Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pedaling Through History: May Is National Bike Month

The month of May is recognized as National Bike Month. For the occasion, we take you back in time to the 19th Century.

In 1883, Thuss, Koellein & Giers, a German-American team of photographers, took these photographs capturing members of the Nashville Bicycle Club in rather dandy poses, preparing to ride the streets of Nashville.

The Nashville Bicycle Club first organized in 1880 at a gymnasium located in the rear of a saloon on Deaderick Street. Members were charged a small initiation fee and monthly dues. The club's advent was later described in Nashville's Daily American newspaper as "the turning point of the athletic history of the city."

Four years after establishing the Nashville Bicycle Club, members organized the "First Annual Races of the Nashville Club at the Fair Grounds." On July 12, 1884, the Daily American reported on "a grand parade of wheelmen" who displayed the "marvelous skill some of the bicyclists had acquired over their flying wheels" before a crowd estimated at "about twelve or fifteen hundred, fully repaid for the investment they had made" in attending the race.

These digital photos, and their source citations, can be viewed by searching "Nashville Bicycle Club" in the State Library and Archives Photograph Database:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sixty Years of Legislative Recording

On April 29, the 109th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned sine die for the year. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the legislative audio recording program in Tennessee. In 1955, TSLA began the program to lend greater accountability and access to our legislative body, as well as provide an avenue of research for those interested in Tennessee law.

That year, Senate Joint Resolution 6 addressed the concern of the Tennessee General Assembly "that an official record of the proceedings of the Senate and House be made for the protection of its members and the benefit of the students and other persons interested in the field of history and government." The resolution called for a system of recording official records of the legislature and established that the responsibility for creating and maintaining those records belongs to the State Library and Archives.

In the same year, House Joint Resolution 24 established the "rules governing the availability and release of the recorded proceedings of sessions of the General Assembly by the State Archivist." Tennessee was the first state in the nation to regularly record its state legislature. These records serve as a major primary resource for Tennessee’s legal community and they provide a window into the legislative process of our state.

Early correspondence from Dr. Dan M. Robison to Aubrey L. Epps of the Aubrey Epps Calculating and Office Service describing the need for an audio recording system. Epps provided a year of experimental service in 1953; however, the service was discontinued after that year.
Record Group 34 Box 1 Folder 12. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Recording was not easy in the early days. The first recording system, the Gray Audograph, used more energy than the electrical wiring in the state capitol could produce. The wiring on many occasions became overloaded and with no control of the voltage, the Audograph’s discs would sometimes turn at abnormally low speeds. Purchasing voltage regulating equipment solved this problem and allowed the discs to turn at a normal pace. William T. Alderson, the state librarian from 1961 to 1964, wrote in a report that the low speed “did not make the recording unintelligible, but did cause a rather humorous change of sonorous bass voices into Donald Duckish tenors when the disk was played back at normal speed.” To further correct the problem, independent wires were led directly into the Audograph units in 1957. The state used the Gray Audograph from 1955 to 1974 to record House and Senate sessions, as well as Democratic and Republican conventions and special hearings. The recordings were used mostly by legal staff and legislators looking for political intent.

An early Gray Audograph still in occasional use by staff of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

TSLA began recording on cassette tapes in the mid-1970s and transitioned to digital recording in 2008. In 2006, the legislature mandated that all committees and subcommittees be recorded on a regular basis in addition to the full sessions of the House and Senate. Through the 1980s and 1990s, legal staff and legislators still represented the majority of researchers; however, there was a steady increase in officials from other government departments and private practice lawyers who utilized the recordings. Today, the legislative records are used widely by students, historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in the history of law-making in Tennessee.

If you would like to learn more about TSLA’s recording program or have a Legislative History research request, please visit our website:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Free Exhibit Highlights State Library and Archives' Vast Collection of Maps

In the movies, explorers consult well-weathered maps to aid them in their pursuit of hidden treasures. In historical research, though, the maps themselves often are the treasures. Maps provide clues not only about political boundaries and geographic features at various points in history, but also how people actually lived.

Now through Sept. 12, a free exhibit showcasing some of the maps available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is open in the lobby of TSLA's building in downtown Nashville.

TSLA has thousands of maps in its holdings, many of which are featured in the Tennessee Virtual Archives (TeVA) section of its web pages.To view the TeVA maps online, go to:

"Map of British American Plantations, 1754," possibly TSLA's earliest map of the area that would become Tennessee.
TSLA Map Collection.

