Memphis Moments
5:51 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

The Sultana Disaster

On April 21, 1865, the steamboat Sultana left New Orleans. As she left port, she was having problems with leaky boilers, problems that continued to plague the vessel on her way up the river. 

At Vicksburg, MS, two thousand Union Soldiers boarded. The men were just-released prisoners-of-war, hungry, sick, and desperate to return to their homes. And they filled the Sultana to over six-times her capacity.

As the Sultana passed Island Number Ten, about five miles north of Memphis, she exploded into flames. The explosion propelled cargo and passengers into the chilly Mississippi River.

Many in the city of Memphis heard the explosion and sent-out rescue boats. They were able to save hundreds of passengers who made it to shore before the Sultana finally sank somewhere around Marion, AR.

The dead numbered 1,700 – over 300 more than perished in the Titanic disaster. It was the worst maritime disaster in American history. News of the Sultana disaster was played-down, though, because, on that same day, John Wilkes-Booth, Lincoln's assassin, was shot and killed.

The Sultana is believed to be buried in Arkansas river beds, but no one has been able to find or recover the infamous steamer.

 

To learn more about the region's history, visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums, or their Facebook page, or at http://www.memphismuseums.org.