The Sultana Disaster

April 1865 saw the end of the Civil War. For four long years, people asked when this cruel war would be over. Men of both the Union and Confederacy could finally make their way home. For some, it was as easy as grabbing a horse and riding towards their family. For others, it was more difficult. Prisoners of War (POWs) in both the north and south would begin the wary journey home. Specifically in the South, Union Prisoners were leaving one of the most notorious prisons, Andersonville, and Cahaba. The easiest way the transport them home was via boat.

Image of the Sultana, days before her disaster. Library of Congress Image

Prisoners from Andersonville and Cahaba were put on a boat called the Sultana. From Battlefields.org: ” On April 23, 1865, the vessel docked in Vicksburg to address issues with the boiler during a routine journey from New Orleans. While in port, it was contracted by the U.S. Government to carry former Union prisoners of war from Confederate prisons, such as Andersonville and Cahaba, back into Northern territory. In order to fulfill the lucrative contract, J. Cass Mason, the Sultana’s captain, opted to patch the leaky boiler rather than complete more extensive and time-consuming repairs. Fearing that his colleagues were taking bribes to transport prisoners on other boats, Union Army Captain George Williams, who oversaw the operation, hastily ordered that all former prisoners at the parole camp and hospital at Vicksburg be transported on the Sultana.  Although it was designed to only hold 376 persons, more than 2,000 Union troops were crowded onto the steamboat – more than five times its legal carrying capacity.  Despite concerns of overloading from several officers, Williams refused to divide the men, insisting that they travel on one vessel.The Sultana was a 260-foot-long wooden steamboat, built in Cincinnati in 1863, which regularly transported passengers and freight between St. Louis and New Orleans on the Mississippi River.”

On April 27, 1865, the Sultana burst into flames. “Shortly after leaving Memphis, Tennessee on April 27th, the overstrained boilers exploded, blowing apart the center of the boat and starting an uncontrollable fire. Many of those who were not killed immediately perished as they tried to swim to shore. Of the initial survivors, 200 later died from burns sustained during the incident.  Records indicate that 1,800 men died, making the Sultana incident the deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history.”

One of my ancestors was aboard the Sultana. Reuben Wesley Crigler, born June 8, 1837, was my 3rd great-granduncle. He enlisted in Cambridge, Illinois in August 1862, 112th Infantry, Company C. In a book about the history of the 112th Illinois Infantry, this entry on Wesley (his preferred name) appears:

History of the 112th Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry

His name appears on a document about the Sultana Disaster, Record of Escaped Prisoners of War, USA. At the very bottom of the document his name and information:

View entire record
Crigler, Wesley, Private, 112th Illinois Infantry, captured at Knoxville, TN Nov 17, ’63 escaped to Savannah

Wesley eventually returned home and moved to Nebraska. He died on May 7, 1911 in Sulpher Springs, Missouri where he was getting an illness treated.

12 May 1911
Lincoln, Lancaster, Nebraska, United States of America

“Meeting” relatives for the first time

To some, “meeting” relatives who have been buried for over 100 years might seem…strange. But, if you’ve never met relatives on one side of the family, it isn’t that strange. Is it? Since working on my ancestry for almost 10 years, I have never thought it strange to go hunting for the grave sites of ancestors with the notion that this is the closest I will ever get to meeting them. To be able to visit their final resting place and just sit or stand, and contemplate for a moment what their life was like, what it was that they had to endure, and the historical moments they were a part of, is an emotional experience. This is also one of the reasons I love history: I find myself more interested in learning about the lives of others that came before me and to understand what they went through in life. And for anyone seeking out the final resting place of an ancestor, it might be the only tangible piece they have to that person. In 2013, I got to meet relatives on my dad’s side of the family for the first time.

Most people who know me knew I grew up never knowing my father, his parents, my aunts, or anyone on that side of the family. I was raised by my mother and grandmother. My mother is adopted, her adoptive mother being Swedish and Norwegian and her adoptive father being Italian (yes, this is why I have an Italian last name, and no, I am not Italian). This means I grew up knowing my mother as the only person I was related to by blood. It never bothered me, and I would actually tease my mom about a Parent Trap situation and ask if I had a twin sister living with my father. But as I got older, I got more curious and started asking more questions. 2008 is when I first dabbled in ancestry, and in 2011 when I was grad school, I found a book about Mercer County, Missouri, where my father is from, that had photo of him, his parents, and his sisters. By 2012 I got an ancestry account and did my DNA. 2012 was also a very big year for my mom and finding her biological family, and I will do a post about that in the future. 2013 was the year I moved to Virginia, and that is when the deep exploration of some of my ancestors really began.

