Monday, April 27, 2009

They Didn't Make It Home

Seven miles north of Memphis Tennessee on April 27th 1865 the steamboat the Sultana exploded and sank.

The boat which was only made to hold 376 people was carrying about 2,300 crew, civilians and recently released Union Prisoners of War.  About 1,700 never made it home. Around 2am three of the steamboat’s four boilers blew up.

The Sultana, a paddle wheeler, was built in Cincinnati Ohio in 1863 at the John Lithoberry Shipyard. She sailed the Ohio and Mississippi river between St Louis and New Orleans. She was considered to be state of the art, with modern safety gauges, three fire fighting pumps and a metallic lifeboat. In April 1865 recently release Union Prisoner of War were gathered in Vicksburg where the government was paying $5 a man to steamboats for the trip to Cairo Illinois. The soldiers were packed onto the Sultana so closely there was no place to sleep and even barely room to stand. The explosion was due to a leaky and poorly repaired steam boiler. The explosion threw some of the deck passengers into the water, while the rest of boat caught fire.

An archaeologist may have found the remains of the Sultana in 1982 under about 32 feet of dirt in a soybean field on the Arkansas side of the river.

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