21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865

21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865

Jacob Miller - July 5, 2017

In late April, 1865, the Civil War was coming to an end. Union and Confederates decided that the POWs should be released. Prisoners Cahaba, Andersonville, and Libby Prisons were sent to the Vickersburg, Mississippi to take steamboats up the river into the North and home to their families.

The steamboat companies competed amongst each other to take the most freed prisoners up river. Each company was paid $5 ($90) per enlisted men and $10 ($180) per officer transported. The Sultana was one of the steamboats carrying soldiers up river. She was designed to carry about 375 passengers and crew members.

On April 24, 1865, The Sultana was loaded with 1,978 paroled prisoners, 22 guards from the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 70 paying cabin passengers, and 85 crew members.

The Sultana traveled up river for two days, fighting one of the worst spring floods in the Mississippi’s history. In some places the river was three miles wide.

Around 2:00 a.m. on April 27, 1865, just seven miles north of Memphis, The Sultana’s boilers exploded destroying major sections of the boat, and igniting a large fire. The weak freed prisoners who survived the explosion were forced to attempt to swim through the cold, fast moving waters.

Approximately 1,700 people died. The Sultana disaster was the worst maritime disaster in American history, causing more deaths than the sinking of the Titanic.

The Sultana disaster remains a relatively unknown tragedy because it was over shadowed by Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, and John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, was killed April 26, just one day before the Sultana tragedy.

21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Union POWs at a Confederate Camp Sumpter, known as Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
There were 45,000 Union prisoners held at Camp Sumpter while it was open; almost 13,000 never made it out. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Andersonville Prisoners. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Libby Prison, 1865. National Archives and Records Administration
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Cahaba Prison, Dallas County, Alabama. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Depiction of Cahaba Prison Camp, mycivilwar
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
The Sultana steamboat paddle-wheeler made its first appearance on June 1, 1861 in the Ohio River near Cincinnati.up-ship
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,300 just-released Union prisoners of war, plus crew and civilian passengers, exploded and sank. Some 1,700 people died. More costly than even the sinking of the Titanic. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Sultana mural on the floodwall at Levee Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Artist, Robert Dafford. Courtesy Vicksburg Riverfront Murals. mshistorynow
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Sultana. cw-chronicles

21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Crowds line up on shore to board the Sultana. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Overcrowding of the Sultana leading to the enormous tragedy. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Harper’s Weekly image – the top image was scanned from the original May 20, 1865 newspaper and enhanced. cw-chronicles
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Sultana Disaster. rootsweb.ancestry
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Captain J.C. Mason. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Frederick Speed, entrusted by Captain Mason, to transfer passengers and freight, responsible for overloading the boat but he was found not guilty in court. usni
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Sultana survivors at a reunion in 1920. Neatorama
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Caleb Rule was 24 years old at the time of the sinking of the Sultana. He survived due to being a great swimmer and lived to become a preacher at several churches in Sevier and Blount counties. He lived to the age of 72. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
Survivors of the SS Sultana. Pinterest
21 Images Depicting the Sultana Disaster of 1865
John Harrison Simpson. Enlisted in Co I, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry (Union) in 1863 at age 15. Wounded and captured by Confederates under Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1864 and sent to Cahaba prison. He survived the Sultana explosion. Pinterest

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