Monday, November 28, 2022

Volunteers will fix memorial to Ohio veteran whose family suffered greatly

A cemetery monument honoring Ohio Civil War veteran Dr. Noah Webster Yoder is getting a facelift. Several organizations in the Sugarcreek area are asking the community to help fund a project to restore the memorial. The 10-foot tall marble obelisk is leaning badly and needs to be repaired. There are many cracks in the marker, and water has gotten into the stone. It marks the final resting place of Yoder, his wife Catherine, and two of their children -- a family haunted by unimaginable tragedies. -- Article

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Rogers named new superintendent at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania

Lewis Rogers, whose 38-year National Park Service career has included service at 12 sites with historic and cultural themes, has been named the next superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.

Lewis Rogers
Rogers, currently the superintendent at another Civil War site, Petersburg National Battlefield, will start his new position on Dec. 18.

At Petersburg, Rogers guided the park through the Civil War sesquicentennial and he spoke often about the important role of African American soldiers (U.S. Colored Troops). A postage stamp honors Black troops who fought during the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg in July 30, 1864. Rogers also backed expansion of the Petersburg park.

“I am proud to be a steward of America’s history,” Rogers said in a press release Friday.

“The most exciting thing about national parks is the intersection of story and place. This is the stuff that makes your hair stand up. But too often in public history, too many faces have been cropped out of the whole picture. To understand what really happened, stewards of our shared history need to reveal the entire picture, with all of its participants. That’s what makes history so interesting.”

Rogers’ time at the National Park Service has involved a variety of roles, including law enforcement, wildland firefighting and interpretation. He has served in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

His previous NPS posts included Booker T. Washington National Monument, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Valley Forge National Historical Park and Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Survivor artifacts and memories: A detailed look at current plans for the new Sultana Disaster Museum in Arkansas, gallery by gallery

Banners for survivor reunions in the late 19th century (Sultana Disaster Museum)
A new museum remembering the steamboat Sultana maritime disaster will feature artifacts from the current two-room venue, recently collected items and professionally produced exhibits that will tell all facets of the Civil War story.

Gene Salecker (below), a Sultana author and lecturer, said renovated and expanded space in the old high school in Marion, Ark., will be much larger and in a more prominent spot in town. Groundbreaking was held Friday, on Veterans Day.

The Sultana exploded and caught fire in the Mississippi Rover not far from Marion on April 27, 1865. About 1,200 passengers and crew perished. Hundreds of Federal soldiers, many recently freed from Confederate prisons, including Andersonville and Cahaba, were on their way home, a cruel fate after enduring months or years of privation.

The school’s gymnasium-auditorium will be largely gutted, though crews will try to preserve as much of the original floor as possible. “In addition to the renovations of the existing structure, a new addition will be built onto the south side of the building, which will house the main entrance, ticketing station, museum store and … the auditorium and orientation theater,” said Wyley Bigger, director of special operations and projects for the Sultana Disaster Museum. (The groundbreaking was held in the old gym)

Section-by-section look at museum experience

The Picket asked Salecker, who has donated many items to the museum, to provide details on the experience for visitors once the new location opens. Some responses have been edited for brevity.

Q. I need a big picture description, please, of what all will be in the museum, how the visitor flow will go and the principal themes. What should be the takeaway when someone leaves? 

Current floor plan for new museum in Marion (Sultana Disaster Museum, click to enlarge)

. Our initial concept, and it may vary once we get heavily into the actual layout of the museum, is to have people enter the museum and see a short video explaining what the Sultana disaster is and how it impacted so many people -- survivors, families of the slain, rescuers, descendants and etc.

We plan on having people then walk through a section that will cover an overview of the Civil War and the importance of steamboating on the Mississippi River. Next, a person will enter a display on the building of the Sultana and on her first two years of service. The next section will be devoted to Civil War battle, capture and prisons. (Read about one former prisoner who kept memory of disaster alive to dying day.)

