Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Arkansas governor dedicates $750,000 for a larger museum about the steamboat Sultana explosion that killed hundreds of Union soldiers

Haizlip Studio rendering of new museum features replica smokestacks (Courtesy SHPS)
Survivors of the Sultana disaster lobbied 25 years for Congress to provide money for a monument along the Mississippi River, near where 1,200 soldiers and civilians died a few miles above Memphis, Tenn.

It never happened.

“The survivors of this tragedy and those family members of those that died deserve better,” John Fogleman, one of the leaders of the effort to build a permanent museum about the disaster, said Tuesday in Marion, Ark., during a capital campaign kickoff event.

The Sultana Historical Preservation Society, city officials and others hope to raise $7.5 million to make the dream happen. They got a big boost during the event: Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state will provide $750,000 over two years.

“I believe that this is a good investment for this region. It is a good investment for the state of Arkansas. It is an important marker that we need to have in history,” the governor told the crowd in the former high school gymnasium-auditorium that will house exhibits and serve as a community space.

Sultana artifacts and memorabilia (Courtesy of Gene Salecker)
Marion was the closest community to where the overcrowded steamboat – carrying hundreds of Federal soldiers home at the end of the Civil War -- exploded and caught fire. 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, which exploded early on the morning of April 27, 1865.

Accounts of the tragedy – the worst maritime loss in U.S. history -- were overshadowed by headlines about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth.

Hutchinson made note of that Tuesday, saying the tragedy garnered only a few lines in The New York Times. “This has never gotten the historical attention it would ordinarily receive.”

The governor said besides honoring the dead and their descendants, the museum will tell the story of Arkansans who rushed to the river to help in the rescue and treatment of the wounded.

The Fogleman and Barton families, descendants of local men who were part of that effort, will donate $100,000 for the new museum.

Gene Salecker, a Sultana author and lecturer, said the renovated space will be much larger than the current museum a few blocks away. “The new museum will be located in the center of the city along a major roadway, near city hall and the city library, and will encompass over 22,000 square feet.”

Before Tuesday’s campaign kickoff, Fogleman told the Civil War Picket the project had received donations and pledges totaling $1.2 million. “Under our contract with the City of Marion we may start construction once we have raised in donations and commitments for donations totaling $3 million.”

Among the speakers was architect Mary Haizlip with Haizlip Studio in Memphis, which is designing the facility. She touted its proximity to I-55 and expected contribution to tourism and economic development in the entire Delta.

This exhibit tells of events leading up to explosion (Courtesy of SHPS)
Visitors will be provided “experiential moments” in the lives of passengers – from their departure from prison camps to the moment of the explosion and the aftermath. A memorial plaza will feature pavers engraved with names. “It will also be a place to sit and reflect.”

Haizlip Studio’s design includes smokestacks meant to evoke images of the Sultana.

“The smokestacks are going to be an iconic beacon that will be visible along Military Road to further draw in people to share the experiences,” Haizlip said.

Tuesday’s event was long on both memory of the disaster and the potential dollars that could come to the region. Officials are hoping up to 50,000 patrons come annually.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

On anniversary of the Sultana disaster -- which took 1,200 lives -- Arkansas city to launch capital campaign to build a larger museum

Haizlip Studio rendering of new museum's exterior (Courtesy of SHPS)
14-foot model depicting boilers explosion on Sultana (Courtesy of Gene Salecker)
Update: Governor Hutchinson pledges $750K for museum

The burned remnants of the steamboat Sultana lie beneath an Arkansas soybean field on the edge of the Mississippi River.

On Tuesday morning, just a few miles from that field, local and state leaders will kick off a $7.5 million capital campaign to build a permanent museum remembering the Sultana and the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

Officials for years have said it’s important that the little-known story of greed, fraud, valor and sacrifice be told in a bigger way than what’s covered in a “little bitty” temporary museum.

Now it’s time for that dream to sprout, they say.

