by Pam Newhouse
The Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends once again met for its annual reunion – this time at Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati is significant in the history of the Sultana disaster in that the boat itself was built here along the banks of the Ohio River at the Litherbury Shipyard, and many soldiers who ended up on the boat mustered in and were trained at Camp Dennison, 16 miles northeast of the city.
We gathered for our “Meet and Greet” on Friday afternoon, April 27th, in Florence, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. As always, there were interesting Sultana-related displays to see and interesting people to meet! Gene Salecker had copies of his book, “Disaster on the Mississippi” to sell (and he sold all he brought). He also brought pieces of iron that came from the Sultana’s furnaces and prints for sale of the burning Sultana. Bill Gray set out his amazing hand built model of the Sultana. I brought Sultana survivor Sgt. William Fies’ (60th Ohio Infantry) cane, complete with a silver engraved plate attached to the shank that says “Sgt. William Fies, Sultana Survivor.” I also brought a framed copy of the 20’ by 12’ painting of the loading of the Sultana that is on the Vicksburg, Mississippi floodwall (to view/order, go to www.riverfrontmurals.com).
A real surprise and treat this year was meeting new attendee Jeff Stachyra from upstate New York. Jeff is a songwriter/record producer who, after reading everything he could find about the Sultana, began to write and record a CD of songs about the disaster. It took four years, and it is very well done! My personal favorites are the folksy “That Old Steamboat Boiler” and “Reuben B. Hatch,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” the hymn sung on board the Sultana by some soldiers as they were heading home. In this rendition Jeff was dedicated to achieving a “period correct” historical sound from the mid 1800’s. As a result, he recorded the playback of the choir in an 1860s church in Pennsylvania with the accompaniment of an antique pump organ also from that period to re-create the proper sound of the era. Go to his website at http://thesultana.com.
David Mowrey of Cincinnati introduced himself. He was the leader of our Bus Tour on Saturday. He is a serious student of Civil War history and a member of the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table. He has given numerous talks and has written papers on Civil War subjects.
Next we saw a 40-minute DVD created by Mike and Mark Marshall of Enid, Oklahoma. This project has been in progress for some time and is not completely finished yet, but it is a wonderful overview of the Sultana, the events surrounding it, and interviews with survivors’ descendants, Glenna Green and Bob Warner, who have since died. Also included are interviews with Jack Lundquist, Gene Salecker, Jerry Potter, Charles Dawkins, and myself. We hope the DVD will be finished and available for purchase in the near future.
Descendant and teacher Lila Elliott Sybesma gave a beautiful presentation about her ancestor, 2nd Lt. Joseph Taylor Elliott (124th Indiana Infantry; captured at Franklin, survived the Sultana) who later wrote and published an account of his experiences on the Sultana (“The Sultana Disaster,” 1913). Go to http://genealogytrails.com/main/events/sultanadisaster.html to read his very interesting account. He also includes an account by William B. Floyd, on one of the rescue boats. Floyd addresses the rumor that the Sultana was sabotaged, but comes to the same conclusion about that that Gene Salecker did. Lila’s family is fortunate to have many family artifacts from the Civil War and post Civil War era (go to www.sultanastory.blogspot.com to read her blog). We love Lila! Her enthusiasm and friendliness is infectious! Lila also brought prints for sale of a watercolor of the Sultana moving peacefully upriver.
Then Cincinnatian Mark Willoughby, who has done extensive research on 19th century Cincinnati shipyards, shared his information with us, in preparation for what we would see tomorrow on the Bus Tour. Particularly of interest to our group is the Litherbury Shipyards where the Sultana was built in 1863. It was located, near 8 other shipyards, on the riverbanks in eastern Cincinnati. This industry employed 4,000 men. The true site of Litherbury is now 72 feet underwater, because the building of power plants and a dam in the 20th century has made the river wider.
Mark explained that the Sultana was built as a luxurious Mississippi River passenger steamboat. Shillito’s, a major department of long standing in the city, supplied the ornate oriental-style carpeting, and the dining room china was Queens Ware (a type of light white earthenware with a brilliant glaze developed from creamware by Josiah Wedgwood and named in honor of his patroness, Queen Charlotte).