John H. Simpson was a passenger (photos courtesy of Gene Salecker)
Next will come a section devoted to Camp Fisk, the neutral exchange camp outside of Vicksburg where the prisoners gathered in hopes of being exchanged and sent home. Our next section will discuss the bribery and the greed and corruption that surrounded the three steamboats that carried the ex-prisoners northward. Emphasis will center on the Sultana.

From there we are hoping to immerse people into the loading of the Sultana by having a scale mock-up of the steamboat that people can board and see the boilers, the engines, perhaps the staterooms. Here will be stories of the loading and the overcrowding, and of the two day trip upriver.

The next section will explain the explosion, the fights for survival and the activities of the many rescuers. This section will include information on the hospitals, the rescue boats, the activities at Fort Pickering (the fort guarding the southern waterway approach to Memphis).

Our next section will include information on the aftermath of the disaster -- the (Capt.) Speed trial, the establishment of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, and the laws passed to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

The visitor to the museum will then step into an area showing our Wall of Honor, which will list every person on board the Sultana between April 24-27, 1865 as she made her way upriver from Vicksburg - ex-prisoners, guards, crew and civilian passengers. Where possible, we will have actual photos of the person. 

Photos of some on board Sultana are currently on exhibit (Sultana Disaster Museum)
The last two sections will feature the information on the reunions of the Sultana survivors, the current Sultana Association reunions, and on the various monuments and markers that have been put up to memorialize the greatest maritime disaster in American history.

The permanent museum will also contain a temporary exhibit area which will feature rotating exhibits on loan from other museums. These exhibits will not only be Civil War-related, but any and all American wars, as well as other interesting American displays. We will also have an auditorium that can be used for Sultana Disaster Museum seminars, events, and more.

Q. What will be the "signature" artifacts or constructed objects that will most grab a visitor's attention?

A. The signature artifacts, of course, will be that actual pieces of the Sultana that have been collected over the years or were carried by many of the survivors on board the Sultana. These pieces include:

Fire bricks (top) and shaker places from the furnace (G. Salecker)
-- Several pieces of fire brick and heavy metal shaker plates from the furnaces of the Sultana
-- Pieces of wood taken from the wreck years afterwards and given to survivors as cherished mementos
-- Wooden mallet made from the wood of the Sultana
-- Couple of buttons from the frock coat saved during the disaster by the captain of the guard unit
-- Couple of hand-made wooden combs (one below) carved by the prisoners while they were in a Confederate prison and carried aboard the Sultana

Carved comb made in a Confederate prison (Gene Salecker)
-- Cartridge box sling found along the shore of the Mississippi River shortly after the disaster
-- Cane made from the wood of the Sultana
-- Display board made from wood from the Sultana containing several small metal artifacts taken from the wreck
-- Knife made from a file and carried by one of the ex-prisoners aboard the Sultana
-- Steamboat engineer's wrench said to be from the Sultana
-- Cotton bale hook salvaged from the wreck of the Sultana

Additionally, our museum features dozens of items that were used at the many reunions of the Sultana Survivors’ Association -- reunion ribbons, numerous flags, a welcoming banner, an embroidered eagle banner, metal adjutant collection box, journals, minutes, envelopes with Association letterhead, lap desk from the association secretary, and a few wall plaques.

Curios crafted by survivor William Lugenbeal (Sultana Disaster Museum)
One of the most remembered survivors was Pvt. William Lugenbeal, who survived by slaying the Sultana's pet alligator and floating to safety in its sturdy wooden crate.

Our museum has two canes from Lugenbeal, one pipe, one napkin ring, and a curio box all decorated with the image of an alligator and inscribed to the man who was "saved by a alligator." 

And, since we will also be a museum that discusses the importance of steamboats on the Mississippi River, we also have many 1850-1860 steamboat memorabilia -- an 1857 first class steamboat ticket, an 1858 second-class deck passage ticket, a main saloon meal ticket from the 1860s, a hand-written menu from an 1860s steamboat (exceedingly rare, at left), an 1858 steamboat pilot's license and an 1854 steamboat engineer's certificate.

