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April 27, 1865: The Sinking of Sultana

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In April 1865, some 2,000 passengers, mostly Union soldiers, boarded the Sultana in Vicksburg, MS. The soldiers had recently been released from prison camps, including Andersonville and Cahaba. Weary and tired, they had begun the arduous trek home following the end of the Civil War. The 260-foot-long wooden, side-wheel steamboat, designed to hold 376 passengers, was dangerously overloaded as it made its way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. In the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, near Memphis, three of Sultana’s boilers exploded, and the vessel sank, killing more than 1,100 people.

The Courier-Journal: April 30, 1865

The Sultana was launched in 1863 and was powered by four large boilers. It regularly ran along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and St. Louis. Designed for the cotton trade, Sultana carried cotton and goods, along with civilian and military passengers, between ports.

On April 23, 1865, the Sultana was docked at Vicksburg to repair leaky boilers when Capt. James Cass Mason learned that the U.S. government would pay between $5 and $10 per passenger to transport released prisoners north. Amid accusations of backroom bribes and kickbacks, Mason hastily patched the malfunctioning boilers, then loaded more than 2,000 Union soldiers aboard. The soldiers joined other regular passengers, including men, women, and children.

Photograph of the overcrowded Sultana captured the day before the disaster

On April 27, 1865, at about 2:00 a.m., the Sultana was a few miles north of Memphis when three of the four boilers exploded. Some passengers were killed instantly, while others flung themselves into the water as flames engulfed the vessel. The released prisoners, many weak and emaciated, lacked the strength to swim to safety in the strong current.  

William Crisp served in the Michigan 18th Volunteer Infantry, Company D. He was taken prisoner in September 1864 and sent to Cahaba Prison Camp. In March 1865, torrential rains flooded the camp, leaving prisoners standing in cold, knee-deep water for twelve days. Along with other prisoners, Crisp was moved around, eventually ending up in Vicksburg. While there, he heard the news of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Crisp joined other prisoners aboard the Sultana for his return home to Hillsdale, Michigan. On the night of the disaster, he was sleeping on the main deck when the ship exploded. Shards of debris and heavy, broken timbers rained down on the men below, breaking Crisp’s shoulder and three ribs. He also received severe burns on his arms and head. Dazed and confused, Crisp climbed out from under the debris before jumping overboard as flames consumed the ship.

The swift currents carried Crisp downstream for about three miles until he grasped a tree and pulled himself from the cold water. There, he hung for nearly seven hours until a Confederate soldier rescued him in an old dugout canoe. Crisp was one of 65 men rescued that morning by this same soldier, a former enemy turned friend.  

Crisp spent six weeks in a Memphis hospital before he was well enough to travel home. Even then, the severity of his injuries required that he stop at several hospitals along the way for treatment. His family, assuming he was lost, were shocked when Crisp arrived home, bandaged and burned but alive.

The Sultana disaster claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people, including Capt. James Cass Mason. It remains the deadliest maritime incident in American history. In contrast, the sinking of the Titanic claimed 1,503 lives. Investigators later determined that faulty boilers, mismanagement of water levels in the boilers, and the strain from the overcrowded conditions likely led to the explosion. Nobody was ever held responsible for the Sultana disaster.

If you would like to learn more about the Sultana, search Fold3® today.

83 Comments

  1. Ramona Hughes says:

    WHO was the confederate hero?

  2. Glenda Malcom says:

    “Thank you” for posting this important and tragic but barely known piece of our Civil War history.

    • GENE ERIC SALECKER says:

      The name of the Confederate hero was Franklin H. Barton, an ex-Confederate soldier with the 23rd Arkansas Cavalry. The day before, Union authorities had gone up and down the river near Memphis destroying all small watercraft because of fears of Confederate guerrillas. Barton had managed to hide his dugout canoe, which turned out to be a Godsend. Gene Eric Salecker, author “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana,” and historical consultant for the Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, Arkansas.

  3. Patricia Donohoe says:

    My 2x great uncle, Bart McMurray, was onboard the Sultana that fateful night. He had been among the soldiers of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry captured at the Battle of Sulfur Trestle near Athens, Alabama by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Bart was sent to languish in Cahaba Prison for almost seven months, until he was exchanged, then herded onto a grossly overcrowded steamboat.

