Okay all you history buffs, it's quiz time!
Without cheating what do you think is the worst maritime disaster in the United States history?
If you want to enter to win a copy of choice of one of my books scroll on down and leave a comment and tell me what boat/ship you think takes this unlucky title.
Did you guess the Titanic? That would have been my guess. If you guessed that 1912 tragedy you would be wrong. Although, the sinking of the Titanic with 1503 deaths was one of the worst maritime disasters it was not the worst. The worst maritime disaster was 12 days short of being 47 years before the Titanic.
It was April 27th 1865, just 12 days after the death of Abraham Lincoln that the Sultana lost 1547 people on that fateful early morning.
So how did this steamboat take the title? It was on April 13th that the Sultana, a 375 passenger steamboat left St. Louis headed for New Orleans, Louisiana. On the 15th while docked in Cairo, Illinois, Captain Mason heard the news that Lincoln had been shot at the Ford Theater. Because telegraphic lines had been severed in the south due to the war, Captain Mason grabbed newspapers of the president's shooting and headed south to spread the news.
Once in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Captain Mason met up with Lt. Col. Reuben Hatch and the two worked a deal to get newly released Union prisoners home to the North. The United States Government offered a $5 fee for each enlisted man and a $10 fee for officers that made the trip. Hatch took advantage of Mason's need of money bribing Mason to take 1400 prisoners. While waiting for the passengers, Mason leaves Vicksburg and heads to New Orleans to continue spreading the word about the president's death.
|Picture is of the 2300+ passengers on board|
By Thomas W. Bankes - Cowan's Auctions, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49307857
The Mechanic agreed and riveted a patch of thinner metal over the seam. With the boiler fixed and passengers on board, they headed north on the Mississippi River. That year had seen the worst flooding in the Mississippi's history. In some areas, at what was the shoreline, only tops of trees could be seen in the rapidly moving water. There were points where the river overflowed its banks and snaked out for three miles. The steamboat struggled up the river, battling the unusual waters, for the next 2 days.
Mere weeks had passed since the end of the Civil War and all the death it had brought. The president of the United States had just died and now the Sultana, a 375 passenger steamship overloaded with 2,100 people was about to sail up the Mississippi River and to disaster.
Captain Williams had loaded everyone of the paroled soldiers onto the Sultana thinking it to be less than 1,500 when in reality there were 1,978 soldiers brought on to the steamship that had a legal capacity of 375. These soldiers were in addition to the paying customers and the crew. The steamboat and its passengers only made it to Marion, Arkansas a few miles north of Memphis, Tennessee when there was a great explosion.
It was 2 AM in the morning when that patched boiler exploded causing two other boilers to explode. The boiler shot up through the overcrowded decks above and at an angle that it shot through the pilothouse leaving no way to steer the ship. The boat, now on fire, went adrift in the swirling and freezing waters. As the fire blazed and floors collapsed, people were left with the decision to either burn or jump into the freezing waters. In a panic the people chose the river.
The soldiers, already in weakened condition from their incarceration now would have to try to swim in a frigid river, but due to their fragile state they soon ran out of strength and the men began to cling together and went down in large groups. Many drowned or died from hypothermia.
When news reached some of the other ships they raced to aid in the rescue. Confederate soldiers who only weeks early fought these Union soldiers now risked their lives to rescue their fellow Americans. The exact number lost is not known. The US Customs Service recorded the loss at 1,547 lives. However, in May of that same year Brig. General William Hoffman, commissary General of Prisoners investigated the accident and his numbers came in much lower at 1, 238 total loss of life.
|Photo taken by By Pete unseth - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60662412|
Because of the death of the president this great tragedy received very little coverage and is little known today.
So in actuality the Titanic could very well be the US worst maritime disaster. It depends on whose report you believe.
GIVEAWAY: If you take a guess at the worst maritime disaster or tell me of something that surprised you I'll enter you to win a copy of choice of one of my books. You must leave your email address to be entered so don't forget!
Debbie Lynne Costello has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina. She has worked in many capacities in her church and is currently the Children's Director. Debbie Lynne has shown and raised Shetland Sheepdogs for eighteen years and still enjoys litters now and then. In their spare time, she and her husband take pleasure in camping and riding their Arabian and Tennessee Walking horses.
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