At 2:00 AM on April 27, 1865, a catastrophic boiler explosion took place on the grossly overcrowded wooden paddlewheeler S.S. Sultana. The ship was less than 10 miles from Memphis, TN on the Mississippi River when the explosion occurred. The overcrowding of the vessel was due to the large number Union soldiers from Ohio and Indiana returning home from the Civil War many of whom were recently released from Confederate prisons. The precise number of casualties is unknown but estimates are that 1,300 to 1,900 lives were lost.
This is the worst maritime disaster in US history yet few American’s are aware of it. In it’s day and ever since, it was overshadowed by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln which had taken place two weeks earlier on April 14, 1865.
Last week I received a copy of Alan Huffman’s Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History (2009). I had the chance to start reading it yesterday and am currently about a quarter of the way through it. So far it’s a fascinating read. If like me, you are interested in American and maritime history as well as leadership, this book’s also for you!
Here’s a few Sultana websites to check out on the 144th anniversary of the worst maritime disaster in American history:
- The Sultana Disaster Online Museum and Archives
- Sultana: A Tragic Postscript to the Civil War – American History Magazine
- Death on the Dark River: The Story of the Sultana Disaster in 1865
- Wikipedia – S.S. Sultana
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