Next, descendant George Pitt told us about his ancestor, Cpl. C. Thomas Kruse of the 50th Ohio Infantry, who was captured at Franklin and died on the Sultana.
Then Louis Intres, professor at Arkansas State University, spoke to us. Louis has been instrumental in raising awareness about the Sultana and has been working to help establish a “Golden Era of Steamboats” museum in Marion, Arkansas (near the site where the remains of the Sultana lies.) He curated a major Sultana exhibit displayed in Marion, Arkansas, March 5-25, including many artifacts and items loaned by our members. The state of Arkansas is also behind this effort and serious fund raising efforts have begun. Our Sultana Association has been invited to hold our 2015 reunion in Marion to celebrate this ongoing effort and remember the 150th anniversary of the Sultana disaster. Mark your calendars for the end of April in 2015!
Gene Salecker next greeted the group and, in answer to a pervasive question, empathetically stated once again that the Sultana explosion was NOT the result of sabotage (a torpedo device in the furnaces), but definitely was the result of the weakening of a poorly patched boiler, which resulted in the explosion. The final evidence is the nature of the trajectory of the blast, which blew upward and backward – consistent with this type of explosion – and not downward and through the bottom of the boat, as would have happened in a furnace explosion.
The next day, Saturday, April 28th, at 8 AM, we got on the bus for a tour of Northern Kentucky Civil War defenses, Cincinnati’s Steamboat Row, and Camp Dennison. In 1861 Cincinnati was bracing itself for a Confederate attack and so a series of artillery fortifications (batteries) were built on the hills of Kentucky, facing southward. We visited what remains of two of these, batteries Hooper in Ft. Wright, Kentucky, and Shaler in Southgate. In Ft. Wright we also visited the Ramage Civil War Museum, in a historic brick home on a high hill. There were many artifacts there and very good interpreters to show us around. Then we went to Bellevue, Kentucky, right on the Ohio River, where we had a good view of the site of the Litherbury Shipyards across the river. Several group photos were taken there, including the one I have posted here.
Our next stop was at the riverside parks in downtown Cincinnati where we saw an Ohio historic marker telling about the Sultana. Mark pointed out a nearby site where a factory stood that manufactured the iron furnaces for the boat.
Next we traveled 16 miles northeast to Camp Dennison, Ohio where we ate a good lunch at the Schoolhouse Restaurant, which was an actual 1863 2-story schoolhouse, complete with blackboards! Afterwards we went a mile or so up to where Camp Dennison had been. In 1861 its 500 acres was large enough to house 15,000 men. A railroad ran through the middle of the camp and natural springs supplied the water. During the course of the war 75,000 volunteers were mustered into the Union Army here, including my gr gr grandfather, Pvt. Adam Schneider, of Cincinnati. (He would train with his regiment, the 183rd Ohio Infantry for three weeks, then was rushed to Franklin, just in time for the major battle there on November 30, 1864. He was captured, sent to Cahaba Prison, near Selma, Alabama, and ultimately died on the Sultana.)
The area that was Camp Dennison is still open rolling hills which look much like they did in the 19th century. The Ohio Civil War Museum is housed in a stone building, constructed in 1804, which was used as a guard house during the war. The house and a large stone house was the camp headquarters and is part of the Waldschmidt Museum Complex. The entire complex is beautifully maintained and ably run by the Ohio Society Daughters of the American Revolution, who gave us a tour.
This ended our Bus Tour.
That evening we had our banquet and listened to a presentation by Lester Horwitz, author of “The Longest Raid of the Civil War,” who told us about Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and men’s raid into southern Indiana and Ohio, where he clashed with Union troops near Camp Dennison. He was captured and sent to civilian prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, where he and his men incredibly escaped by tunneling under the prison, the yard, and the wall. He caught a southbound passenger train and had a cordial conversation with a man on board who told him that General Morgan was a prisoner in the Ohio State Pen
Following tradition we ended our evening with the “Roll Call of the Dead” and the Memorial Candlelight Service, where we honor all who were on the Sultana on April 27, 1865.
So ended another memorable reunion.
by Norman Shaw
The 2011 Sultana reunion was held for the first time north of the Ohio River, a natural boundary between North and South in the Western Theater. Much appreciation goes to member Richard Troupe for not only conceiving the idea of meeting in Mansfield this year but also for the many hours he spent in planning the event. Everything went smoothly!