    When the Sultana blew, he found himself in the water. Although he couldn’t swim, he somehow got himself to shore. Bart was taken to Adams Hospital in Memphis where he was listed as “slightly scalded.”
    Most were not so lucky. Cahaba and Andersonville had been miserable places. The paroled prisoners aboard the Sultana must have been excited to finally be returning home.

    As for Bart, once released from the hospital in Memphis, he made his way back home to Blount County, Tennessee, married his sweetheart, Elizabeth, and had a dozen children to help work the farm he had inherited from his father, Newton.
    Bartley Russell McMurray passed away at the age of 79 and is buried in Eusebia Presbyterian Church Cemetery with his kinsfolk. As often happens, it was his experience in the Civil War and surviving the Sultana explosion that defined his life.

    • Mike Trotr says:

      My 2X grandfather, James Franklin, served in the same unit from East TN and also perished that night aboard the Sultana.

      Thanks for sharing,
      Mike

    • Mary says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. I love to hear when people research, remember and honor their brave ancestors, especially in this cancel history era we are dealing with.
      Such sacrifices!

    • Mary says:

      Before reading this, I always thought the excursion boat General Slocum, which claimed 1,030 lives at Hells Gate on NYC’s East River, was the largest domestic maritime disaster in US history. Also overcrowded, but mostly with women and children many on a church outing, also caught fire. Few knew how to swim and panic set in.

    • Jean Marie Labrie says:

      Amazing story.

    • Debbie Camarota says:

      Thank you for sharing this incredible story.

    • Dan Helton says:

      I have discovered three ancestors that served under the 3rd Tennessee, captured at Sulfur Trestle, imprisoned at Cahaba, and perished on the Sultana. Two were brothers, Guilford Morrison, and Isaac Morrison, from my maternal Grandfather’s ancestors.
      On my maternal Grandmother’s ancestors side, Harvey Anthony Cochran also perished on the Sultana.
      My 3x great grandfather (Morrison) should also be considered a victim of the tragedy. Three years and three days to the date, he committed suicide over the loss of his sons.

    • Vee Holmes says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, this was deep.

  4. p says:

    Jenny,
    Thank you for this. I have a 2xg grandfather who died in the Sultana disaster after being released with several of his brothers from Cahaba Prison as imprisoned Union soldiers from East Tennessee. Would he/they have gotten off the boat at Memphis? He left behind a wife and family, including a roughly 3-year-old daughter who became my great-grandmother.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Hello, that is a good question. I checked the local Memphis papers to see if there was any news about soldiers disembarking while in Memphis. I didn’t see any mention of the Sultana until her departure, which was noted in the paper. I know the soldiers were anxious to get back to Northern territory and then back home.

  5. Keith Rhodes says:

    I’m not sure that I understand how a man released from Andersonville Ga, would be riding a ship up the Mississippi. My Great great grand dad died the previous July at Andersonville, so I can almost conclude that even if he had survived, the script was written against him. Indeed some men were released from Andersonville, only to be rounded up again and taken back to the camp and help longer.
    Jenny, if you have any idea of the logistics behind my question, I would appreciate your input. Another tidbit is, I’ve come to believe that because of my gg grand dad’s thick German accent, our family’s name was forever changed after or because of his death. I recently also learned that both names mean the same thing in their separate German dialects. Thank you for these enlightening posts.

    • Michael says:

      Travel in the 1860’s was most reliable and efficient by waterways-rivers like the Mississippi. He and other released prisoners would have travelled west to the Mississippi to head North to Cairo and further north.

      You never mentioned what “name” was garbled.

    • GENE ERIC SALECKER says:

      Hello Keith: This was at the end of the war. In March 1865 Confederate authorities contacted the Union officers in Vicksburg and requested that clothing, medical supplies, and etc. be sent to the Union prisoners at Cahaba POW Camp near Selma, AL as a gesture of goodwill. Instead, it was suggested that since the war was almost over, the prisoners should be brought to Vicksburg where they could be fed, clothed and taken care of by Union authorities until a one-on-one exchange could be arranged. Eventually, this agreement extended to the men being held at Andersonville. Throughout the end of March and early April 1865 more than 4,000 Union POWs were sent by rail and on foot to an exchange camp set up four miles outside of Vicksburg. The camp was administered by Union authorities but the men were still under Confederate control. Near the end of April, after the surrender of General Lee and the death of President Lincoln, and since no Confederate prisoners were coming down from the North to be exchanged, the decision was made to just release the men and send them home. Gene Eric Salecker, author “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana,” and historical consultant for the Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, Arkansas.

