The Sultana was a commercial side-wheel steamboat that was built in Cincinnati, Ohio, that was owned by Captain Preston Lodwick. But did you hear about the boat’s tragic end?
In 1865, the Sultana Steamboat sank in the Mississippi River. The disaster claimed more than 1,400 passengers, almost the same number of casualties as the Titanic. The event remains to be the worst maritime disaster in US history.
The Sultana Steamboat Tragedy
The Sultana Steamboat was a wooden boat built in 1863. The Sultana was 260 feet long and had a legal capacity of 376 people. The steamboat often transported passengers and freight between St. Louis and New Orleans via the Mississippi River.
While docked in Vicksburg to address issues and undergo necessary repairs, the US Government contracted the boat just a few days after the Civil War. They wanted to utilize the vessel to transport former Union prisoners back into the Northern part of the country.
J. Cass Mason, Sultana’s captain, accepted the contract, but it meant that the boat wouldn’t receive more extensive and time-consuming repairs the boat badly needed. Mason opted to simply patch up the leaking boiler onboard. At the same time, Union Army captain George Williams hastily ordered for the ship to set sail. Mason feared that other officers were taking bribes to transport prisoners on other boats.
The request created a problem for the boat and its crew. More than 2,000 union troops were crowded into the ship, but the vessel could only carry 376 passengers. Despite several concerns of overloading expressed by other officers, Williams insisted that everyone travel on the Sultana.
The Sultana set sail on April 27, 1865. Due to the severe overloading and the fast river current, the newly patched boilers exploded. The boilers blew apart the boat and caused uncontrollable fires. More than 1,400 people died as the ship burned. Those who survived and were able to swim ashore died a few days later due to severe burns. The Sultana incident is the deadliest US maritime incident recorded in history. (Source: Battlefields)
What Happened to the General Slocum?
The Sultana incident was in 1865, followed by the General Slocum disaster in 1904. The General Slocum passenger steamboat was built in 1891, several years after the Sultana steamboat sank.
On June 15, 1094, the steamboat was chartered by a local church group, the St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, to make their annual trip to Locust’s Grove in Eaton’s Neck. The disaster started when the ship’s lamp room caught fire. Reports mentioned that a discarded cigarette most likely caused the fire.
In a few minutes, fires started in different parts of the boat. In a matter of minutes, the fires killed around 955 passengers. Researchers found that the fires could have been extinguished should the boat’s crew had thoroughly checked and maintained its fire-fighting equipment. Both ships, the Sultana and General Slocum sank due to poor maintenance efforts. Experts also discovered that the life vests were filled with 8 ounces of iron bars in the cork. (Source: Fantastic Facts)