation before they are taken from the water and exposed to the air, which would hasten corrosion. The CSS Georgia conservation has been going on at Texas A&M University, but it still has many items from 2015.

What is the long-term prospects for displaying CSS Georgia items?

As the Picket has previously reported, the U.S. Navy, which owns the vessel, wants to see artifacts on display somewhere rather than in a conservation lab or warehouse. It is in touch with museums and other venues on the prospects. “A larger collection gives a better story, but I think there’s also the possibility of some traveling exhibits to get more exposure, especially throughout the state of Georgia,” said Morgan. She understands why it may be difficult to show an entire section of the west casemate. “We are talking about something so large you would almost have to design a building around it.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Research shows 51 more USCT troops

When Lexington, Kentucky, began Juneteenth celebrations at African Cemetery No. 2 in 1999, the gathering honored 49 black Civil War veterans whose gravestones were found during a restoration. Saturday, the cemetery will honor 100 men who fought with the United States Colored Troops. Yvonne Giles’ research has found more than 51 additional names, and it has revealed some fascinating stories. • Article

Friday, June 9, 2017

The death of Solomon Luckie: Lamppost to move, shine new light on arduous lives of free blacks in Civil War South

Ambrotype of Solomon Luckie (Courtesy of Atlanta History Center)

Amid the bustle of Civil War Atlanta, 40 residents were an anomaly. Neither white nor enslaved, they were free blacks -- but they were not free in the fullest sense of the word. The residents toiled under restrictions and were always under a cloud of uncertainty.

And yet some of them thrived, particularly if they were judged more for their business success and property ownership than their place in a racial hierarchy.

Solomon “Sam” Luckie and his wife, Nancy Cunningham, were among the tiny number of free African-Americans in Atlanta. Luckie was a barber at one of a half dozen hotels surrounding Atlanta’s railroad lines, which ferried vital supplies and troops for the Confederacy.

Luckie made a good living and is among the city’s first successful black entrepreneurs.

“He is prominent enough to have his image taken and that of his wife,” said Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator at the Atlanta History Center. “He is well-dressed and wearing a little pinkie ring.”

Lamppost at Underground Atlanta (Picket photo)

Luckie’s success story ended on Aug. 9, 1864, when one of thousands of Union artillery shells raining on besieged Atlanta hit a lamppost. Shrapnel struck the businessman, who was conversing with white businessmen at the intersection of Whitehall (Peachtree) and Alabama streets. He died hours later.

This week, the Atlanta City Council voted to donate the 1855 gas lamppost, one of 50 installed in what is now downtown Atlanta, to the history center, which will tell the story when the new Cyclorama wing opens in 2018.

The damaged post – for years located inside Underground Atlanta -- will be relocated this summer to make way for the redevelopment of the moribund shopping and entertainment venue.

Lamppost is in Underground Atlanta, in section below white fence (Picket photo)

“It is a very significant artifact. It tells a great story,” said Jones. “It starts out as a damaged lamppost, has the story of Solomon Luckie, a free black barber, and (became) a Lost Cause symbol after that. It was celebrated as what Sherman did to us.”

While Luckie had children, it’s unknown where he was from, his age at death -- or even where he was buried.

And he’s not remembered at the lamppost: A sign and two markers bolted to the post make no mention of Luckie. But his story is about to be retold.

Living in a 'between' space in Southern society

Atlanta was a boom town in the early years of the Civil War. The population more than doubled, from 9,500 in 1861 to 22,000 in 1864.

It wasn’t your traditional Southern city. Many businessmen hailed from the North and there was some Unionist sentiment during the 1860 election that put Abraham Lincoln into the White House and further fractured the nation.

Wendy Venet, a history professor at Georgia State University, said Atlanta didn’t have a plantation elite – It had a business elite.

Nancy Cunningham, Luckie's wife (Courtesy of AHC)
Sam Luckie worked at the Atlanta Hotel, behind railroad cars (Library of Congress)

Luckie, listed as Solomon Luckey in an 1859 directory, operated the Barber Shop and Bathing Salon out of the Atlanta Hotel. Free people of color and slaves were actively involved in the trade. (The hotel can be seen in a well-known George N. Barnard photograph, taken in September 1864, showing the Atlanta Intelligencer newspaper office and rail cars with Union soldiers sitting on top.)

