“Lee Surrenders!” “President Murdered!” “Booth Killed!” screamed the headlines of American newspapers in April 1865, leaving little room for mention of a maritime disaster that to this day is America’s worst. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a 260-foot, wooden-hulled steamboat—smaller than the Titanic but carrying more passengers—exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee.
More than 1,800 men, mostly Union soldiers on their way home from Confederate prison camps, died. On board were over 2,400 passengers—six times the ship’s legal capacity. Although jubilant about the war’s end, most of the men were weakened by malnutrition and disease from their imprisonment at Andersonville and Cahaba. Hundreds who were not killed in the explosion drowned in the cold, swift waters of the muddy river.
Because of the timing of the sinking, coverage of the Sultana’s demise was scant, and the tragedy has passed almost unnoticed in the pages of American history.
In this highly documented book, author Jerry Potter focuses on how greed, indifference, gross stupidity, and criminal misconduct reaching as far as the White House led to the overloading of the Sultana at Vicksburg. Such irresponsible conduct characterized the actions of President Lincoln, an entire chain of army command, and several profit-hungry civilians. This authoritative work contains abundant photographs and illustrations, as well as the most complete list of the ship’s passengers available.