When we think of the worst maritime disaster in the United States, we typically lean towards the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1914, where 1,517 died. However, this wasn’t the worst in US history and this one happened 49 years before the Titanic.
The SS Sultana was a wooden steamboat built in 1963 specifically for the cotton trade along the lower Mississippi River. During the Civil War and when not carrying cotton, the Sultana ran between St. Louis and New Orleans carrying troops. Typically this steamboat only carried 85 crew members, but on April 27, 1865, she was carry a little more then that.
On April 27, 1865 at around 2AM the SS Sultana’s boilers exploded just right outside of Memphis. During this voyage up-river, the steamboat was carrying more than 2,100 paroled Union prisoners. The Sultana had a legal capacity of only 376, so she was very over crowded. At around 9AM the ship finally sank near Mound City, present-day Marion, Arkansas. Only around 700 passengers survived this tragic disaster and many died after being sent to the hospital. Even though I’ve placed numbers of the causalities, there was no actual count, but there is an estimate that over 1,800 died on the Sultana.
In 10 days, we will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the greatest maritime tragedy. Marion, Arkansas and Memphis will remember this event at the 28th Annual Sultana Reunion from Thursday, April 23rd – Saturday, April 25th. For more information about the event go to the Sultana 150 site. The festivities, including tours of Memphis & Mud Island, Riverboat cruise, receptions, entertainment and the Premiere of the Sultana documentary.