April 27th 1865
On April 27, 1865 the steamboat Sultana sunk in the muddy waters of the Mississippi river. The steamer was seven miles north of the town of Memphis Tennessee, the ship exploded then went down with her crew and 2,300 just released Union POW’s.
The worst maritime disaster for the time, the sinking would be a final chapter in a series of atrocities that would befall the young states of America.
The timing of the disaster could not have been at a more muddied era. The Civil War, with all of its bloodshed, made the sinking just another massive loss of life. Both Union inspectors and Southern administrators investigated the circumstances that surrounded the explosion.
The complexity of the era, involving General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, President Lincoln’s assassination, and the ending of the Civil War, made the sinking a side act.
A couple thousand deaths, especially victorious Union troops, did not allow much sympathy for the entire country. When the news of many deaths from the local battlefields hit the news daily, the loss was seen as a due of war. The war was over; this was a maritime tragedy of epic, proportions.
The men that lost their lives were no less important than the troops that died on the field of battle. The investigation of the sinking discovered that it was mechanical failure that sent the men to their watery graves. Boilers were the engines that supplied the power of a steamship. One exploded and sent the prisoner transport to the bottom of the Mississippi river.
The terrible tragedy uncovered the slick “money-making” deals of the men who ran the transports, and forever labeled the carriers of men as those who needed to be watched. The administration detailed the disaster in a series of articles and reports. One of the most blatant acts of greed was that the ship was commissioned to not carry more than 365 passengers.
Questions arose that the overcrowded conditions of the steamship could have been the reason the boilers were overworked then exploded. If not for the greed of a few the lives of many could have been saved. War is a moneymaker for those who prey upon the vulnerable, the weary, and the innocent. The loss of life is a terrible thing to happen after a war is over, yet it does happen.