When the Steamboat Sultana Took the Lives of Over 1,100 Souls
It was such a glorious vessel on the river. The steamboat Sultana carried over 2,300 people up the Mississippi River. However, it would be forever remembered as the boat that would claim over 1,100 lives in 1865.
The steamboat Sultana was traveling between New Orleans and St. Louis when President Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. 13 days later, it would be known for it's own tragedy that would make it forever be known as the Titanic of the Mississippi River. According to Wikipedia, the Sultana was only designed to carry a few hundred passengers. On this trip, it was hosting over 2,100.
Trouble began south of Vicksburg, Mississippi when one of the Sultana's boilers developed a leak. As the story goes, the mechanic brought in to repair the boiler was hurried as there were prisoners on board that would be lost to other vessels if the proper repair had been done which would have resulted in much money lost. So, the Sultana was only partially repaired as it returned to the river.
Early in the morning of April 27, 1865, the boilers began exploding one after the other. By the time it was done, it would be known as the worst maritime disaster in US history as documented by Britannica. The death toll would be estimated at over 1,800 initially with new estimates being just over 1,100 according to Wikipedia.
Local hospitals were filled with the survivors in the Memphis area. Wikipedia summarized the cause of what doomed the Sultana as this:
The official cause of the Sultana disaster was determined to be mismanagement of water levels in the boilers, exacerbated by the fact that the vessel was severely overloaded and top-heavy.
No matter if you blame greed or mismanagement, the steamboat Sultana remains the darkest hour in the history of the Mississippi River.