  6. Kimberly Allen says:

    My 3x’s great (half) uncle Warren Alonzo Huckins was a private in the 9th Indiana Cavalry, captured at Sulphur Branch Trestle, in September 1864. He was a prisoner at Cahaba, and then was killed in the Sultana explosion. His 70 yr old father Ebenezer Huckins attempted to apply for survivor benefits in his name but was denied. Warren’s brother Spencer was killed at the Battle of Resaca in May 1864.

    • Robert Fowler Burke says:

      My ancestor, Enoch Nation, 18, served with 9th Ind Cav , under command Eli Lilly ( as in drug manufacture ) captured Sulfur Springs and parishes in Sultana, never was found. Robert Burke , Marion In.

  7. Shawn Murphy says:

    The story of William Crisp being helped by a former enemy was just another example of forgiveness that was seen along with reunions involving combatants. Too bad today we try to destroy this aspect of history!

  8. Jacqueline Sidwell says:

    Hi, I’m English, living in France but interested in this history since a branch of my family 3 generations ago emigrated to the US. I read about this disaster in a fictional book from the point of view of a journalist among the prisoners. It said that the story was overshadowed by another event that happened the following day. Is that true? If so, what was the event?

    • Jim Cansler says:

      I am not sure this is the answer to your question, however, the day before the Sultana disaster there was an important event. John Wilkes Booth, who had assassinated Abraham Lincoln, was caught and killed. It is possible that this news could have overshadowed the news of the Sultana.

    • Gretchen says:

      Jacqueline, indeed the “other event” is true. President Lincoln had been assassinated less than two weeks earlier. The country grieved and the hunt was on for the killer. John Wilkes Booth was found just the day before the Sultana disaster. The trials etc of the co-conspirators went on for the next couple of months. The story of the Sultana fell below the headlines, but is slowly coming back into national consciousness. There’s a Sultana museum in Marion, AR and one of the levee panels in Vicksburg, MS depicts the steamboat.

    • Jerry says:

      President Lincoln’s assassination.

    • Presideant Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC on 14 APR 1865. His funeral included a wake for the late president held on Cleveland, Ohio’s Public Square on 28 Apr. 1865. Cleveland was just one stop in a 1,700-mile rail journey to Springfield, IL, where Lincoln was laid to rest on 4 May.

  9. Harold Kirby says:

    A search for the date April 28, 1865 yields the following:
    ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S FUNERAL included a wake for the late president held on Cleveland’s Public Square on 28 Apr. 1865

  10. Gretchen says:

    I might add that Lincoln’s funeral train made a two-week journey across the U.S. spanning the time on both sides of the Sultana disaster. It focused the nation’s attention and engagement as it stopped in towns along the way until reaching Lincoln’s final resting place in the Midwest – Springfield, IL.

  11. Brenda T says:

    Some of these comments actually ruined a very interesting and tragic story. No one is trying to cancel history, and one should not conflate that with not wanting to celebrate certain individuals or concepts. The history is important. The facts are of paramount importance. Ironically, those who are concerned with canceling history don’t want actual history taught in schools. A lot of self-examination and more empathy is needed in this world.

    • Robert Powell says:

      Good Day — The fact something, a statue or other entity exists, does not mean celebration.
      It means acknowledging the concept for further examination. That is disgernment, not emotion.
      A sandwich, engages all parts including the sticky part.

      As an old Federal Forensic Historical analyst, I provide this Transcript for ones educational value.
      http://www.supremelaw.org/authors/dodd/interview.htm
      with grace, and the true Anglo-Saxon experiment of our Founding Documents, ( all ) are based on ( at the time ), and when correction is needed, so be it. The fact is history is canceled daily.
      Example: Pearl Harbor is now known to not be a “surprise Attack” — Which people should we remove so they are not celebrated – finally, who is noting any celebration, especially in now three day holidays ( not using the initial meaning ) – to disguise and deminish the reasoning.