While the barber’s family prospered, living in the city came with a price, said Venet, author of “A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta.”

Free people of color faced many restrictions, and there was always the issue of having to prove their status.

“They were required to have a white sponsor. They were charged $1,000 for the right to live in the city, although it is unclear whether efforts were made to enforce this,” Venet told the Picket. “They were required to ask permission of the City Council to entertain visitors from out of town. A black businessman was turned down by the City Council when he asked for a permit to vend ice cream in 1856.”

“Slaves Without Masters,” written by Ira Berlin in 1974, recounts free blacks’ struggle for liberty and opportunity amid restrictions.

Atlanta Hotel is the first building on left (Library of Congress)

Why so many lived in the South

Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., in a 2013 article for The Root, addressed the question of why so many free blacks – more than 200,000 -- lived in the South.

Slave owners sometimes freed slaves by last will and testament. Slaves who accumulated money through trading or by hiring their time sometimes were allowed to purchase their freedom. Some came from other states or countries. One-third of the state’s tiny free black population lived in Charleston in 1860, on the eve of the war, says the South Carolina Encyclopedia.

Gates writes of uncertainty on whether life would be better in the North. “But comparative dread was not the only reason that most free blacks remained in the South. At the top of the list was family unity. After all, when a slave family was split up, often the free members remained close, attempting to raise the funds needed to buy the remaining members of the family.”

Solomon Luckie’s circumstance is unknown.

Map shows Atlanta Hotel center left (Courtesy Georgia Battlefields Assn.)

Gates cites Berlin’s research in saying some free blacks stayed for economic opportunity. Among the trades they learned were ones that whites did not want to perform or for which they would accept lower wages. In Richmond, Va., 19 percent of skilled free blacks were barbers, followed by plasterers and carpenters.

As Venet has pointed out, by late in the war African-Americans in the South – freed or enslaved – were pushing boundaries. And the Great Migration north was only a few decades away.

Desperate life in a war zone

But in the summer of 1864, free blacks in Atlanta were literally fighting for survival.

As the war dragged on and Union Maj. Gen. William Sherman tightened his siege on the city, food and supplies became scarce. Terrified citizens dug homemade bomb shelters as Federal forces lobbed 35,000 artillery rounds over one month. Eventually, Confederate troops evacuated Atlanta in early September.

Venet has written about Sam Richards, a British-born bookseller in Atlanta who kept a diary for decades. He estimates about 20 people died from shelling. No one knows the exact number, though Jones believes there were about 50 overall casualties.

Stephen Davis, author of "What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta," said some of the shells didn’t go off and lay among the rubble. “As unexploded shells were being tinkered with by ... kids and adults, they blew up.”

By late July, as battles swirled around Atlanta, the populace felt a sense of chaos. “The thing people miss is that most of the residents were already gone,” said Jones. “Those who could have done so had already gone.”

Damage to lamppost base (Picket photos)

A rush to rescue wounded businessman

Luckie ventured out on August 9, 1864, the worst day of Federal shelling, when an estimated 5,000 rounds were fired on the city. (Jesse Garbowski, Cyclorama digital interactive project manager at the AHC, shared details of that day).

The businessman, perhaps in his 30s, walked about a block from the Atlanta Hotel to Whitehall and Alabama.

As the barber leaned against the cast-iron lamppost in conversation, a shell ricocheted and burst, the fragments likely striking his leg. The base of the post has at least one hole caused by the shell.

Prominent white citizen Thomas Crusselle and one or two others carried the Atlantan into a store. Luckie was taken to the Atlanta Medical College, where Dr. Pierre-Paul Noel D’Alvigny amputated his leg. Luckie, who had been administered morphine, died from shock a few hours later.

His burial location is unknown, but Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett speculated that he is buried in Oakland Cemetery, in one of many unmarked graves. His wife, Nancy, died in 1910 and is buried at South View Cemetery, according to Find a Grave.

Whitehall and Alabama streets (Library of Congress)
Current view south (Jesse Garbowski/AHC)

Barnard took a photograph (above) that shows a lamppost at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama. It’s possible this is the same fixture, but it is difficult to discern any damage and Luckie may have been standing at another corner.

