Memphis – Sultana Disaster

I remember watching Huckleberry Finn when I was younger and I’ve had it in my mind that it was meant to represent the Mississippi River. Whether or not it actually did, that’s what walking along the bank of the river kept reminding me of.

This sign showed a rather more sobering side to the river’s history, noting that just a short distance away from Memphis one of the worst maritime disasters in the world took place. It also remains the worst maritime disaster within the waters of the United States and it took place on 17 April 1865.

The boat, the Sultana, was designed to carry 376 passengers, but was carrying 2,155 when it exploded. The exact number of people killed is uncertain, but is likely to be around one thousand, although initial reports put it as high as nearly 1,500 people.

This photo was taken one day before the boat was destroyed and despite numerous enquiries, no-one was ever held responsible for the over-crowding which caused the tragedy. The boat was on its way from St. Louis to New Orleans and it carried mainly union soldiers who were returning home from the US Civil War, which was coming to its end.