S.S. Sultana Disaster (150th Anniversary)

Buckeye Bill

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#1
On this day in 1865, the steamboat S.S. Sultana explodes on the Mississippi River near Memphis, killing 1,700 passengers including many discharged Union soldiers.

The Sultana was launched from Cincinnati in 1863. The boat was 260 feet long and had an authorized capacity of 376 passengers and crew. It was soon employed to carry troops and supplies along the lower Mississippi River.

On April 25, 1865, the Sultana left New Orleans with 100 passengers. It stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, for repair of a leaky boiler. R. G. Taylor, the boilermaker on the ship, advised Captain J. Cass Mason that two sheets on the boiler had to be replaced, but Mason ordered Taylor to simply patch the plates until the ship reached St. Louis. Mason was part owner of the riverboat, and he and the other owners were anxious to pick up discharged Union prisoners at Vicksburg. The federal government promised to pay $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each officer delivered to the North. Such a contract could pay huge dividends, and Mason convinced local military authorities to pick up the entire contingent despite the presence of two other steamboats at Vicksburg.

When the Sultana left Vicksburg, it carried 2,100 troops and 200 civilians, more than six times its capacity. On the evening of April 26, the ship stopped at Memphis before cruising across the river to pick up coal in Arkansas. As it steamed up the river above Memphis, a thunderous explosion tore through the boat. Metal and steam from the boilers killed hundreds, and hundreds more were thrown from the boat into the chilly waters of the river. The Mississippi was already at flood stage, and the Sultana had only one lifeboat and a few life preservers. Only 600 people survived the explosion. A board of inquiry later determined the cause to be insufficient water in the boiler–overcrowding was not listed as a cause. The Sultana accident is still the largest maritime disaster in U.S. history.


sultana.jpg


sultana marker.jpg
 

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#2
There was an article published in the Dec.2001 issue of North &South magazine called the "Sultana:A Case for Sabotage". Written by Debra House Rule.in the article there is the claim that it was a Confederate conspiracy to sink the Sultana and other river boats thru the use of coal torepedo's.it is based mainly on a deathbed confession both has no real proof, just heresay.it does pose an interesting theory but we will never know.it is available thru Amazon Kindle if one does want to read it.
 

rhettbutler1865

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#6
I didn't see your thread that you posted last Thursday, RB1865. This story has been covered today in our local news because this steamboat was built in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. My bad......
No, no problem...I'm glad you posted with photos and more information to boot! I overreacted (quick English temper:laugh:)
 
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#7
Being from Memphis, I always notice when Memphis is mentioned. I've read through several records of Union soldiers who died in Memphis on the Sultana. I had grown up hearing about it - it's one of those things that gets trotted out locally whenever the subject of riverboat history comes up - and it always feels funny to see a real person's death, maybe the death of the ancestor of someone I know today, and think oh, I know about that, I learned about that in school!

It seems so unfair to live through the entire war and die on the way home.
 

rhettbutler1865

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#11
I admit I didn't know much about this before but I definitely will read up on it more. Such a tragic event that probably doesn't get the notice it should. So close to being home after a war has ended and then that happens. Sad sad sad...
Especially after having gone through prison camps! Even without that being so--it is so very tragic. If I'd been a relative of one of those poor passengers...:mad:
 
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#13
My inadequate Internet connection does not allow me to watch videos right now, so I can't offer an opinion on either of the ones here. However, I have read some about the Sultana, and it has always sounded to me like it was one of those perfect storms of disaster, mostly brought on by greed. Had it not been for greed, they would not have loaded that boat to so many times its capacity, and they would have stopped to fix or replace that faulty boiler.

I had never considered sabotage, but I will give that material a look. But it seems just as plausible to me that greed and recklessness were, as usual, responsible.
 
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#15
There was an article published in the Dec.2001 issue of North &South magazine called the "Sultana:A Case for Sabotage". Written by Debra House Rule.in the article there is the claim that it was a Confederate conspiracy to sink the Sultana and other river boats thru the use of coal torepedo's.it is based mainly on a deathbed confession both has no real proof, just heresay.it does pose an interesting theory but we will never know.it is available thru Amazon Kindle if one does want to read it.
 

Specster

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#16
Its odd how this event was forgotten. I think it was because it was in the backdrop of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor and the rest. We all remember the Titanic but that was 1517 lives lost (not a US ship), the USS Indy, Loss ~ 875. The Saltana was estimated at between 1700 and 1800 lives lost.....the worst US maritime disaster. Very sad, especially when considering that many of these men were POWs just released. Talk about suffering.

Peacetime, worldwide, in 1987 Dona Paz out of the Phillipines collided with a ferry and killed 4386. In 1274 the Mongol Empire's Fleet was devasted by a typhoon in which an estimated 100,000 died. That is considered military/naval loss.
 
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#17
Being from Memphis, I always notice when Memphis is mentioned. I've read through several records of Union soldiers who died in Memphis on the Sultana. I had grown up hearing about it - it's one of those things that gets trotted out locally whenever the subject of riverboat history comes up - and it always feels funny to see a real person's death, maybe the death of the ancestor of someone I know today, and think oh, I know about that, I learned about that in school!

It seems so unfair to live through the entire war and die on the way home.
Allie isn't that somewhere close to Shawnee Village out in the field, is where they thought they had found the remains. The river had changed course of about 2miles to the present day river bank.
 
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#18
Allie isn't that somewhere close to Shawnee Village out in the field, is where they thought they had found the remains. The river had changed course of about 2miles to the present day river bank.
I'm afraid I have no idea, we'll have to look it up! The local news coverage says Marion Arkansas, but I think they are generalizing. I do know the river north of Memphis has changed quite a bit.
 
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#19
I'm afraid I have no idea, we'll have to look it up! The local news coverage says Marion Arkansas, but I think they are generalizing. I do know the river north of Memphis has changed quite a bit.
yes, Thinking it was up in that area. I know what was found was found on the Arkansas side. It is pretty interesting anyway.
 

ole

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#20
The Sultana was a disaster overshadowed by the disaster of the war. Kinda like a punctuation mark that someone forgot to add. 700,000 friends, relatives, and neighbors dead. Another 1,600 ... no big deal. At the time.
 



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