A Forgotten Tragedy: America’s Worst Maritime Disaster


On April 27, 1865 the Mississippi River paddlewheeler, Sultana, was utterly destroyed when a boiler explosion ripped through the ship. The legal capacity of the ship was 376 persons but on this faithful night the ship was loaded with an estimated 2,400 passengers. The vast majority of passengers on board the Sultana were newly released Union prisoners of war on their way back home from a long and bloody war.

All told an estimated 1,800 people die that night. The tragedy resulted in a greater number of casualties then even the notorious sinking of the Titanic in 1912. So why haven’t more Americans heard of this great maritime disaster? Well the answer is simple. 1865 marked the end of the American civil war. President Lincoln had just been assassinated and the nation was facing countless tragedies on both a personal and national level. The turbulence of the time meant that the greatest disaster in American maritime history when largely unreported and has truly become a forgotten disaster.

For more information on the Sultana check out these links below.

Wikipedia: Sultana (steamboat)

National Geographic: Remembering Sultana