Marion, Ark., was the closest community to where the overcrowded Sultana – carrying hundreds of Federal soldiers home at the end of the Civil War -- exploded and caught fire, killing about 1,200 passengers and crew. Tuesday’s kickoff, fittingly, comes on the 156th anniversary of the disaster. Marion is a bedroom community just west of Memphis, Ark.

Sultana memorial in 2015 (Courtesy of Robert Burke, Marion, Ind.)
The Sultana Historical Preservation Society, which has spearheaded the project in collaboration with the city, believes a compelling museum and effective marketing can bring in up to 50,000 visitors a year who collectively will spend millions of dollars to support the economy in Marion and nearby communities.

“We believe this story needs to be told now more than ever,” supporters say in an online video.

The national campaign kickoff will take place at a former high school auditorium-gymnasium on Military Road that will feature up to 17,000-square feet of exhibit space.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is expected to be the keynote speaker and indicate state support.

On display for the first time will be a 14-foot replica of the boat showing the damage done after three of the Sultana’s boilers exploded.

Haizlip Studio rendering of exhibit on what followed disaster (Courtesy SHPS)
“The new model shows a hole in the middle of the decks and a cloud of hot steam rising up through the severed decks, the twin smokestacks down, and the decks crushed together, which pinned many of the Sultana soldiers in the wreckage to be burned to death once the fire started,” says Sultana author and lecturer Gene Salecker.

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.

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. Accounts of the tragedy were overshadowed by headlines about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Salecker and author Jerry 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. Capt. J. Cass Mason agreed to take the enlisted men for $3; Hatch kept the $2.

Rick DeSpain's depiction of the April 1865 disaster (
Museum supporters say it’s important to detail the corruption and greed that foreshadowed the disaster. But they also want to tells stories of heroism among survivors and local residents who came to the aid of the injured – their enemies in wartime.

Some local residents have questioned whether the project is the best use of money and will bring in enough visitors. “I think Marion needs a lot more things to be more attractive than a Sultana museum right now. Let’s bring things that will actually grow marion and help lower our taxes," one commenter wrote on the city's Facebook page.

The story of the Sultana runs deep in the blood of Judge John Fogleman, president of the Sultana society, and his cousin Frank, the city’s longtime mayor. Their great-great-grandfather, John Fogleman, after lashing two or three logs together, poled his way through the current of the Mississippi River and toward survivors.

Another great-great-grandfather, Franklin Hardin Barton, an officer with the 23rd Arkansas Cavalry, used a dugout canoe to reach survivors, many of whom were burned or scalded. "Arkansans up and down the river answered the call and helped with the rescue and care for the survivors and recovery of the victims," he said.

John Fogleman told the Civil War Picket in recent email the project has received donations and pledges totaling $1.2 million. “Under our contract with the City of Marion we may start construction once we have raised in donations and commitments for donations totaling $3 million.”

Haizlip schematic of exhibit space, subject to change (Courtesy SHPS)
The historical society hired a Little Rock fundraiser to lead the campaign, with an expectation of an opening in late 2023 if the campaign is successful. About $4 million of the $7.5 million goal will go toward construction and renovation of the auditorium-gymnasium. The $3.5 million will go toward marketing, property acquisition, a film and the fees for architect Haizlip Studio.

The Marion Advertising and Promotions Commission, affiliated with the city government, has pledged about $500,000 to help build the museum and defray operating costs, according to reports.

Salecker says Tuesday’s event will also highlight artifacts and items currently on display at the Sultana Disaster Museum a few blocks away.

“The current, interim museum, located in a small, out-of-the-way building, contains only about 1,000 square feet of space,” he says. “The new museum will be located in the center of the city along a major roadway, near city hall and the city library, and will encompass over 22,000 square feet.” (Officials say current plans from Haizlip Studio are subject to modification.)

It’s been a protracted march to raise awareness of the episode in Civil War history and bring in a large amount of money for a permanent museum.

