150 Years Later
We've noted the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and Lincoln's assignation, but here's an event that's regularly overshadowed.
(photo courtesy of ThisWeekInTheCivilWar.com)
The explosion of the SS Sultana is the deadliest maritime disaster in US History (not, unfortunately, in the world), killing 1800 people ON ONE STEAMBOAT(whhhhaaaat?). But I'd never heard of her until recently (from a friend doing her dissertation on who's to blame for the incident), because the event itself happened so soon after Lincoln's death, and was largely overshadowed by that incident even in 1865.
What caught my attention originally was the name of the boat. Are any of you fans of old TV shows? How about the late '50s show Yancy Derringer (a suave Confederate riverboat owner returns to his native New Orleans in 1867ish)? The name of Yancy's riverboat is "The Sultana" and in the first season there's an episode about a mysterious rash of riverboat explosions (which cause cotton prices to skyrocket) caused by--you guessed it--mistreated boilers. It's a good show, and I always appreciate knowing the history behind it.
Anyhow, this particular disaster was so devastating because the ship had something like FIVE TIMES the allowable passengers on board. Why? Because they were Union soldiers, being released from Confederate prison camps and on their way home. Any loss of life like this is tragic, but to know that these were men who were finally free? Finally released from their nightmares and were going home? That makes this even more devastating, somehow.
There's still some mystery surrounding the accident, but this article (highly recommend you read it!) does a good job of explaining the details of how an over-loaded boat, listing side-to-side, could cause steam to build to dangerous levels in the boilers.
So today, we remember the tragic loss of the SS Sultana, and those who were aboard her.
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