'Eternal Flame of the Confederacy'

Venet, the historian and author, has written and lectured about how quickly Atlanta leaders embraced the opportunity to rebuild after the war’s end in 1865.

“Atlanta was aided by the conscious decision not to fight federal Reconstruction policies,” she told the Saporta Report in 2014. “The city decided the best way was to cooperate rather than fight.”

Many whites in the South adopted the “Lost Cause” view, that the conflict wasn’t about or mostly about slavery -- but instead a Northern assault on state’s rights and liberty. Confederate troops, they reasoned, fought a heroic fight against great odds, defending a way of live. This narrative has been challenged by many historians.

Lamp when it was at street level (Georgia Archives)

The lamppost was kept as a memento of the war and displayed in City Hall until 1880, says the Georgia Archives. It was returned to its original spot and the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed a plaque honoring a general. Another plaque was affixed in 1939 for the premiere of “Gone With the Wind.”

The post was designated the “Eternal Flame of the Confederacy.” At some point, it was moved a short distance during construction for the Underground Atlanta in the 1960s.

Its bright flame flickers below the original street level, next to escalators and restrooms.

Plaques affixed to lamppost (Picket photos)

Exhibit will open next year

To those who may question why the lamppost is being moved from near its historic location, Jones said it will be more secure at the AHC, which he says has the space and wherewithal to tell the story of Civil War Atlanta.

While the AHC has another lamppost, the Luckie artifact provides a lens into African-American life in Atlanta during the Civil War period, officials say.

“It is a curator’s dream,” said Jones.

Davis, the historian and author, said Luckie should have been recognized by the city years before -- perhaps with a downtown statue.

Details are still being finalized, but history center officials plan to place the lamppost near the locomotive Texas (famous for the Great Locomotive Chase) and the colossal Atlanta Cyclorama (Battle of Atlanta) painting that is being restored.

Editor's note: Some of you may wonder whether Luckie Street is named for Solomon Luckie. I'm told the downtown street is named for  Alexander F. Luckie, who died in 1854.

(Picket photo)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

More human remains found in Hunley

More clues of the H.L. Hunley mystery are being revealed during conservation of the Confederate submarine. Researchers in a North Charleston, South Carolina, lab unveiled the crew compartment -- which had been sealed by more than a century of ocean exposure and encrusted sediment. • Article

Monday, June 5, 2017

Louis Intres thinks you should know about the Sultana disaster. But, first, he aims to raise about $3 million to do it right.

Louis Intres, a retired banker, teaches history in Arkanas

Louis Intres and others who hope to build a permanent museum about the Civil War’s Sultana disaster believe they are on a mission to keep a small – but dramatic -- part of American history alive.

“A great story like this can’t be allowed to die,” said Intres, who has been hired by the city of Marion, Ark., to lead an effort to raise nearly $3 million to build a modern venue.

The steamboat, chugging north on the Mississippi River, exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing about 1,800 passengers and crew (although some say the figure was lower). Many of those on board were released Union prisoners, many from Andersonville, heading home at war’s end.

Marion was the closest community to where the overcrowded 260-foot sidewheeler came to rest and residents – including an ancestor of Mayor Frank Fogleman -- helped rescue those thrown into the chilly waters. (The wreckage is believed to be under a field near the river.)

A couple decades ago, Sultana Disaster Museum supporters were at the starting line in their effort to tell this story and bring some tourism to the town of about 12,500. The disaster was little known, not helped by the fact that it got lost at the time in headlines about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

A book by Memphis attorney Jerry Potter in the early 1990s helped get the ball rolling. Marion, along with a local historical society and the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends, have since pushed the story of the Sultana with a small temporary museum, special events and participation in anniversary articles and television programs.

“It has been a wonderful sleepy community near Memphis,” Intres said of Marion. “It is (now) seeking its own identity, maybe for the first time.”

Harper's Weekly illustration of the April 1865 disaster

Intres, 68, faces a daunting challenge, although supporters point to his 38-year banking career, fundraising experience, Sultana knowledge and passion for the project – he’s presented exhibits and given talks. Intres, an adjunct history instructor at Arkansas State University, is wrapping up a Ph.D degree in heritage and cultural studies.

A feasibility study, delivered to the city last year, lays out the opportunities and challenges that await in bringing in about 35,000 annual patrons. Officials know they will have to tap into the Memphis tourism market. And many of those 10.5 million annual visitors don’t come for history. They are more interested in food, music and the river.