After the disaster, not only were the pilots and engineers required to be licensed but also the captain and first mate. We, therefore, have an 1881 steamboat captain (master) license and an 1889 first mate's license.

And, I would be remiss if I forgot to state that we have an actual 1840 engine from the steamboat LeRoy.

Q. Are all items/artifacts in the current museum going to be displayed on Military Road? Are there some in storage that will debut at the new site? If so, what are they?

A. Hopefully, we have room for all of the items currently on display in our interim museum -- and in the back room -- to go on display in our permanent museum. Any item that we do not have space for will be rotated with items on display so that all of the items will eventually have their moment to shine! We have a couple of pieces that are not on current display in the interim museum because of space limitations. One is the actual 1840 steamboat engine from the steamboat LeRoy and the other is another 14-foot model of the Sultana, this one depicting that moment after the disaster with the hole blown in the middle of the boat, the smokestacks down, the pilothouse gone, the decks collapsed on top of one another, and tons of steam escaping through the blast hole.

The current museum has only two rooms; it is off a side street
All of the artifacts that I owned in 2020 were donated to the museum at that time. I am imagining that all of them will be put on display in the permanent museum if space allows. If not, then they will be rotated with other items a few times a year. About 85-90 percent of the pieces in the museum come from my collection.

There are some items that I picked up in 2021 and 2022 that have not been donated to the museum. I am hoping that they will have their debut when the permanent museum opens.

Gym site provides nostalgia for local residents

Wyly Bigger, the director of projects for the Sultana Disaster Museum, said “that while constructing a brand-new building (as first envisioned) may have allowed for more freedom in architecture and exhibit design, I believe having the museum in this historic space adds a new element to the museum that can enhance the experience for history lovers.”

Photo by Mark Hilton,
The building (above)
was completed in 1938-1939 during the New Deal era by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (later known as the Public Works Administration). It hosted exhibition basketball games by the University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University.

“In addition to the history, it is a place of fond memories for a lot of locals who attended school and played ball there. By preserving this building and giving it a use where it had none, we’re combining its history with that of the Sultana and creating a rich collective of histories in one place,” Bigger said.

Retired John Fogleman, head of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society, told the audience at the groundbreaking of the role of the disaster survivors.

“This museum idea did not begin with us. The seed for the idea of a museum was planted by the actual survivors. Not for a museum. All they wanted was a monument" along the Mississippi River. That effort never came to fruition. Now is the time to rectify that, Fogleman said.

Former US Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater discussed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln nearly two weeks before the Sultana exploded. Slater said Lincoln stressed that no soldiers died in vain during the war and all men were created equal. He asked the crowd to bless the memory of the disaster's victims

Haizlip Studio rendering of exterior includes mock smokestacks (Sultana Disaster Museum)

Thursday, November 10, 2022

National Park Service awards $345K in new grants to help restore battlefields in Virginia and Pennsylvania

Huntsberry farm near Winchester, Va. (SVBF via NPS)
With a focus on restoring “day of battle” conditions at historic sites, the National Park Service has awarded $345,000 in grants for the study of and improvements at Civil War battlefields in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The agency this week announced the inaugural Battlefield Restoration Grants, emphasizing they will conserve open spaces and restore landscapes.

Here’s a brief look at the five projects that “build on collaborative conservation efforts among state and local governmental and nonprofit partners,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams in a news release.


Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg ($62,500 to the American Battlefield Trust): With financial support from a Battlefield Restoration Grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program, the American Battlefield Trust will synthesize research on the civilian landscape at Seminary Ridge, including the Mary Thompson House, the James Thompson House, the Dustman Barn and the ruins of the Alexander Riggs House; all properties that witnessed the opening stages of the battle. The Trust’s plan will build upon previous research to gain a complete understanding of the Seminary Ridge landscape and provide a roadmap to restoring day-of-battle conditions to a view shed essential to visitors’ experience at the Gettysburg battlefield.– Details here


Edwin Forbes' illustration of the clash at Brandy Station (Library of Congress)
Brandy Station 1863 cavalry battle ($175,000 to the American Battlefield Trust): “The American Battlefield Trust will develop a comprehensive report on the landscape features of the Brandy Station Battlefield, including the archaeological remains of fighting and historic buildings that witnessed the battle. The report will also explore lesser-known stories, such as the experiences of enslaved and freed African Americans as the battle came to Elkwood Downs plantation. The American Battlefield Trust hopes that the report’s findings will lead to the continued preservation of these resources and narratives ahead of the battlefield’s incorporation into Virginia’s new Culpeper Battlefields State Park.– Details here

Third Winchester in 1864 ($79,428 to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation): NPS’s award supports the foundation’s on-going restoration of the Third Winchester Battlefield with the installation of period fencing at both portions of the (Huntsberry) farm. The fences that once brought order to the property will now give a sense of place to the farm and help visitors understand the battlefield’s landscape: how it was used by the people who called this place home, how it was traversed by the soldiers who fought here, and how it can be a place of renewal today.– Details here

New Market battle in 1864 ($28,277 to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation):  “The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) will pave the way to advance the New Market Greenway Trail, an interpreted greenway linking New Market’s downtown with nearly 400 acres of protected battlefield” – Details here

The federal money for the new grants program comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The NPS’s American Battlefield Protection Program administers the new program, along with Battlefield Land Acquisition, Preservation Planning, and Battlefield Interpretation grants.

“Battlefield Restoration Grants empower preservation partners to inspire wonder, understanding, and empathy at the places that witnessed some of our nation’s most challenging events,” the park service says.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Sultana will rise from the ashes as Arkansas city breaks ground on permanent museum focused on the Civil War maritime disaster

Haizlip Studio's museum rendering for the moment of explosion (SHPS)
An Arkansas town close to where the steamboat Sultana exploded and caught fire at the Civil War’s end will see a decade-long dream fulfilled on Veterans Day when it breaks ground for a new museum that will honor soldiers who died in the disaster and residents who helped save others plunged into the Mississippi River.

Officials in Marion -- a bedroom community just a 15-minute drive from Memphis, Tenn. -- say 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 tiny museum that opened in 2015.

The Sultana Historical Preservation Society last month announced it had reached its $6 million goal for phase 1 of the project at the gymnasium-auditorium in the town’s old high school. Officials are hopeful the museum be ready for business in early 2024.

Survivor William Lugenbeal claimed he killed an alligator on board
to use a crate to escape. He made this box afterward (SHPS)
It’s been a protracted and dogged march to raise awareness of the episode in Civil War history and bring in a large amount of money for a permanent museum. The Picket has written several articles on the museum, dating to 2012.

“Not only will the tragic story of the Sultana be remembered forever, but the new museum will be a wonderful storehouse of Sultana-related artifacts, photos, research and documentation,” said Norman Shaw of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends (Sultana Association).

The Sultana exploded and caught fire on April 27, 1865, killing about 1,200 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.

A photo of the overcrowded Sultana a base before the fire (Library of Congress)
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 largest maritime tragedy in U.S. history were overshadowed by headlines about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Authors Gene Salecker and 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.

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.

The main focus will be on those who endured the ordeal (SHPS)
“I’m just very excited for the City of Marion, as I’m glad to see this historic (school) space put to use – a use that will bring in thousands upon thousands of visitors to our town. I’m also glad to see the victims of the Sultana disaster finally get a fitting memorial,” Wyly Bigger, director of special operations and projects for the Sultana Disaster Museum, told the Picket in an email.

