The Sultana

I just finished listening to an audio-book called Wicked River:  the Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin.  I learned so many interesting things, but it reminded me chiefly of an event that I had heard about, but had put in the back of my mind:  the explosion of the Sultana on April 27, 1865.  It is one of those tragic events that has been largely forgotten.  The Sultana was a steamboat that traveled the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and was built in Cincinnati in 1863.  As many steamboats of its day, it had problems with its boilers.  It brought the news of Lincoln’s assassination down the Mississippi, and picked up Union soldiers at Vicksburg on April 24, 1865.  Many of these soldiers were Prisoners of War from such horrible camps as Andersonville and Cahaba.  The boat was extremely crowded, carrying 2,400 passengers, when it was only supposed to carry 376.  Many of the soldiers were camped out on its decks.  At 2 AM on the morning of April 27, 1865, the boilers exploded.  No complete figures are known, but it is estimated that 1,800 of the 2,400 aboard were killed.  More were killed from the explosion of the Sultana than the sinking of the Titanic.  Those who died were killed by scalding steam and water from the boilers, the burning of the ship, drowning in the river, and hypothermia.  Many died later from their wounds and exposure. 

This has been largely forgotten in part due to Lincoln’s assassination occuring about the same time.  Apparently it was not even that big of a news item at the time.  The one thing I have a hard time fathoming is to imagine surviving a prison such as Andersonville, only to be killed on the Sultana.  There were men who survived both amazingly.  I found one genealogy related website where a woman recorded the story of her ancestor who survived both Cahaba prison and the Sultana.  Another thing to note is how many of those on the Sultana were from Ohio regiments.  They have largely been forgotten in Ohio too.  

The Mississsippi has changed course since 1865, and the wreck of the Sultana is underground north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It has been located by archaeologists, but I could not find out if any further excavations have been done.

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One Response to The Sultana

  1. foreignfilm1 says:

    Wow, what an interesting story! I had never heard of the tragedy of The Sultana until now. How sad that these soldiers had to face their death after escaping years of harsh imprisonment. Keep me posted if any archeologists find anything else in further excavations.

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