by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)
As the Civil War neared an end, the Confederacy moved prisoners from
Andersonville and released them into Union hands. After
Lee’s surrender, those men and released prisoners from ’s Cahaba Prison were loaded onto the
steamboat Sultana to be sent north.
At long last, the horror was over—or so they thought. Alabama
The Sultana was built to carry 376 passengers and a crew of 85. After civilian passengers had boarded, the released prisoners were loaded onto the decks until the weight of the men caused the floors to sag. Posts were brought in to shore up the floor, and more men boarded.
government paid steamboat lines for each soldier they carried, which provided
incentive to carry as many as possible. The final number was around 2,500. U.S.
Around 2:00 AM on April 27, 1865, the boat’s boilers exploded. The explosion, its fire, the boilers’ scalding water, and drowning in the
killed nearly 1,800—more than
would die on the Titanic fifty years later. Mississippi
After hearing those staggering numbers, I wondered why I had never previously heard about the Sultana (which was built in my home city of
). The news in April, 1865,
announced the end of the bloodiest war in Cincinnati history, the assassination of
President Lincoln, and the search for and death of assassin John Wilkes Booth.
The deaths on the Sultana just
weren’t considered the most important news of the day. It was a story I had to