Back to top

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Published on Thu, 04/19/2018 - 07:12am
steamboat

Why has everyone heard about the sinking of the Titanic, but never heard about the worst maritime disaster in United States history? The explosion of the steamship Sultana on April 27, 1865, killed an estimated 1,800 passengers. Maybe the assassination of President Lincoln (April 14, 1865) and the killing of John Wilkes Booth (April 26, 1865) overshadowed the event.

I did a little reading up on this forgotten piece of Civil War history. Steamship disasters occurred regularly, but the loss of life was so great because the Sultana was built to hold 376 passengers and instead, on this particular trip, it was loaded with over 2,000 people. The fact that the passengers on board were Union soldiers released from prisons in Andersonville, Georgia, and Cahaba, Alabama, made it more of a tragedy. The soldiers survived battles and the harsh conditions of the prison camps only to be killed or injured on their way home. In the overnight hours, while the passengers slept, the boilers exploded near Memphis, Tennessee. Amazingly, rescuers saved about 800 people, but nearly 300 of those wounded died later.

So where can you find more about this disaster or about genealogy records relating to those on the Sultana? You can start with some of MCPL’s databases. Fold3 Library Edition has lists of paroled prisoners on the Sultana as well as lists of those that died, survived, and which survivors were sent to a hospital in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Read first-hand accounts in the American Civil War: Letters and Diaries database or in the book Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors. For those of you history buffs, try The Sultana Saga or Sultana: Surviving Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History. Most of our ancestors were ordinary people, but they often found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. As we read their stories, we hope to remember the events in history and the people who lived through them.

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Resources You May Also Like

Events You May Also Like

Using Findmypast

Tue, Nov 19 2019
2:00pm - 3:00pm
Registration Required
Learn to search billions of records to find your ancestors from all over the world. Records include U.S. and U.K. censuses, Irish records, and parish records from England and Wales.

Using Interlibrary Loan for Genealogy

Thu, Oct 31 2019
10:30am - 11:30am
Registration Required
Use Interlibrary Loan to expand the walls of your library and encompass a world of information. Come learn how to order microfilmed newspapers from across the country and books from other libraries.

Blogs You May Also Like

save money

Get Healthy, Get Promoted, Get to the Library this New Year!

Make 2019 the year that you finally check off those recurring resolutions with a little help from
Read More
archivist

For the Record

My kids dreaded when their teacher asked what their parents did for a living because when th
Read More
Lions, Tiger and Bears

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My! Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Read More

Was this page helpful? Yes No