Current museum is in a small place on Washington Street.
A major consideration has been whether there is sufficient national interest now that the sesquicentennial is several years past. Still, community leaders believe a new museum -- with interactive displays and a “wow” factor -- is worth pursuing.

Ralph Hardin, editor of the Evening Times newspaper, recently wrote an opinion piece extolling the museum, its potential economic impact and the necessity of local support.

“This could be our Graceland,” he wrote, referencing Elvis Presley’s mansion in Memphis.

“No, I don’t expect millions of visitors, singing songs and holding candlelight vigils, but it is a fascinating story that can and will draw interest from all over the country. This museum isn’t just a tribute to the disaster and the people who lost their lives, it’s an important dot on the map of history, and one that will bring people to the community.”

John Fogleman says those wishing to make a donation can mail a check to P.O. Box 211, Marion, Arkansas 72364 or visit

Friday, April 23, 2021

Community salutes four Black veterans buried at NJ cemetery

This weekend, four Black Union Army veterans buried at a cemetery in Matawan, N.J., will receive some permanent company. A flagpole is being installed, and its American flag will be raised for the first time Saturday during a 10:30 a.m. ceremony. Among the graves is that of William Sherno, who likely fought in the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse and witnessed a pivotal moment in American history -- the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. -- Article

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Abraham Lincoln statue moved to battlefield in Kentucky

A replica statue of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky has been moved to a permanent home at a Civil War battlefield. Floyd County Judge-Executive Robert Williams told WYMT-TV that the statue is now at the Middle Creek Battlefield in Prestonsburg. The site is where Union forces halted a Confederate advance into Kentucky in 1862. The statue depicting the president seated is a replica of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was removed in 2019 from the law office of Eric Conn. Conn was sentenced to prison for Social Security fraud. -- Article

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

No longer kept in a drawer: Descendants donate Medal of Honor to Massachusetts town where hero recipient was laid to rest

Cecelia Miles, Col. Perry, veterans agent Donald Hirschy (Town of Dighton)
Cecelia Miles and her siblings came to realize that a Medal of Honor awarded to their great-grandfather for his actions during the Civil War shouldn’t be just a family heirloom, tucked away in a drawer.

Nearly a decade after Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson’s grave was found in Dighton, Mass., Miles recently drove from the Sioux Falls, S.D., area to the cemetery to present it to the town.

Dighton officials on that same day renamed an Elm Street span the Pvt. Frederick C. Anderson Memorial Bridge.

Anderson, a member of the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, received the honor for capturing the flag and color bearer of the 27th South Carolina during an August 1864 battle in Virginia.

Miles, a university associate professor, told the Picket she knew about the medal and Anderson while growing up in Florida, but the subject was not discussed much.

Anderson who died in 1882 at age 40 in Providence, R.I., was believed to be buried in Somerset, Mass. But Charles Mogayzel, a Korean War veteran and advocate for Medal of Honor recipients, in fall 2011 discovered the grave in Dighton. It had Anderson’s name but did have a Medal of Honor designation.

The late Mogayzel’s niece contacted Miles, who was putting together some information on her ancestor, through

“I wrote her back saying you may not believe this, but I actually have the medal. They were completely gobsmacked,” said Miles, who traveled to Dighton in 2011 for a ceremony at which a Medal of Honor marker was installed.

According to a Dighton proclamation, Anderson was born in Boston but was orphaned by age 8. At 14, he was relocated by the Orphan Train, a welfare program, to Raynham, Mass., and was put to work on a farm.

Military, veterans officials at renamed bridge (Town of Dighton)
He enlisted shortly after the Civil War began and participated in several battles with the 18th Massachusetts. According to the Taunton Gazette, regimental records showed that Anderson was about 5-foot-3 and had blue eyes and sandy hair.

The soldier earned the Medal of Honor for capturing the colors on Aug. 21, 1864, at the Battle of Globe Tavern, also known as the Second Battle of Weldon Railroad. The taking of regimental flags often disrupted communication among enemy troops.

