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S.S. Sultana- April 27,1865

Discussion in 'History' started by bdtex, Apr 27, 2016.

  1. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    Still the largest maritime disaster in US History. Most of the passengers were Union soldiers newly released from Confederate POW Camps.

    "What should have been a happy homecoming for more than 2,100 paroled Union soldiers from Andersonville and Cahaba prison camps, ended tragically in the deadliest maritime disaster in the history of the United States. The Sultana, the vessel carrying the paroled soldiers with homes in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, began its journey up the swollen spring current of the Mississippi on the night of April 24th, leaving Vicksburg bound for Cairo, Illinois. With a maximum capacity slated at 376 passengers, the Sultana was grossly overcrowded with civilians, crew, and POWs. The decks were stuffed so thoroughly with the weakened prisoners chiefly because it was lucrative business. The US government promised river boat captains a payment of $5 per prisoner, for ferrying them up river to Cairo. As a result, the Sultana, like many other boats before her, prioritized a quick windfall profit above the safety of her passengers. An even more egregious oversight which may have led directly to the disaster was the captain’s decision to patch one of the Sultana’s boilers as opposed to taking more time and finances to repair it in the proper manner. Thus, when she lurched out of Vicksburg, decks crammed with freshly released prisoners, the Sultana was a ticking time bomb. In the early morning hours of April 27th, the ill-fated voyage came to an abrupt end when the hastily repaired boiler of the Sultana exploded, causing two others to burst violently and quickly engulfed the ships superstructure in flame. Men who survived the horrific explosion were hurled or jumped into the Mississippi’s swift and frigid waters, where scores of men drowned or succumbed to hypothermia. 800 passengers survived the initial horrendous explosion and swirling rapids, yet 200 of these would later perish in hospitals due to ghastly burns. In all, approximately 1,700 passengers of the original 2,500 perished along the banks of the Mississippi."

     
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  2. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    Missed the anniversary bump of this thread last week. Going on a 9 day Civil War sightseeing roadtrip in June through Arkansas,Corinth,MS and Tennessee. One of the planned stops is the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion,Arkansas,about 12 miles northwest of Memphis.

    http://www.sultanadisastermuseum.org/museum/
     
  3. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    I visited The Sultana Disaster Museum on 6/3/2017.

    2017-06-03 13.32.19.

    2017-06-03 14.08.41.
     
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  4. SouthernBoyI

    SouthernBoyI SouthernBoy

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    Very cool.

    SB
     
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  5. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    Plans are in the works to build a new museum. The site has been secured and they are still raising funds for construction. Other artifacts from The Sultana sinking are stored at a college nearby that I can't remember the name of. The current museum has no more space. It's not very big but it is very cool nonetheless.
     
  6. SouthernBoyI

    SouthernBoyI SouthernBoy

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    When I'm completely retired the wife and I are going to pull the camper to the historic site.

    Gettysburg is going to be first.

    SB
     
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  7. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    Sounds like a plan.
     
  8. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    I missed the anniversary bump of this thread. I was on a Civil War symposium/sightseeing trip in Baton Rouge that day and weekend. There is a new documentary out about The Sultana.

    https://www.rememberthesultana.com
     
  9. SW48

    SW48 Administrator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I remember watching the Andersonville made for tv movie. Quite eye opening but the movie didn't show this disaster that happened afterwards.
     
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  10. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    A lot of the soldiers who died in that explosion and sinking are buried as "Unknown US Soldier" in the Memphis National Cemetery across the river.
     
  11. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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  12. bdtex

    bdtex Moderator Staff Member

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    Anniversary bump and a little bit about the book above:

    Chapter 9-13 cover the explosion and the conditions it created on each deck and in specific sections of the boat. The explosion occurred amidships and The Sultana was traveling upriver in a headwind at the time. The fire caused by the explosion was swept astern by the winds. Eventually the current swung The Sultana around and the wind swept the fire down the bow. In this section of the book there is a good drawing of The Sultana after the explosion and the survivor accounts are chilling.

    Chapters 14-17 cover the accounts of survivors who jumped into the Mississippi River and some of the rescuers. The explosion happened about 2am in the morning and about 7-8 miles upriver from Memphis. Although some people saw the light from the explosion and fire,it wasn't until debris, survivors and bodies floated downriver to and past Memphis in the early morning hours that many realized what had happened and rescue operations started. It was April too and the water was cold. Some of the survivors shed their clothes in the water because they made swimming difficult or the weight made floating difficult. Survivor accounts were difficult for me to read. There were children on board too who perished in the explosion and in the water and lot of the prisoners and other passengers didn't know how to swim. They either stayed on board and burned or suffocated to death or jumped into the river and fought each other for debris to stay afloat with. Various vessels in and around Memphis and some residents along the river in small boats went out and rescued survivors. Later the task turned to recovering bodies.
     

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