April 27, 2023 was the 158th anniversary of the Sultana Disaster, and I was invited by Historian, Helen McKeown, to attend a Marker Dedication on that date for a survivor of the Sultana Disaster, PVT Thomas E. Carter, who is buried in the West Providence Baptist Church Cemetery outside of Centertown. He is the only known survivor of the Sultana that is buried in Ohio County, and there is another known survivor who is buried in Butler County.

Thomas E. Carter, 1828-1883, lived his entire life in Ohio County, other than his time during the Civil War, serving in Co. A of the 17th KY Infantry. He was captured Nov. 30, 1864, and held as a prisoner of war at the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Once released from prison, at the end of the war, he headed home aboard the Sultana, a Mississippi River paddle-wheeler steamboat.

In command of the Sultana was Captain James Cass Mason of St. Louis. During a stop in Vicksburg, MS to address a boiler issue, Captain Mason received word that the U.S. government was willing to pay a fee of $5 for each released soldier and $10 for each officer, for the transport of former Union prisoners back North. That was a great amount of money in 1865. Captain Mason agreed to transport as many paroled Union prisoners, and others, as he could fit onto the Sultana.

Captain Mason feared that, if he waited to fix the boiler the way it needed to be fixed, the Union soldiers would find alternative passage northbound. Therefore, he settled on a quick and temporary fix, instead. The Sultana headed north out of Vicksburg on April 24, and several miles north of Memphis at 2 a.m. on April 27, three of the four boilers exploded, resulting in the Sultana burning and sinking.

The Sultana had a legal carrying capacity of 376 passengers. In its upriver trip it carried approximately 2,400 passengers, which included some 1,960 paroled prisoners, 22 guards from the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 70 paying cabin passengers, and 85 crew members. Many of the paroled soldiers were in poor condition having just left Confederate hospitals or prisons. As a result of this disaster, about 1,600 passengers were killed. It remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

PVT Carter was initially listed among the dead by the Union Army. Per Gene Eric Salecker’s book, Disaster on the Mississippi, PVT Carter was taken to the Overton Union Hospital in Memphis, TN for medical attention. Upon release from the hospital, family legend states that he walked back to Centertown, KY.

The Sultana Survivor Marker Dedication ceremony turned out very nicely. The rains held off, and a great many were in attendance, including 35 Fifth Graders from Ohio County. Some of the speakers included Helen McKeown; Doug Carter, a relative of the Sultana Survivor, who spoke about his great-great uncle; and Gary Tunget, of the SAR and Sons of the Union Veterans.

The Camp Calhoon Sons of Union Veterans were involved throughout the ceremony, to include presenting the colors, giving a history of the flags that were represented in the ceremony, the flag folding and meaning of the 13 folds, a rifle salute and the playing of Taps. Helen McKeown did an outstanding job of putting the whole ceremony together.

Following the dedication, Doug Carter, the relative of PVT Thomas E. Carter, asked me about coming to the McLean County History Museum that day. Five of his relatives, including PVT Thomas Carter, had traveled from Ohio County to Camp Calhoon to enlist during the Civil War.

My husband and I met him at the museum shortly thereafter, and gave him a tour, then drove him to see the Camp Calhoon Cemetery and the one-time Headquarters of Union Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden, early in the Civil War — now a private home in Calhoun. Doug had asked for information about his relatives who had enlisted at Camp Calhoon.

The name of every soldier that enlisted in Kentucky during the Civil War is found within the museum’s research center books titled Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky. These large volumes list the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers, giving their unit, date and location of enlistment, and more. So I was able to pass the information about his relatives on to Doug.

Also after the dedication service, Mr. Joe Moseley asked me if I could find an older article about the Rough River Lock, which mentioned that it was the first cement lock built. A couple of days later, I was able to find that article online, from a 1980 edition of the Messenger-Inquirer. The article said that when completed in 1896, the Rough River Lock, which was seven miles from Livermore, was the only monolithic concrete lock in the United States.

I then texted Joe photos of the article, and he was happy to receive them. Joe and his wife, Arlayne, were at the dedication ceremony showing a display of money from the Civil War era. They volunteer at a veteran’s museum in Hartford. The day after the dedication they came to visit the McLean County History Museum. They had been there before, but it was the first time they were able to tour the new 4,000 square foot annex of the museum. Joe thought the museum looked “great,” and the new addition “just wonderful.”

It was great to meet new people with the same passion for history, and be able to help one another. So please remember that we do more at the museum than just give tours. We can help you, in a variety of ways, to find out information about the past.

My thanks to Helen McKeown for the invitation to the Marker Dedication and for the information in the Dedication Program—portions of which are included in this article.

The Museum and Treasure House are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free tours of the museum are available, and you can also come in to do family research. The Treasure House now has its own Facebook page, which you can check out to see items currently for sale. Please bring donation items to the Treasure House only when they are open for business. The Museum is located at 540 Main St., Calhoun, and our number is 270-499-5033.

I wish everyone a great week ahead!

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