One of the most exciting aspects of the 2011 reunion was that out of the approximate 70 folks who attended about 20 descendants came for the first time. Their enthusiasm was obvious so I feel they will likely be at the 2012 reunion and maybe bring more family members.
The Holiday Inn met our needs in every way including nice rooms, an ample meeting space for our Friday talks and personal displays, and preparing and serving the Saturday banquet.
Friday evening we enjoyed hearing from member Pat Kuhlhoff from New Mexico who told us about her Sultana ancestor’s experience starting with his capture defending Fortress Rosecrans in Murfreesboro, TN. Louis Intres also gave us an update of his fascinating experiences living with the Bedouin people in the Middle East, a research project for his doctoral dissertation. Louis was headed back to the Middle East shortly after our reunion.
Richard had a full day planned for us on Saturday. First, we drove to South Park to see the Sultana marker for the 102nd Ohio that Richard was instrumental in having made and erected in Mansfield. After a brief wreath laying ceremony there, our group traveled a short distance to the Ohio Civil War Collector’s Show held annually in Mansfield. It had been many years since I last attended a Civil War relic show, but it was still fascinating to see the tremendous variety of items for sale. Several of our folks found an interesting artifact to purchase such as the Burkes who bought a 1932 GAR button from a reunion held in their hometown of Marion, IN.
The CW show had two artillery firing demonstrations during the day which were effective in setting off car alarms! Other historical periods were represented by re-enactors from the Revolutionary War and WW II. For me, the most unusual living history setup had to be the German WW II camp, yet someone needs to play the enemy during WW II reenactments.
We could stay at the CW show as long as we desired but after several hours I felt a little fatigued from Friday’s drive up so I returned in the afternoon to the motel for a nap. However, I did make it to the 4 p.m. gathering at the GAR Hall, one of the few remaining GAR halls in the country. We were fortunate that the Hall’s director stayed after work hours to give a short presentation on the history of the building. We were then allowed some time for touring.
The Holiday Inn provided a tasty meal at the banquet Saturday evening. We all enjoyed a time to rest, relax, and converse. Two very pleasant surprises awaited us at the conclusion of dinner. First, at Richard’s invitation, we were all highly entertained by an excellent, local barber shop quartet called Bravada which sang a variety of songs. Everyone was either smiling or tapping their feet or both! At Richard’s request, they sang the Naval Hymn which they had to learn specifically for the evening. A fitting way to end a great performance.
The next surprise was Gene Salecker unveiling a wonderful new painting of the Sultana disaster done by a friend of Gene’s who, at Gene’s suggestion, was a factual depiction of the Sultana immediately following the explosion. Gene is checking on the cost of prints to be made available to our membership (see separate article on web site).
We completed the evening with our traditional candle light ceremony. This has proven to be an effective way of concluding a reunion. Yet, there was still some time for our annual group photo arranged again by our capable photographer, Robert Burke.
Make plans to attend the 2012 reunion in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Sultana was built. I think we need to return to a river setting plus Cincinnati is somewhat equidistant between our northern and southern groups of descendants (a separation not unlike the Sultana survivors during their years of annual reunions). Several options are available for a historical tour including Camp Dennison, where many Ohio troops trained after they entered the Union army, and some of the remaining fortification sites across the Ohio River in Covington, KY, which protected Cincinnati from invasion by Confederate land forces. Who knows, we may find time for a riverboat excursion! More details later.
This year’s annual Sultana Reunion was in Mansfield, Ohio April 29-30, and was a great event!
From Pam Newhouse, Editor:
As those of you at the reunion know, Larry and I had to leave Mansfield for home early Saturday morning because of an emergency family health issue at home. But I have been receiving photos and reports from many attendees that I will be posting shortly!
It was decided that next year’s reunion will be in Cincinnati, Ohio, the city where the Sultana was built, and the place where many southern Ohio soldiers mustered in (at Camp Dennison). As plans unfold, everything will be posted here on this website.Bill Gray brought the model that he made of the Sultana. Amazing! It even looks like you can see a fire in the boiler furnaces. (See photos below)