(5-15-23) A new one-act play, A Long Journey Home, commissioned by the St. Marys Bi-Centennial Committee traces the Civil War life and service of as told through the rediscovered one hundred and twelve letters he wrote home between 1862 and 1865.

At twenty, Charles left his St. Marys home when he saw his duty and enlisted in the Union Army, joining the Ohio 50th Volunteer Infantry. His “Long Journey Home” is the story of a young boy navigating the unknown, and his development into becoming a man. Charles recounts the hard life of a Civil War soldier, from the rigors and routine of camp life to the horrors of battle. Fighting throughout the South, Charles was captured during the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, taken as a prisoner of war, and sent to the infamous and notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp, Andersonville.

Having survived the deprivations of confinement, Charles was released in April of 1865 and prepared to return home. He, along with over two thousand men boarded the steamboat Sultana, designed to accommodate only three hundred seventy-six. It pushed off the dock and headed up the Mississippi River, and in the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, one of the steamship’s boilers exploded, spewing steam and fire, destroying the boat. One thousand one hundred sixty-nine people perished – including Charles – he was lost to the great Mississippi River. The Sultana disaster remains today the worst maritime disaster in American history, killing more people than the Titanic.

The play, A Long Journey Home, tells Charles’ story through the actual words of his letters and through a multi-media presentation including period costumes, props, music, and video. The events he encountered are recreated in dramatic form, boasting a cast of seventeen and including Gary Sandy from the memorable sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati serving as the narrator.

Two performances are scheduled during the Bi-Centennial celebration, Saturday August 19th at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday August 20th at 2:00 p.m. in the St. Marys Grand Opera House/Theatre. For ticket information please contact www.grandoperahouselive.com/tickets.

A companion book will be available that elaborates on Charles’ story and includes the entire collection of letters as well as the play in its entirety. An additional educational component will be available for use in grades 8 through 12 throughout the state. Auditions are scheduled on Friday May 26, 2023, between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at the theatre. Anyone interested is invited to attend.

Meet Charles Kruse

Born in St. Marys, Charles was a miller’s apprentice at the Reservoir Mills. He rowed to work every day on the canal from his parent’s house on south Beech Street. In 1862, at the age of 20, Charles enlisted in the Union Army. He was assigned to the Ohio 50th Volunteer Infantry, beginning a fascinating journey through the Civil War.

Read his incredible story, as told by author Todd Spieles, in “The St. Marys Anthology — Tales and Sketches from an American Small Town.”