The expanded museum will include scores of artifacts or memorabilia related to the disaster and exhibits on steamboats on the Mississippi River, the Sultana’s service, Civil War prisons, corruption involved in its overloading, the explosion, the struggle for survival, rescue efforts and the disaster’s aftermath. Many of the artifacts were donated by Salecker.

Among the items be displayed are bricks and shaker plates from the doomed vessel's furnace, a cotton bale hook, a cartridge box sling, combs carved by soldiers while they were in prison and items created by passengers after the fire. Numerous items made for annual reunions of survivors (left) also will be showcased.

Haizlip Studio in Memphis took the lead in architectural and exhibit plans. The Picket reached out this week to the company about its part in the project but did not receive a response.

In 2021, architect Mary Haizlip said among the design features at the converted school building on Military Road  -- a few blocks from the current museum -- will be exterior smokestacks meant to evoke images of the Sultana. 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.

Backers say the 1939 gymnasium’s 35-foot ceilings will help provide “for a new, modern, high-tech museum that will entertain and educate visitors of all ages. It also allows us to preserve and repurpose one of the most historical buildings in eastern Arkansas.” Officials say the new venue will encompass more than 22,000 square feet.

The museum will include exhibits on the era of steamboats (Haizlip Studio/SHPS)
Bigger said the $6 million is the anticipated cost for renovations of the existing gymnasium structure and construction of the new addition to be built on the south end of the building. About $3.1 million of the current funding comes from government sources. Another $761,000 is from foundations and $1.58 million is linked to businesses who hope the museum will boost tourism spending in the area.

“As we are starting this phase, we will be continuing to raise money, with our next goal being $4 million to go towards constructing the actual exhibit within the building. After that phase is complete, fundraising will continue with a goal of another $3 million for an endowment to be put towards early operational expenses as the new museum is getting off the ground,” Wyly wrote.

First steps will include abatements (removing any traces of hazardous substances, for example lead paint or asbestos). Construction will ideally start by New Year’s Day, “but it could be March before any visible work is started. The schedule is not firm just yet, but the process is underway,” said Bigger.

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 in 2021.

A Reddit page on the Civil War has spirited comments about the museum, with some saying it will tell an important story while others say the story could be included in an existing venue. One reader said more populous areas are struggling to draw big numbers to maritime-related museums and that Marion will also encounter a general declining interest in history.

Gene Salecker's 14-foot model will be displayed at the new site (SHPS)
Museum supporters disagree, citing the museum’s anticipated economic impact and the unique story of the disaster.

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 who is leaving office after this term. 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.

The Fogleman and Barton families, descendants of local men who were part of that rescue effort, donated $100,000 for the project.

Survivors of the Sultana disaster lobbied 25 years for Congress to provide money for a monument along the Mississippi River. It never happened.

“The survivors of this tragedy and those family members of those that died deserve better,” John Fogleman said during a capital campaign kickoff event in 2021.

Shaw, founder of the Sultana Association, said the goal of the Sultana’s survivors was to ensure their ordeal would not be forgotten.

1920 Knoxville survivors reunion; Pleasant Keeble at far left, John H. Simpson
second from right (Knox County Public Library, McClung Historical Collection)
“That's why they held annual reunions, to which many people attended, most importantly their families, to carry on the legacy,” Shaw said. This has always been our group's driving motivation -- keep the story alive. I feel the old veterans would be proud of our efforts.”

He touted the Foglemans’ leadership and the role of Salecker as historical consultant.

The association meets every year in different cities. It will hold its annual reunion in Marion the same year the museum opens, Shaw said. Sultana survivor descendants have been encouraged to consider donating or loaning their items to the museum.

The groundbreaking is set for 10 a.m. CT on Nov. 11 at the former Marion High School gymnasium and auditorium at 54 Military Road, Marion, Ark.

COMING SOON: A closer look at the planned exhibits and artifacts

Previous Sultana coverage:
• Disaster took lives of those who had endured so much
• Siblings recall learning of disaster

Haizlip Studio rendering of new museum features replica smokestacks (Courtesy SHPS)