From Civil War

The Trouble with Steamboats

Ah hello!  My goodness it has been some time, has it not?  New place, new name… I think these changes are excellent, really excellent.

It’s spring here in the city, which means windy evenings and sunny days.  It is the kind of weather that makes you want to go sit on boat.  Not a very fast moving boat, maybe a boat powered by steam, that floats down river.  Maybe you want this boat to be cruisin’ the cool, historic waters of the Mississippi (it’s been sometime since I’ve typed that word.  I highly recommend it).

Ah yes, the mighty Mississippi (really rolls off the fingers), the cradle of American civilization where commerce and blood flowed like river water, on river water, in river water…. It’s not important what is important, at least to me, is that the Mississippi river is home to the GREATEST maritime disaster in US history.

It was April 27th, 1865. The Civil War would soon  draw to a close, Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated 11 days prior.  The SS Sultana, a girthy, wooden steamboat, commissioned by the War Department to transport released Union soldiers from Confederate prison camps, was making regular trips from New Orleans to Cincinnati.  The Sultana  had docked for the night in Vicksburg, Mississippi (Typing. So fun).  There the ship underwent minor repairs for leaky boilers, repairs done so poorly that later they would prove to be …… wait for it…… dum dum DUM!  FATAL!!!

Steamboat of doom heads out of Mississippi.

Yes it was the poorly patched boilers and the overcrowding of the Sultana (capacity was 376, yet more then a 1,000 were have estimated to perish) that led to the massive explosion on April 27th, 1865 at 2:00 am 8 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee (not quite as fun as Mississippi).  Bodies flew through the air and into the chilly, spring runoff of the Mississippi River.  It took over an hour for rescue boats to arrive.  You can imagine after spending more than an hour in the Mississippi’s (I could swim in that word) chilly spring water’s one could drown, develop hypothermia, or have an epic chicken fight.  Sadly the latter is not documented in the annuals of history.

The Sultana on Fire, bodies scattered about.

No exact death toll is known, but the US Customs Service marks it at 1,547.  Others speculate that it could have been as high as 1,900.  Titanic, what?

And so was the most disastrous maritime incident in US History.  Fascinating stuff, stuff I never knew, until I stumbled onto wikipedia, the Mississippi (and one last time!) river where my Steamboat of truth and history floats.