The battle was a significant victory for the Union, netting a Confederate supply line and a portion of a railroad near Petersburg. Anderson received the medal from Maj. Gen. George Meade a month later.

Anderson was discharged at war’s end and settled in Somerset, where he and his wife raised three children, one of whom, Cecelia Ann, was Miles’ grandmother.

Miles, who traveled to Massachusetts with her husband, was presented a U.S. flag during the March 30 ceremony at the Dighton Community Church cemetery.

Col. Perry presents flag to Cecelia Miles (Town of Dighton)
“So many people who have never been in the armed forces don’t have the appreciation for what it takes to be awarded any decoration for military service,” Air Force Col. Bob Perry said, according to a press release from the town. “The Medal of Honor requires extraordinary dedication, valor and courage while under fire. Pvt. Anderson clearly demonstrated all of those traits.”

Officials said the medal will most likely be displayed in a glass case at Town Hall after the building receives some upgrades.

Miles said she is pleased the public will be able to see the medal and learn more about her great-grandfather, a Civil War hero. The ceremony, she said, was emotional.

“Everyone there was so pleased and proud. It just connected me to a much longer line of history and meaning than I had understood before.”

Thursday, April 1, 2021

James Longstreet, worried Confederate service might disqualify him, sought a federal pension based on his Mexican-American War wound. A namesake society now has his letter

James Longstreet is at center at 1888 Gettysburg reunion (NPS photo)
The Longstreet Society recently acquired a brief but fascinating letter from the legendary Confederate general seeking a federal pension 20 years after the Civil War’s end.

In an Oct. 2, 1885, letter from Gainesville, Ga., where he lived the last 25 years of his life, James Longstreet expresses guarded hope that his valiant service in the U.S. Army in the Mexican-American War will outweigh any concerns about him later fighting for the Confederacy against the Union.

Here’s the transcription of his correspondence to officials in Washington, D.C.

The general's pension request (click to enlarge, courtesy of The Longstreet Society)
“I beg your indulgence to inquire if I am entitled to a pension for a severe wound received in storming Chapultepec in Mexico on the 13th of September 1847.

“At the same time I will ask that the matter be so investigated that it shall not reach the newspapers, unless the decision should be favorable as an advance discussion will put me in position not very pleasant.

“I have frequently been told by surgeons who examine applicants that my claims is a just one, but the fact of being in the Confederate Army since the war casts a doubt in my mind, as to (the) law in this case.

“I remain Respectfully +
truly your obt servant

James Longstreet”

The Longstreet Society, based in Gainesville, said it believes the letter was successful but it wants to verify that.

Jeffry D. Wert, author of the 1993 book “General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier,” told the Picket he was reasonably certain Longstreet (left) did not receive the federal pension, “which was the case for high ranking Confederate officers.”

But it is difficult to know for sure.

“When the general's house burned to the ground, history lost much, if not nearly all, of his personal papers,” Wert wrote in an email.

Interestingly, the U.S. Pension Bureau worked to provide benefits for Union – not Confederate – veterans. The latter usually turned to their states for pensions and other relief. The Clara Barton Museum says the agency distributed about $138 million to nearly 1 million Union veterans and surviving relatives.

Longstreet, a West Point graduate, served in several battles during the Mexican-American War and suffered a thigh wound while carrying the flag for the 8th US Infantry at Chapultepec. He handed the flag to George E. Pickett, who would also gain fame during the Civil War as Longstreet’s subordinate at Gettysburg. Longstreet continued serving in the U.S. Army until the Civil War.

Dan Paterson, great-grandson of the general, said he did not know whether Longstreet got the federal pension. Helen Dortch Longstreet, the general’s second wife, apparently did receive a stipend for his service in Mexico, Paterson said.

A pension card on notes an 1887 application from the general for the "Mexican War" and another for Helen in 1904, after his death. James was married to his first wife, Maria Louisa, until her death in 1889.

