Civil War documents at Arkansas State University

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)-Arkansas State University is kicking off a new and exciting exhibit.

The Dean B. Ellis Library at ASU is one of 65 libraries nationwide to receive a $3, 000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The purpose of the money from these grants is to help organizations present different outreach programs during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

On Tuesday, January 31st the library will hold an exhibit that will contain original Civil War documents.

These documents will be on display to the public for only a few hours.

Interim Head of Public Services at ASU, April Sheppard, says a lot of exciting things will be happening during this exhibit.

"We have three things going on so, it's a big day for us," Sheppard said. "This will be the very first of our reading and book discussion program. We also have the History Commission coming by. They're going to be bringing original, Arkansas Civil War documents. It will all be pre session stuff, early 1861. In it there's a lot of information about whether or not people should join the Union or the Confederacy."

Sheppard says the purpose of this exhibit is to raise awareness.

"We're showing people the human side of the Civil War, the Arkansas side of the Civil War," Sheppard stated. "We're really trying to bring awareness to it. We do feel like there's a lot of Civil War history that gets overlooked, especially in our region. I think this whole experience is a rare opportunity. Learning about the history, seeing the documents, learning about the people."

Sheppard says the original Civil War documents won't be the only exciting thing to see.

"We will also have items on display about the S.S. Sultana shipwreck," Sheppard said. "This shipwreck happened at the end of the Civil War. With the assassination of President Lincoln and everything that was going on, a lot of people don't know about this."

Louis Intres is in the Heritage Studies program at ASU and has been fascinated with the story of the Sultana since he was a young boy.

"I was first told the story of the Sultana by a man who helped raise me, Captain Leo Blackley, who was one of the last old time captains on the river," Intres said. "He told me the story of the Sultana and I've been enamored of it my whole life. Only as a graduate student, here, at ASU did I ever find the time to really research it and become involved in it's story."

Intres says the S.S. Sultana is an amazing story that has lost it's place in history.

"The Sultana is the greatest loss of life shipwreck in American history. Only one-third the size of the Titanic, yet it carried almost five hundred more people than the Titanic. When it went down in the Mississippi River just off the banks of Marion, Arkansas about seven miles north of Memphis, three hundred people more than the Titantic perished. Academic research now shows that nearly 1800 people died on this ship."

It was eighteen days after the end of the war.

President Lincoln had ordered that all the prisoners of the north and south prison camps be returned to their homes.

The Sultana was one of the ships carrying as many men as home possible.

Intres, "The Sultana was packed because government was paying five dollars for every soldier and ten dollars for every officer that they carried back to the north."

At two a.m. on April 27th of 1865, the boilers on the Sultana exploded and the ship went down.

"The newspapers across the country hardly carried the story," Intres said. "The reason, there were other things happening that were more important. On the 26th, hours before the Sultana sank, John Wilkes Booth was captured, cornered and killed. The death train of Abraham Lincoln was about to pull into Springfield, Illinois for his burial and the last great surrender of the Civil War, General Joe Johnson of the southern army, surrendered his 75, 000 men. All of these things happened within twenty-four hours of the blowing up of the Sultana."

Small pieces of the ship have starting rising to the surface and the location of the Sultana has been found.

"It's frame and iron frame still sits under thirty to forty-five feet of silt under a soy bean field in Marion, Arkansas," Intres said. "And we want to bring this to the attention of not just Arkansans, but of all Americans. It is one of the great moments, of course a sad one, to end the Civil War on and it's right here in Arkansas."

It's estimated that less than two percent of all Americans know about the sinking of the Sultana.

The library is working in collaboration with the Heritage Studies Department and the Arkansas History Commission.

Every two weeks a different set of documents will come into the library for viewing.

An original letter from Abraham Lincoln will be coming at a later date.

All events are free and open to the public.

Programs will take place on Tuesday afternoons on the third floor of the Dean B. Ellis Library from three to five.

The Dean B. Ellis Library at ASU is one of only two in the state of Arkansas to receive this grant.

For information about this exhibit, log onto their website.

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