News & Events

Sultana Disaster Museum Capital Campiagn Kick-off Announcement

On April 27, 2021 the Sultana Historical Preservation Society held the official Capital Campaign Kick-off Announcement for the future Sultana Disaster Museum.  Over 200 people attended, all eager to learn of the plans for the future museum. 

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced a gift of $750,000 to the Sultana Disaster Museum Capital Campaign. Secretary Stacy Hurst of Arkansas Parks, Heritage and Tourism also pledged her support for the project. Memphis Tourism President Kevin Kane enthusiastically endorsed the project and stated that the museum would be a draw for tourist visiting the Memphis area.

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1840 Steamboat Engine

 

The Sultana Disaster Museum is proud to announce that we recently acquired an actual 1840 steamboat engine from the steamboat LeRoy. The engine was graciously donated to the museum by the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. The steamboat LeRoy exploded her boilers and sank in the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle on October 25, 1840 with the loss of six people and three people injured. For over 100 years the wreck remained on the bottom of the river until the Army Corps of Engineers began work to clean and widen the river. Upon discovering the wreck of the LeRoy, the intact engine was given to the National Civil War Naval Museum.

 

In 2020, work began by the Sultana Historical Preservation Society, which oversees the creation of the permanent Sultana Disaster Museum, to acquire the engine from the Columbus site. Although the LeRoy was a much smaller boat than the Sultana, her engines would have been almost identical to those being used on the Sultana. This is a great acquisition to the Sultana Disaster Museum and much thanks goes out to Jeffrey Seymour, Director of History and Collections at the National Civil War Naval History Museum, and to everyone at the National Civil War Naval History Museum that made this happen.

Capt. William Friesner Plaque

On August 19, 1898 when Capt. William Shields Friesner turned 60 years old, his friends at Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post 140 presented him with a memorial plaque commemorating his survival from the Sultana Disaster. The wooden plaque was adorned with a crude carving of the steamboat Sultana and carried a metal label proclaiming, “Capt. Wm. Friesner Co. A 58th O.V.I. [Ohio Volunteer Infantry] Sultana Survivor Last Man off the ship.” Captain Friesner was not a former prisoner of war, like the majority of the other people on the Sultana, but was in charge of the 22-man guard unit that was placed on board to keep order and help out wherever possible. Although it is doubtful that Friesner was indeed the last man off the boat, he may have been among the last.

 

In addition to the label and the carving of the Sultana, the wooden plaque also held the frame of a Remington revolver. While most officers in the Civil War preferred to use Colt revolvers, Friesner had grown fond of the Remington style. When the members of GAR Post 140 presented him with the commemorative plaque, they found an old Remington frame and attached it across the center. (The frame has no connection to the disaster.)

 

A few small items decorate the plaque. In the upper left corner there is a small brass eagle and in the upper right corner, just below the barrel of the Remington frame, is a conical pistol bullet. But the most unique aspect of the entire plaque are two brass, eagle buttons that reside on either side of the metal label. A small piece of paper glued to the back of the plaque states, “The buttons on this board came from Capt. Friesner’s Civil War jacket.” This is the same jacket that Captain Friesner wore on the Sultana, so the buttons are actual survivors of the disaster.

 

Being the officer in charge of the guard unit Friesner wrote that after the explosion, “I threw on my coat that I might be recognized if orders were necessary….” Before leaving the boat, he “took off coat and vest, put pocketbook, orders, etc., in my shirt,” and then slid into the water and grabbed onto a door. Eventually pulled into a rescuing rowboat,  Friesner recalled, “My stiff fingers had clung to my coat and vest and a gruff voice said, ‘This is a pretty time to be saving clothes.’” Two buttons from that same coat now adorn the front of this unique part of Sultana history.

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