James and Helen Longstreet in 1900 (courtesy of Dan Paterson)
The pension was not something I recollect coming up in discussion when my grandmother was still around in the 70's when we were kids,” Paterson wrote in an email.

A search of the Georgia Archives shows Helen applied in 1937 – 33 years after the general’s death – for a pension from the state as a widow of a Confederate veteran. Helen, 69, indicated James had received a state pension while living in Gainesville.

A letter, in approving Helen’s pension request, said the general “performed actual military service as a Confederate soldier and was honorably separated from such service.”

The letter did not indicate what amount the widow would receive.

Helen Longstreet's pension request (click to enlarge, Georgia Archives)
Maria Lagonia, vice president of the Longstreet Society, said the group spent less than $1,000 to purchase the letter from a seller on eBay.

The individual “worked with us on the price because he felt (and so did we) that the James Longstreet Museum was a good safe home for the letter and because we could share it with our visitors.”

In 1885, when he wrote the letter, Longstreet was both famous and infamous in the South, depending on one’s point of view. He remained immensely popular with the Confederate veterans he once led. His most masterful moments during the Civil War were at Chickamauga, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Antietam.

The veteran of Indian wars and the Mexican-American War was devoted and loyal to Gen. Robert E. Lee, who leaned heavily on Longstreet and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The latter was killed at Chancellorsville only a few months before Gettysburg.

A cabal, which included former generals Jubal Early and John Gordon, claimed Longstreet stubbornly resisted Lee’s plans at Gettysburg, resulting in the loss of the July 1863 battle – and perhaps the war.

They said Lee’s “Old War Horse”, his principal subordinate, was insubordinate at Gettysburg. That he wouldn’t support the attacks. That he moved his 14,000 troops in a slow manner.

Longstreet’s supporters and some scholars counter this. Although Gettysburg may not have been his best effort, they say, the general fought effectively on Days 2 and 3. The veteran, however, earned enmity when he dared to criticize Lee’s actions at Gettysburg publicly, and he spent the rest of his life trying to restore his reputation.

Two years after war’s end, Longstreet said that he believed in reconciliation and black suffrage. His business in New Orleans began to fail after critics accused him of being a scalawag – a Southern white who supported Reconstruction.

After the war, Longstreet held several federal offices and was a friend of President Ulysses S. Grant and Dan Sickles, former foes on the battlefield. While living in Louisiana, Longstreet led a black militia against unruly white supremacists.

Old Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville is home to The Longstreet Society (Picket photo)
Southerners did not forget that affront or his Republican Party loyalties. While there is no evidence he was progressive on race, Longstreet thought giving blacks full citizenship and voting rights was the practical thing to do.

Besides defending himself, the aging warrior also contended with the effects of a grievous wound to his throat, the result of friendly fire during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

Longstreet moved to Gainesville in the late 1870s. He bought the 120-acre farm near downtown and pruned muscadine vines on property that featured an old colonial-style home.

The home burned in April 1889, and the general’s wife, Maria Louisa, died in December. (photo at right, courtesy of Dan Paterson). The fire destroyed the home, Longstreet's uniform, sword, a sash given to him by J.E.B. Stuart, relics, papers and more.

He held other offices, wrote his memoirs, “From Manassas to Appomattox,” and ran a hotel, which today is the home of the Longstreet Society.

In 1897, The “Old War Horse” at age 76 married Helen, 34, at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta. “She would live until 1962, spending many of those years defending Longstreet against his many harsh critics,” the society says.

James Longstreet, 82, died in January 1904. He is buried at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville.

Richard Pilcher, president of the Longstreet Society, said the organization has few items directly related to the general. Among the documents are those related to promotions and civilian and political appointments.

Lagonia said the society will display the pension request letter on special occasions. It is seeking donations to help with the purchase.

We like to study Longstreet's non-military life as well as his military and political life. The letter was very personal and allowed us a glimpse into his thoughts and circumstances,” she wrote in an email.

The Atlanta Journal article about 1897 wedding (courtesy of Dan Paterson)