The Sultana: A Maritime Disaster

There are many disasters that happen on boats or ships that are well known. But there is a disaster that happened on April 27, 1865 that most people are not aware of.

The Sultana was a 260-foot-long sidewheel steamboat that sailed on the Mississippi River. It was built in 1863 in Cincinnati and was designed to carry both passengers and freight. It was designed to carry 376 passengers plus the crew.

At the end of the Civil War, the Sultana was contracted to carry former Union prisoners of war to Northern territory. More than 2,000 Union troops were loaded onto the Sultana which was well over its capacity. Captain George Williams was in charge of the transportation of these prisoners and insisted on them traveling on one boats despite concerns about the overloading.

Early on April 27, 1865, the boilers exploded. This started a fire that was not able to be contained. The majority of the passengers died immediately. Many more died as they tried to reach shore. Of those that survived, 200 died later from their burns. Official records state that 1,800 men died.

There were some investigations into the Sultana disaster. These investigations revealed that there was a host of corrupt practices. These included kickbacks and bribes that were paid to high-ranking Union officers.

There are two main reasons that this disaster was forgotten. The biggest was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The other reason was the end of the Civil War. There was a lot going on with the end of the war and the Sultana was quickly forgotten in light of all of the other major events going on at that time.

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