I lived in Northern Virginia for 3.5 years, first in Winchester and then in Leesburg. As I began to look at my family tree, I wanted to explore ancestors who lived in Virginia and see how close I was to being near the areas they settled in. The one line I focused on was the Criglers, my father’s maternal line. Jacob Crigler, a 7th great-grandfather, was born about 1700 in Germany (we think, that is still debatable) and immigrated to the British Colonies in 1717. He was part of a group that traveled from what is known in present day as Baden-Württemberg, a state in Germany that borders France and Switzerland. A group of 80+ men, women and children who were supposed to travel to Pennsylvania were brought to frontier Virginia instead. The captain of the ship they were to travel on was placed in debtors prison for an extended period of time, and by the time they were able to travel, they had little money left, and the captain decided to hijack them. These families became indentured for seven years to the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, near a site called Fort Germanna, established by Spotswood in 1714, in present day Orange County.

Around 1720/1721, during their time at Germanna, Jacob married Susanna Clore Weaver, widow of Philip Joseph Weaver, both part of the group that arrived in 1717. In 1721 their eldest child, my 6th great-grandfather, Christopher Crigler, was born. The family moved to present day Madison County, Virginia after their seven year indenturement was completed. Christopher married Catherine Finks and my 5th great-grandfather, Christopher Crigler, Jr, was born in 1769. Christopher married Nancy Anne Gaines, and they were the first two relatives I met on my father’s side.

Christopher and Ann Crigler died in Frederick County, Virginia in 1822 and 1825, respectively, and are buried in Old Chapel Cemetery, which became a part of Clarke County in 1836. I discovered they were buried there a few months after I moved to the area. I visited in August 2013 but couldn’t get in the cemetery as it was locked.

Old Chapel and Burwell Cemetery, Clarke County, Virginia

From what I could see over the stone fence, I saw the area in which they were buried as I spotted my 4th great-aunt and great-uncle’s headstone.

Headstone of John and Jemima Crigler Alexander

A couple weeks later, mom and grandma came for a visit and we went back to the cemetery, which was unlocked. I could finally make my way over to “meet” my relatives.

Christopher Crigler, 1769-1822
Nancy Ann Gaines Crigler, 1775-1825

September 3, 2013: happy to have finally “met” my 5th great-grandparents

For anyone trying to find grave sites of their ancestors, it can be an arduous task. Many times, early settlers would bury their loved ones on the homestead, with no markers and oral histories passed down as the only sources to their locations. Some graves are lost to history. Since 2013, I have been able to visit the final resting places of other ancestors, on both my mom and dad’s side. As I continue to do research, I have hope that for most of them, I will be able to one day visit their gravesite. I hope, dear readers, if you are looking for your ancestor’s final resting place, that you are successful as well.

Inaugural Post

I finally did it! My blog is up and running. I am very excited to share with everyone my genealogy research, personal stories and discoveries, and travels to places connected to my ancestors.

Anyone who has done genealogy knows that it is quite the adventure. You may think you’re settling down for an hour or so, only to find that two or more hours have passed and you found yourself down a rabbit hole looking at your 3rd great-grandfather’s sister’s children because she had three sets of twins (this actually happened and I’ll share her story eventually).

It’s an ancestor adventure!

There are many reasons why I finally decided to write a blog. It has crossed my mind several times in the past, but after the year we just had, I decided now is the time to do it. The main reasons are:

I finally get my research in writing. It may not be complete, or 100% accurate, but someone out there might have more information to help me!

Meet new cousins and new friends. While Googling certain surnames of ancestors, I have come across some blogs about that ancestor and met new relatives.

Jump start my path to being a Board Certified Genealogist (BCG). It’s not going to happen tomorrow, or next year, or the year after that, but I am hoping this will help hone my research, citation and writing skills, and allow other BCGs to provide feedback, critique, and advice.

Have fun. I share all my travels and discoveries on my Facebook, but here I can be more formal and descriptive.

I do not plan to write every week. As I begin to find a routine to writing and chose the topics, I want to do it at my own pace. Once I get comfortable, then I may start posting more frequently.

Thank you for reading my inaugural post and I hope you’ll join me for more! -AA