TSLA has postal delivery maps so detailed that they include individual homes, churches, schools, stores, mills and cemeteries. TSLA's collections also include soil survey maps that denote minor topographical features such as streams, ridges and hollows.

Just as political boundaries have changed through the years, so, too, have some geographic features. For example, one of the maps on exhibit in TSLA's lobby shows Tennessee in 1822 - just a few years after the New Madrid earthquakes created West Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake.

TSLA also has numerous military maps, including an entire online section dedicated to those from the Civil War. Those maps can be viewed online at:
The lobby exhibit includes oversized replicas of maps on display boards, actual maps in display cases and an interactive touchscreen kiosk that allows patrons to explore Civil War sites mapped using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology.

"Sketch of the Battle of Little [Big] Horn, June 25, 1876."
TSLA Map Collection.

"This new exhibit will give visitors to TSLA a small sampling of the vast number of maps that are available there," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "I encourage people to check out the exhibit while they're visiting TSLA. Those who can't make it to TSLA's building in downtown Nashville can inspect many of the maps on our website."

The exhibit is available for public viewing during TSLA's normal operating hours, which are from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol in downtown Nashville. A limited amount of free parking is available around the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Surveying Digital Resources: Workshop to Provide Tips on Using TeVA and GIS

The front door of the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) isn't located on its building in downtown Nashville - at least not for all Tennesseans. For many patrons, that 'front door' is actually whatever portal they use to access TSLA resources on the Internet.

To make the process of searching its vast collections of online materials easier, TSLA is hosting a free public workshop May 30. The workshop, which will be led by Assistant State Archivist Wayne Moore and TSLA staff members Jessica Short and Genny Carter, will provide hands-on training and helpful tips for sorting through photographs, documents, maps, postcards, film, audio and other orginal materials of cultural and historical significance. TSLA's online resources include two sets of detailed maps related to the Civil War.

The workshop, titled "Surveying Tennessee's Digital Resources," will be held in TSLA's auditorium from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. May 30. TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol in downtown Nashville. Some free parking is available around the building.

Although the workshop is free and open to the public, reservations are necessary due to seating limitations in the auditorium. To make a reservation, call (615) 741-2764 or e-mail

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fire on the Water: The Burning of the Sultana

“About 50 more dead bodies have been recovered from the wreck of the Sultana.” -- The Nashville Daily Union, May 10, 1865

On April 27th, 1865, the worst maritime disaster in American history took place: the burning of the Sultana on the Mississippi River just outside Memphis. Edward Dudley vividly described the gruesome scene in this April 1865 diary entry:

"The Steamer Sultaner [sic] exploded just above the city on the 27ins. Thare [sic] was 22 hundred passengers aboard mostly paroled federal soldiers, 14 hundred lives lost the boat caught on fire and floated just passed the city and sunk. The stream was gorged with dead bodies."

Built in Cincinnati and first launched on January 3, 1863, the Sultana was a coal-burning steamer with a side-wheel. The Sultana was said to be ultramodern and boasted the most up-to-date safety equipment for its day. During its short lifespan, it often made trips on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and New Orleans, frequently carrying military personnel.

Last & Only Known Extant Photograph of the Sultana & Doomed Passengers. Helena, Arkansas, April 26, 1865. Library of Congress photograph featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives' "Disasters in Tennessee" online exhibit.

On April 15, 1865, as news quickly spread about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the Sultana left Cairo, Illinois. According to Nathan Wintringer, the Sultana’s chief engineer, “as all the wire communications with the south were cut off at that time, the Sultana carried the news of his assassination and death to all points and military posts on the Mississippi river as far as New Orleans.”

On April 21, 1865, the Sultana left New Orleans headed back toward Cairo. Sometime before the ship’s routine stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Wintringer discovered a leak in one of the boilers. After docking at Vicksburg, Captain J. Cass Mason ordered mechanics to place a metal patch over the affected area so they could quickly be on their way. Wintringer had the following to say about that supposition:

"Now it was claimed by some at the time that this boiler was not properly repaired, and that was the cause of the explosion. In a short time those boilers were recovered and the one that had been repaired at Vicksburg was found in good condition, whole and intact, and that it was one of the other three that caused the explosion. Now what did cause this explosion? The explosion of the “Walker R. Carter” and “Missouri,” in rapid succession, I think fully answers that question. It was the manner of construction of those boilers. After these three fatal explosions they were taken out of all steamers using them and replaced with the old style of boiler." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

Rev. Chester D. Berry was a Sultana survivor who later published a collection of survivor accounts. Berry recalled that the Sultana arrived in Vicksburg with about 200 total passengers and crew on board. He further described the load that the Sultana took on in Vicksburg:

"She remained here little more than one day; among other things repairing one of her boilers, at the same time receiving on board 1,965 federal soldiers and 35 officers just released from the rebel prisons at Cahaba, Ala., Macon and Andersonville, Ga., and belonging to the States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Besides these there were two companies of infantry under arms, making a grand total of 2,300 souls on board, besides a number of mules and horses, and over one hundred hogsheads of sugar, the latter being in the hold of the boat and serving as ballast." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

While the soldiers had to endure crowded conditions, they were jubilant in the knowledge that the conflict was finished and they were homeward bound. Many survivors recollected that there was great joy - including singing and dancing on board as well as much talk about seeing their homes and loved ones again. Otto Bardon, Company H, 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, USA, recalled “We were put on the steamer, Sultana, - About 2,400 men were on their way to ‘God’s country,’ as we called the North, and we all felt happy to know that we were on our way home and that the war was over (hallelujah, Amen).”

On April 26, 1865, the Sultana docked in Memphis about 6:30 p.m. After off-loading the barrels of sugar and making more repairs to the boiler, the Sultana headed to a coal yard on the west bank of the river in Arkansas. At about 1 a.m. on April 27, the Sultana proceeded out from Memphis and on toward Cairo. About seven miles north of Memphis, the boilers suddenly burst. In a historical sketch by J. H. Curtis for a 1920 article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the noise of the explosion was similarly compared to the “noise of a hundred earthquakes, starting with one great explosion which rolled and echoed and re-echoed about the woodlands of Arkansas and Tennessee for several minutes.” Capt. J. Walter Elliott, Company F, 44th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, commented on the scene:

"I have seen death’s carnival in the yellow-fever and the cholera-stricken city, on the ensanguined field, in hospital and prison, and on the rail; I have, with wife and children clinging in terror to my knees, wrestled with the midnight cyclone; but the most horrible of all were the sights and sounds of that hour. The prayers, shrieks and groans of strong men and helpless women and children are still ringing in my ears, and the remembrance makes me shudder. The sight of 2,000 ghostly, pallid faces upturned in the chilling waters of the Mississippi, as I looked down on them from the boat, is a picture that haunts me in my dreams." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

The resulting loss of life was great. Though the official number of deaths (as recorded by the Customs Department at Memphis) is 1,547, the exact death toll remains unknown. Most estimates fall in the 1,500 to 2,200 range with the average consensus among historians being between 1,700 and 1,800.

As some continued to search for bodies, others undertook the sad duty of notifying loved ones. Pvt. Solomon Bogart, Company F, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, USA, wrote a letter to his sister, Martha, to inform her that his brother-in-law (Martha’s husband), Henry Marshall Misemer, and two of their brothers, Levi and Harrison Bogart, were killed. On the outside of the letter Bogart writes “lost, lost, all is lost.” He begins the letter by scrawling “horrid Disaster” at the top of the page. Bogart conveys that he is well except for a bruise on his hip which he sustained during the explosion. He also details looking in every hospital all over town for their lost family members. Bogart concludes “they are all lost and their Remains to day lays in the bed of the Mississippi River horrid thought.”

Bogart and his family members all belonged to the regiment that seemed to be the hardest hit by the tragedy, the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry out of East Tennessee. In the days that followed the catastrophe, the 3rd Tennessee were quick to honor their fallen comrades by releasing a memorial resolution on May 15, 1865. The resolution was published in Brownlow’s Knoxville Whig, and Rebel Ventilator on May 31, 1865. The 3rd Tennessee also erected a monument in Knoxville’s Mount Olive Baptist Church Burial Ground. The monument was dedicated at their reunion on July 4, 1916.

Photograph of the dedication of the USS Sultana monument in Knoxville’s Mount Olive Baptist Church burial ground at the 3rd U. S. Cavalry reunion, July 4, 1916, Looking Back at the Civil War in Tennessee Collection.

Photograph of Sultana Survivors Association members from the 3rd U. S. Tennessee Cavalry, Knoxville (Tenn.), circa 1900, Looking Back at the Civil War in Tennessee Collection.