    • B Hand says:

      When I read the comment of cancelling history — it reminded me of when the news broadcast one of our illustrious US president’s intentions of tearing down many “historical” statues around Washington DC. (Don’t panic!) Many folks/commentators talk about “rewriting history” — but again, that is totally a different story. This is a very sad situation that never should have happened, and I for one am glad to learn about it, and always interested in learning more from those related to many of our American heroes!!!

    • ed worman says:

      What a great comment. The ex-soldier who rescued men from the river was simply a humane human. Confederate had nothing to do with it, to my way of thinking.

    • WD Smith says:

      Absolutely yes liberal factions are trying to cancel history. Particularly Southern history. Examples removal of statues, renaming military bases, up to the actual discovery and settlement of the US. Also eradication of documentation and teaching of any American who may have owned slaves.

    • Betty j says:

      Yes so True

  12. Carol Landrum says:

    Jacqueline,
    Do you know about newspapers.com? Old newspapers online. You can get a primary source from the time it happened.
    Also, they discovered the Sultana in a field not so long ago & are digging it up, I believe. The Mississippi River had changed course.

    • Susan Caldwell says:

      The river changed course and moved to the east leaving the sunken Sultana buried under an Arkansas soybean field, about two miles from the river. In 1982 a Memphis attorney and Sultana historian located the buried remains of the Sultana. It remains buried but there were many artifacts recovered and those are now in the Sultana Museum in Marion, Arkansas, just across the river from Memphis. This Museum has recently received a grant and is expanding to double its current size. Their website is a wonderful resource which includes a database of passengers, stories and pictures of some of the passengers, and links to other resources. https://www.sultanadisastermuseum.com/

    • Mary Fain says:

      The steamwheeler being dug up was the Arabia. I believe it was in a Kansas farm field. My memory of the article is that I read about it in Smithsonian magazine. Anyway, there is a museum of its recovered contents somewhere. It was heading up to the Missouri River confluence and further western destinations and had amazingly ‘upscale’ cargo for its time. It has altered precious thinking about the lifestyle of at least some western residents in that time location. Neither of which I remember without further research. I DO remember there was a high water table in the field and the rental period for the water pumps for finding the ship was on its last day. The man paying was giving up. His son said, “Dad, we paid for this day. Let’s pump one more day.” They found the Arabia later that day.

  13. George Trapp says:

    Once again, follow the money. That was the first thing that jumped out at me concerning this tragedy.
    Human nature does not change. The love of money so often supersedes considerations of loving individuals as Jesus does.
    Percentages indicate that most often we get away with ignoring safety concerns. When not , usually the carnage is much more limited in number of casualties.

  14. Anna Wilson says:

    PBS – History Detectives had a show regarding the sinking of the Sultana. This was the first time that I heard about this. Here’s the link in case anyone might be interested in learning more details regarding this tragedy.

    https://www.pbs.org/video/history-detectives-hdsi-civil-war-sabotage/

  15. Cynthia D says:

    Is there a list of those who are known to have gone down on the Sultana?

    • GENE ERIC SALECKER says:

      Hello Cynthia: You can find all the information about individuals that were on board the Sultana when she exploded at https://sultana-7f06a.web.app/

      The database can also be accessed through the Sultana Disaster Museum website at https://www.sultanadisastermuseum.com/

      Click on the tab for “Stories” and then click on “Research Database.”

      You can pull up any prisoner, guard, civilian passenger or crewperson. Gene Eric Salecker, author “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana,” and historical consultant for the Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, AR

  16. Candyce says:

    Patricia:
    I had read about the Sultana disaster in a historical fiction novel, “The Bregdan Chronicles” (found on Amazon). Thank you for putting a name to this. Have you seen https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/McMurray-501?

  17. Mark Haselberger says:

    Recent research by Joseph and Thomas Thatcher, in their publication Confederate Coal Torpedo, (mine, or bomb), published in 2011, tells the real story how the boilers blew up! It was a bomb planted by a Confederate into the ship’s coal bin, and then fed into the boilers! After all these years, “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would have said, we now know. Tragic, but true, it’s now the real story of that tragic story.
    Mark Haselberger, of Davenport, Florida.

