|Sultana on fire, from Harpers Weekly|
A maritime disaster where over One thousand Five Hundred human Beings were lost, most of them being exchanged prisoners of war on their way home after privation and suffering from one to twenty-three months in Cahaba and Andersonville prisons.
The steamer Sultana was built at Cincinnati, Ohio, January, 1863, and was registered, as near as I can learn, at 1,719 tons. She was a regular St Louis and New Orleans packet, and left the latter port on her fatal trip April 21, 1865, arriving at Vicksburg, Miss with about two hundred passengers and crew on board. She remained here little more than one day; among other things repairing one of her boilers, at the same time receiving on board 1,965 federal soldiers and 35 oflicers just released from the rebel prisons at Cahaba, Ala, Macon and Andersonville, Ga, and belonging to the States of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Besides these there were two companies of infantry under arms, making a grand total of 2,300 souls on board.
Sometime in the evening, probably well towards midnight, the boat steamed across the river to the coal bins or barges, and after taking on her supply of coal started on up the river for Cairo, Ill. All was quiet and peaceful, many of the soldiers, no doubt, after their long, unwilling fast in southern prisons, were dreaming of home and the good things in store for them there, but alas! those beautiful visions were dissipated by a terrific explosion, for about two o'clock in the morning of the 27th, as the boat was passing through a group of islands known as the 'Old Hen and Chickens,' and while about opposite of Tagleman's Landing had burst one of her boilers and almost immediately caught fire, for the fragments of the boiler had cut the cabin and the hurricane deck in two, and the splintered pieces had fallen, many of them back upon the burning coal fires that were now left exposed.
The light dry wood of the cabins burned like tinder, and it was but a short time ere the boat was wrapped in flames, burning to the water's edge and sinking. Hundreds were forced into the water and drowned in huge squads, those who could swim being unable to get away from those who could not and consequently perishing with them.
(Source: Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors: History of a Disaster ...By Chester D. Berry, D.D. Thorp, printer, 1892, Link)
|Sultana Memorial at the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee|
|Sultana Memorial at the Mount Olive Baptist Church Cemetery |