Those lost on the Sultana continue to be remembered. In May of 1989, a monument to Sultana victims was placed in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Perhaps the best summation for the remembrance of the Sultana disaster is in the words of one of its survivors, Cpl. P. S. Atchley, Company K, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, USA:

"We were highly elated with the thoughts of going home and seeing loved ones, when suddenly, as we were a few miles above Memphis, Tenn., one of her boilers exploded and hundreds of souls were ushered into eternity. My experience on that terrible morning no pen can write nor tongue can tell. I was thrown into the surging waves of that mighty river, into the jaws of death, and life depended on one grand effort, expert swimming, which I did successfully, and after swimming six or seven miles, according to statements given by citizens living on the banks of the river, landed on the Arkansas shore without any assistance whatever. There I found a confederate soldier who came to my relief, and took me to a house near by, and gave me something to eat, and I felt something like myself again, thanks to the Great Ruler of the Universe. The said confederate soldier worked hard to save the lives of the drowning men, and brought to shore in his little dugout about fifteen of them…I will close by wishing God to bless every survivor." -- Chester D. Berry’s Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, 1892

For additional information on the Sultana tragedy, please visit TSLA’s online exhibit, “Disasters in Tennessee.”

Monument to Sultana victims placed at Elmwood Cemetery in May 1989, Memphis (Tenn.), August 18, 2011, Photograph by William M. Thomas, Exhibits Committee Photograph Collection.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Free Presentation to Highlight Love and War in the 1860s

Theirs was a love story without the scandal and treachery found in the novel, "Gone With the Wind." However, a collection of love letters between East Tennesseans Oliver Caswell King and Katherine Rutledge King does provide valuable real-life insights into social and military history during the Civil War.

On May 6, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is hosting a free public presentation about that collection, which was donated to TSLA last year by siblings and King descendants Olivia King Inman and Judge Dennis H. Inman. The collection of letters chronicles the romance between Oliver King and Katherine Rutledge, which led to their marriage.

Letter from Oliver Caswell King to Katherine Rebecca Rutledge King, May 10, 1858.
Oliver Caswell King and Katherine Rebecca Rutledge King Papers, 1856-1893
Tennessee State Library and Archives

Because East Tennessee was a stronghold of Union support, the couple's pro-Confederacy views were somewhat unusual for people living in that region.

Oliver King, a student at Tusculum College, initially supported the Union cause, but later switched allegiances and enlisted in the Confederate Army. Catherine Rutledge, a student at the Masonic Female Institute in Blountville, was a staunch Confederate supporter who wrote to her beloved that "if my sweet heart hadn't to have went [to war] I don't believe I would claim him any longer."

After aligning himself with the Confederate cause in 1861, Oliver King wrote that "we'll just have to fight it out if it takes us a whole generation." He was gravely injured in a battle in Virginia in 1864 and taken as a prisoner of war.

The collection documents the couple's life during and after the war.

The May 6 presentation will be led by Susan Gordon, an archivist at TSLA, and Jess Holler, a graduate student at Western Kentucky University. The hourlong event will begin at noon that day in TSLA's auditorium.

TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. A limited amount of free parking is available around the TSLA building.

TSLA will soon make the collection available online.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Learn Facts about the Women's Suffrage Movement in Tennessee Online

On this date in history, Mary Cordelia Beasley Hudson etched her place in history by becoming the first woman to legally vote in Tennessee. Hudson cast her vote - for the winning candidate, she proudly noted - in a Camden mayoral election just five days after a law giving women the right to vote in Tennessee took effect. (The man she helped elect, A.V. Bowls, told a Nashville newspaper he was “puffed up” to have won the first election in which women were allowed to participate.)

That story is just one of many chronicled in the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ online exhibit about women’s suffrage. The exhibit titled,“Remember the Ladies!”: Women Struggle for an Equal Voice, can be found online at

Marching Suffragettes, ca. 1915, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers
Women march for the right to vote in this Nashville parade.

Perhaps Tennessee’s best-known and most important contribution to the suffrage movement came when a young man decided to listen to his mother.

Although giving women the right to vote had been debated for decades, the suffrage movement did not gain steam until the late 19th Century. A constitutional amendment was proposed, and by 1920 required only one more state - the 36th - to ratify before it would become law.

Tennessee proved to be that pivotal state. However, not all women favored the right to vote. In Tennessee, there was a powerful anti-suffrage lobby that vigorously opposed ratification. Both anti- and pro- “Suffs” mobilized their forces for the final fight and set up headquarters at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville.

On the day of the final vote, it appeared the anti- faction would win. But Harry Burn, the youngest member of the General Assembly at age 23, cast the deciding vote. Burn had been allied with the anti-suffrage group, but after receiving a letter from his mother with the words, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage!” he changed his vote.

This online exhibit is just one example of the types of resources that are available at the State Library and Archives, many of which are available to Tennesseans online, 24 hours a day, free of charge.

"Remember the Ladies!" can be viewed online at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.