    • GENE ERIC SALECKER says:

      Hello Mark: it WAS NOT a bomb. Read the last chapter of my 2022 book “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana.” The bomb theory is definitively put to rest by eye-witness accounts of people that were present when the Sultana docked at Memphis, including the men in charge of the coal barges and a personal friend of the supposed saboteur, who stated the man wasn’t even in Memphis that night. And, by the way, I disprove all THREE people that claimed to have blown up the Sultana. The explosion came from the top, back of the boilers and went upward at a 45-degree angle. An explosion of a coal torpedo in the furnace UNDER the boilers would have blown out the bottom of the boilers and the blast would have gone downward. It’s time to put this age-old story to rest. Gene Eric Salecker, consulting historian, Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, Arkansas.

  18. GENE ERIC SALECKER says:

    Hello Jenny: Great article except the Sultana should not be referred to as the “SS Sultana.” SS denotes “steamship,” which the Sultana definitely was not. As you mentioned, it was a sidewheel steamboat. Also, Captain Mason is not the only one responsible for taking on almost 2,000 recently released prisoners-of-war. Capt. Reuben Hatch, the chief quartermaster at Vicksburg, also knew that the government was paying steamboat captains to take the men north. He cut a bribe with Mason whereby Hatch would make sure that the Sultana would get a large amount of men IF Mason would give Hatch a kickback. Greed and corruption was as much a cause of the disaster as faulty boilers. Gene Eric Salecker, author “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana” and historical consultant for the Sultana Disaster Museum, Marion, Arkansas.

    • Jenny Ashcraft says:

      Thank you for the clarification. I will edit the blog.

    • Kelly Aumann says:

      Hello, Mr. Salecker.
      I was wondering if one of the 3 people you disproved of planting a coal bomb was John Duke Kelly. He was my 3rd G – grandfather. I know he was one of Quantrill’s Raiders. He was named as such by Frank James, brother of Jesse James. John Duke Kelly was a very rough character in many ways. He is not a man I am in any way proud of. I was always told by family members that he was arrested swimming away from the exploded steamship, I have never been able to find anything on that arrest. I’m aware that just bringing this up will be an irritation to you, but if it is not true, I would really like to put this to rest in our family also. Of course, personally – I have felt such overwhelming pain at the idea that an ancestor might have been involved in pain and suffering on this kind of level.

      I have purchased and read your book sir. Actually, I’ve read it twice. I absolutely loved it – extremely informative and I think this story would make the BEST movie!
      I would never have thought I would have the chance to ask you this question and will appreciate any information you might share with me. Thank you

    • Roy Millard says:

      I just wanted to say that I have had the pleasure of visiting the Sultana Disaster Museum and it is excellent. Thank you.

    • patricia winchild says:

      this is fascinating. It would make a great movie.

    • Evelyn Boyd Simmons says:

      I find the lack of effort to bring those responsible for this appalling tragedy to justice intriguing. The captain perished in the explosion. Other than Hatch whom you mentioned as having received a kickback, if you had been tasked with preparing indictments, who else would you have gone after?

    • Paul Hepner says:

      This is all true about Reuben Hatch. Earlier in his career he was charged with malfeasance but escaped punishment because his family, from Illinois, had a relationship with President Lincoln.

  19. Ramona Hughes says:

    Thank you for the name of the confederate soldier who saved those lives. He was a very courageous man. I have enjoyed this dialogue! Cannot wait to visit the museum in Arkansas

  20. Maureen says:

    Thank you so much for this. I love our history. So very many brave men and women gave everything to stand for their beliefs. I am proud of them and thankful for them. I wish there was someway to communicate to our younger citizens the enormity of the sacrifices made for all of us so we have the country we have to live in. (Sad that a trip to Gettysburg is not mandatory for everyone. – or a visit to any of the places of battles / the numbers of people involved in even the “lesser known” battles is staggering. )
    I learned more about the Sultana from your article. Again, I thank you.

  21. Karl Cooke Broom says:

    I highly recommend Gene Eric Salecker’s, “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana.” I’ve read most books on the subject and this is the definitive work providing a comprehensive discussion of the history of the events and the outcome for those on board. (My second great grandfather James Stuart Cook, served in an Ohio infantry unit, was wounded and captured in Dec 1864, and survived the sinking of the Sultana.)