-- The strength of the Sultana Story: It much more than a story about war. It also was the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

-- There are a number of tools to spread the word and generate interest among other audiences.

-- The museum will benefit from its proximity to Memphis and the Memphis visitor market.

-- The uniqueness and importance of the venue should garner support at the state level.


-- Getting the word out about Sultana; building brand awareness.

-- Lack of complementary attractions in Marion/Crittenden County.

-- Geographic distribution of the resident market with the majority of the market population on the eastern side of the river (Memphis).

-- Civil War interest peaked during the sesquicentennial. The subject of the war not popular with some demographics.

'It is a story of great magnitude'

(Courtesy of Gene Salecker)

A small temporary museum on Washington Street (above) features a handful of artifacts directly related to the disaster, a 14-foot replica of the steamboat and associated items from survivors, including reunion items from the late 19th and early 20th century. Most were collected by Gene Salecker, a Sultana author and lecturer. The museum has little marketing and draws no more than 100 visitors a month.

“It is totally inadequate to tell the story of the Sultana,” said Intres. ”It is a fine little community museum. This is a true American story. It is a story of great magnitude.”

Haizlip Studio of Memphis designed the proposed $2.8 million permanent museum. The plan features 5,500 square feet for permanent exhibits, plus space for changing attractions.

It features a large model of the steamboat, a movie and several stations, with topics ranging from Civil War prisons, the river, the building of the Sultana and bribery/overcrowding.
(Salecker and Potter have written about a kickback scheme between the vessel's financially-strapped captain 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.)

Intres, who said the museum could open with phase one completed, said the Hatch story is compelling and will be expanded to “show what a scoundrel he truly was.”

The story goes that Ozias M. Hatch, his brother, and other Illinois lawyers were close to Abraham Lincoln before he became president.  Ines and others believe he often asked for intercession from Lincoln, as president, and others to have corruption allegations against Reuben dropped or to give him job recommendations.

In the end, no one was formally held accountable for putting too many men on the Sultana, despite documented concerns about the safety of one of the boat's boilers.

Courtesy of Haizlip Studio: Concept plan of Sultana Disaster Museum, which is planned to be located in Marion, Ark. Click to enlarge

According to the Evening Times newspaper in Crittenden County, the Marion Advertising and Promotions Commission has agreed to spend $400,000 to help build the museum and another $75,000 a year to help defray operating costs over the next 10 years. Intres said the museum will not take away from city services or be an extra burden on citizens.

He will begin reaching out soon to tourism and historical groups, corporations, foundations and individuals. “My responsibility is to put together to put the fundraising program to prepare the grant applications, as well as put together the promotional packages to go to prospective …  contributors to help fund it.”

“It will not be built with a thousand small contributions. It will require large contributions that will make sure American history is not lost,” said Intres. “We seem to be moving away from patriotism, what our country is, and how it was built.”

Everything riding on fundraising campaign

Mayor Fogleman told the Evening Times that Intres, who lives an hour away in Jonesboro, is being “being hired to eat, drink, and sleep Sultana. I expect him to further our cause and make our present effort better and to help further refine what we want to do with the new (museum).”

Intres said he will continue teaching but will work a couple days a week in Marion. “This is something I want to do to finish up my public life. I would like this to be my swansong.”

Salecker said Intres is the perfect person for a job that is part cheerleader, part business development director.

Salecker with a model of the Sultana at museum

“I know that the mayor of Marion and the Chamber of Commerce members interviewed a number of people regarding the directorship but Louis was the only one that had the knowledge about the Sultana, plus the banking background and the contacts and experience needed to raise the necessary funds,” Salecker said.

Intres said he expects the museum to be built, “but it will be totally contingent on the success of this campaign.”

He said the city and chamber are all in, with an agreement to meet every 90 days to make a reality check. “As we go along, we will evaluate our progress.”

Back to his passion. Intres is full of stories of what happened to those on the Sultana and survivors who coped with the tragedy.

“You have heroism,” he said. “It’s got intrigue. It has all the elements of a great, great history story. If a movie could be made by Hollywood in a proper way, the whole story, it would be a blockbuster film.”

Previous Sultana coverage: