Approximately 13 years ago, Memphis lawyer Jerry O. Potter saw a painting in a local bank that changed his life. The painting portrayed the horror of April 27, 1865, when the wooden-hulled steamer Sultana, overloaded with war-weary Union soldiers, exploded into flames while en route to the North. The work stirred a ravenous curiosity in the young lawyer which would not subside, and he felt compelled to uncover the story of the burning vessel on the Mississippi River.
After reading newspaper accounts of the event, Potter was shocked by the magnitude of the tragedy. A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin with a degree in history, Potter thought it strange that he had never heard of the Sultana. He found that only three books had been written on the subject—none of which dealt with the futility of the hundreds and hundreds of deaths. Potter decided to uncover the story of the Sultana and what happened to its 2,300 passengers, and thus reserve for the boat and its soldiers their well-deserved place in history.
As a student, Potter won the Tennessee Historical Commission Award for earning the highest marks in history, and was awarded an internship by the Tennessee Valley Authority to conduct historical research in the state. From this research, Potter published the study entitled “Problems relating to the Socio-Economical Development of Northwest Tennessee 1819 through 1900.”
Jerry Potter is a partner in The Hardison Law Firm in Memphis, Tennessee. He received his law degree from Memphis State University in 1975. His hobbies include traveling, archaeology, historical research, and writing.