  22. Pauline Thompson Myers says:

    I knew the story of the Sultana from previous articles that I had read but this article by Jenny Ashcraft is by far the best. Jenny, you do an outstanding job on all your articles.

    I also enjoyed the comments by Gene Eric Salecker. Mr. Salecker I will be looking for your book and hope to visit the Sultana Disaster Museum soon.

  23. Dusty Wood says:

    My great grandfather Samuel Washington Jenkins was a survivor of the Sultana explosion. He was a Union soldier traveling from Cahaba prison. He eventually became a Doctor in Soddy township.

  24. Back in the 70s, I decided to research my ancestry, but it was the maternal side of my ancestry that led me to an ancestor who perished in the Sultana disaster. His name is William Lester Faurot of Company G, 18th Michigan Infantry Regiment, which trained in Hillsdale, Michigan. It turned out that the maternal ancestry had already been written and within its pages, I discovered my ancestor, and the statement that he had died in the Sultana disaster. It piqued my curiosity, so I had to find out more about it. This led to many years of intensive research, and then I wrote a historical novel, “I Fear We Shall Never See Home Again”, with my ancestor as my central character. My novel followed William Lester Faurot, including four fictional characters as his friends, whom I referred to as the Coldwater Boys. The story starts with their enlistment, their training, and the journey that led to a battle at Athens, Alabama where they were taken prisoner and incarcerated in Cahaba Prison in Alabama, and eventually brought them to the Sultana. The story does not end with the disaster, but it continues on, to show the effects it had on loved ones back home.
    Forgive me for name-dropping, but I am a stickler for accuracy involving actual historical events, so much so that I sent my manuscript to my mentor, Gene Eric Salecker, asking him to read it and send me a list of things I had wrong, things I missed that needed to be included, etc. There is the expression, “Be careful what you ask for.” Gene did as I asked, and the outcome is the one novel I am most proud of.
    I recommend Gene’s most recent book, “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana”, as well as his first book, “Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865.” I also recommend “The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster,” by Jerry O. Potter.
    J. Michael Joslin, author of “I Fear We Shall Never See Home Again.”

  25. Michael W Porter says:

    Mt 3XGreat Grandfather, Joseph Henry Collins, died when the Sultana sank.

  26. Lena Taylor says:

    I have been mainly interested in military history of WW 2 due to my step-father’s service. Due to military restrictions that his info could only be furnished to blood kin, it wasn’t until I was 80 did I find out that he had been buried in an unmarked grave. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart & awarded the Combat Badge with 5 bronze stars. He also died in the same county he was born in!
    I had to prove by their marriage certificate that I was his so I could order him a military marker. I’m attempting to have an Honor Guard when I go to pay homage.

  27. Ralph Cordell says:

    Mark Twain writes about the Sultana – his brother was one of those killed in the explosion. There is also a “conspiracy theory” that a bomb was disquised as a piece of coal may have been responsible for the explosion

  28. Karl Schultz says:

    Thanks to Gene Salecker for correcting some misinformation regarding the Sultana. He is definitely THE expert!
    My GGF Milo Bovee, 18th Michigan, Co. I, just missed being on the Sultana. He was with the group that was captured near Athen, AL, on September 24, 1864, arriving at the Cahaba prison on October 5, 1864. For some unknown but lucky decision, he was transfer to the Cahaba Prison Hospital (Bell’s Tavern) as a nurse and lived there until March 13, 1865, when he was with the group that left for Vicksburg. Either April 1 or 2, 1865, he was transferred to the Vicksburg Parole Hospital (Duff Green Mansion) as a nurse plus his health wasn’t very good. So when the Sultana was boarded, Milo fortunately was not on board.
    Why do I know all this? Of the three years Milo was in the Union army, he wrote a diary (every day) which I have. I converted these diaries into a soft bound book, “A Civil War Family Story: Lenawee County, Michigan,” which is available on eBay for $30 covering my costs.
    I also had three family members on the Sultana: Orville Deline (18th Michigan, Co. C), Alexander Zacharias (7th Michigan, Co. C), and his brother Melville Zacharias (8th Michigan, Co. M). Only Alexander survived.

    Karl Schultz
    [email protected]

  29. Carla Schemmel says:

    My great great grandfather Tyrus Tolbert died at the battle of Perryville in Kentucky and his younger brother Romulus Tolbert was a prisoner who was on the Sultana going back to Indiana when the steamboat exploded but he survived.

  30. Tessa Lowe says:

    I first learned of the Sultana disaster last year. I was researching my 3rd-great-grandmother’s family. Her name was Harriet Miller, and she had a brother named Peter Miller. I discovered that Peter had fought for the Union and was captured and held at Andersonville for about ten months. He was one of the many prisoners that boarded the Sultana and perished that fateful night on April 27th, 1865. First his mother, then his father (my 4xgreat-grandparents) applied for and received his pension. This story was not passed down which was shocking and saddening to me. My family and I are visiting Arkansas this summer and we’re going to the museum. And as for our family, we will preserve and pass along Peter’s story, and the story of the Sultana.

    I never did find any record of Peter’s grave. Perhaps many of the Sultana victims who were lost to the river never received a memorial?

  31. Ellen Alida Allmendinger says:

    If one ever gets a chance to visit the Sultana in Vicksburg it is well worth the trip! Went last spring and was awe inspired.

  32. Norman Shaw says:

    I see from the comments that many had ancestors serving in the 3rd Tenn. Cavalry from the counties in East Tennessee that are adjacent to Knox County (Knoxville), where I’ve lived for 40 years.

    I started the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends in 1988. This year will mark our 36 annual reunion, this time in St. Louis, MO, the home port of the Sultana! Last year, we met in Lexington, KY, to honor the Kentucky soldiers on board.

    If you would like to join us, send me a message to [email protected], and I will add your email address to my nearly 400 master list so that you will receive information about the yearly reunions and matters dealing with history of the Sultana disaster.

    We maintain a Facebook page and a web site.

    Norman Shaw, Founder

  33. Norman Shaw says:

    I should add that our organization is open to all descendants of anyone on the Sultana when it exploded, mostly soldiers from various states, but also passengers and crew.

    Plus, as our name implies, anyone can join us as “Friends”, which applies to not only me but also Sultana authors Gene Salecker and Jerry Potter, attorney from Memphis.

    Last thought is that I agree with praise for the temporary Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, AR. Expect a new, state-of-the-art museum to be opened in 2025, construction has just commenced!

  34. J.M.Hamon says:

    My Great Great Grandfather was a Sultana survivor.
    William H. Chance, Rush County, Indiana.
    He joined the 121st Indiana Volunteers, 9th Cavalry, Company M, when he was only 14 years old.
    Captured at Sulphur Branch Trestle, and imprisoned at Cahaba.
    Was scalded by the boiler water during the explosion of the Sultana.
    Couldn’t swim, but survived by clinging to wreckage.
    Made his way back to Indiana to live out his life as a farmer.

  35. Kenneth Kidd says:

    Mike, would your 2x relative James Franklin happen to be James Franklin Kidd? He too was on Sultana and had been captured at Sulphur Branch and was a member of the 3rd TN Cavalry. He died on Sultana. There were a total of 4 Kidds of the 3rd TN Cavalry on board the Sultana that night. James Franklin and James William were killed. Lewis Milton and his brother Alexander somehow survived.

  36. Vicki Hogan says:

    This is so very sad! My husband, who is a dedicated Civil War buff, had never heard of this tragedy. Am reading it to him now. Thank you for posting this important event!

  37. Tommie Horn says:

    I have never been on a blog but I decided to tell how much I enjoyed what everyone wrote on this one. I had never heard of this disaster and you all made it so interesting. To hear from the families of those poor soldiers.was awesome. May I say that I am proud of all our troops no matter what side. They each had their beliefs and values. I appreciate the information you all posted and I will be checking this site more frequently. Thanks to all of you.

  38. Dona Abbott says:

    This was all very interesting and new information for me, a history enthusiast. Thanks to everyone who contributed! Much appreciated!

  39. My great x3 grandfather, John Clark Ely died on the Sultana. He had just been released as a POW from Andersonville. He left a wife and child in Ohio. There is a Sultana Memorial Museum in Arkansas with lots of memorabilia, including some of JC Ely’s possessions there.

    • Norman Shaw says:

      Do you know Sultana author and attorney Jerry Potter in Memphis, TN? I think it’s safe to say John Clark Ely is a hero to Jerry, who often mentions Ely in his Sultana talks.

      Both Jerry Potter and Gene Salecker are Sultana authors considered to be experts on the Sultana disaster! While still doing research on their respective books, they first met at our initial Sultana reunion in Knoxville, TN, in April 1988.

      Any Sultana descendant or Friend can join our Sultana Descendants Association at no cost, just write me at [email protected] and I will add you to my email master list to receive information on future reunions and articles of interest. See our Facebook page and web site.

      Norman Shaw, Founder (1988)

  40. joyce kinzer says:

    My husband’s d=grandfather ( Hugh Kinzer) was on the Sultana. He was with the Ohio infantry. He survived .

  41. T. McPherson says:

    A couple of other reasons (besides Lincoln’s assassination) the Sultana disaster didn’t get a lot of national media attention –

    (1) the nation was weary of depressing news – a long and bloody war followed by the assassination of its president – so the Sultana story wasn’t given the headlines it should have rec’d, and

    (2) the disaster didn’t take place in the eastern part of the country, where it might have demanded more attention.

    The history of the coal torpedo is interesting. It was a thin shelled metal container with a screw-in plug (the plug similar to a fuze adapter for an artillery projectile). Black powder was put in the container, bees wax applied to the exterior, coal dust was applied to the bees wax, with the result looking like a lump of coal. The torpedo was added to the coal supply of a train engine, boat or ship engine, etc., and it would explode when added to the fire heating the water to create steam. The explosion would cause the boiler to explode, which was a more powerful explosion. As stated above, claims were made that a coal torpedo caused the sinking of the Sultana, but history doesn’t give much support to that possibility.

    I have what I think is an interesting story about one of the Sultana victims – but I am out of town, without access to my records, so I might add another post later.

    I don’t believe that this thread was “ruined” by any of the posted contributions, and suggest that anyone who thinks that it was try to be a little less sensitive.

  42. Conchita C Selvo says:

    I believe this was the river boat disaster that took the life of Mark Twain’s brother. He was taken to a Memphis hospital where he lingered long enough for his brother to reach him before he succumbed to his injuries.

  43. Tony Bauer says:

    Mention of the Confederate Hero who rescued so many Union soldiers from the Sultana disaster is one of the reasons it makes my blood boil when I hear about desecrations of Confederate statues and graves sites by far-left lunatics, who know nothing about our history and the fact that most all Americans dedicated themselves to healing our great country following such a traumatic struggle among our people.

  44. Jim bentley says:

    Excellent article on a major historical event
    I found the reply of relatives involved in the incident to be very interesting and informative thanks

  45. Patricia K Johnson says:

    I learned about the Sultana in 2018 when I was researching the Civil war soldiers who were buried in Elkhart (IN) Grace Lawn cemetery. Came across a Christian boss who I thought could have been of the age of a Civil war soldier. Ended up the one I was searching did not serve in the civil War. But I did find a Christian Boss who enrolled in Co I 44th Regt Indiana volunteers in Elkhart County. He was captured in the Battle of Chickamauga in Sept 1863, eventually ended up at Andersonville. He was released at the end of the war and made his way to Vicksburg where he was able to board the sultana with the intention of going North to his home. According to Salecker’s book and CW records , he was lost with the explosion. I have been trying to determine who his family was. There were Boss’s in Elkhart County, but they have no knowledge of him and have done extensive research on their family. Christian Boss was born about 1839 and enlisted in Elkhart County IN.
    I highly recommend Salecker’s book. I have his 1996 book and have been waiting for the more current book. glad it is now out.

  46. Len says:

    Is there a list of who died in the sinking of the ship? Tried to find a relative that was supposed to have died at Andersonville but could not find a grave for him and park ranger couldn’t find him on list. He was from Pennsylvania.

  47. Martha Johnson says:

    My Great Grandfather, John Aaron Tipton from Tennessee, was a passenger on the Sultana. Sadly he did not survive. He was one the prisoners released from Cahaba prison at the end of the war and was on his way home.

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