Memphis, TN (near) Disaster Of The SULTANA, Apr 1865

The Sultana Artist Drawing of the Disaster Historical Marker (One of Several)



Cairo, April 28.
The following is the Memphis Bulletin's account of the disaster to the steamer SULTANA:
"The SULTANA arrived from New Orleans last night, the 26th, with about 2,200 people on board, 1,956 of whom were exchanged Federal prisoners from Vicksburg, the balance being refugees and regular passengers from various points down the river. Proceeding towards St. Louis, she left the coal pile about one o'clock in the morning, and had made some eight or ten miles when an explosion of one of her boilers occurred. The boat, with its mass of living freight, took fire in the vicinity of the engine, and in a short time she was burned to the water's edge, and now lies on a sand bar near Fogleman's Landing, with northing visible but her charred remains and her jackstaff standing erect.
The scene following the explosion was terrible and heartrending in the extreme. Hundreds of people were blown into the air, and descending into the water, some dead, some with broken limbs, some scalded, were borne under by the resistless current of the great river, never to rise again. Survivors represent the screams as thrilling. With no immediate succor at hand, the desperate efforts to save life were agonizing beyond precedent. Some clung to frail pieces of the wreck, as drowing men cling to straws, and sustained themselves for a few moments, but finally became exhausted and sunk. Only the best of swimmers aided by fragments of the wreck, were enabled to reach the woods, and there take refuge until rescued by boats sent from the landing here to their assistance. There were about fifteen women and children aboard, and, as nearly as can be ascertained, not more than two or three had been found at the hour when this account was written. Some of the wrecked people were borne by the current as far down as the Levee at this city, and this was the first intimation officers of the boats in port received of the terrible disaster. A yawl was immediately sent out from the Marble City, and in a few minutes seventeen persons were picked out of the water and brought ashore. Two were afterwards found clinging to the wheel, and they were also saved.
Upon being brought to a realization of the calamity, the officers of the boats in port, under notification of Captain SENIOR of the river guard, steamed up, and in a short time were at the burning steamer, where hundreds of people were picked up and brought to this landing, arriving about daylight. They were met by numbers of citizens and ladies, who supplied them with dry clothing from the Quartermaster's Department and from various stores.
At this time it is impossible to give a correct statement of the cause of the accident, and the number or names of the lost and saved. Everything is in the greatest confusion. ROWBERRY, first mate, was on watch, standing in the pilot house with Captain GEORGE CLAYTON, who was at the wheel at the time of the explosion. He only remembers the shock and that he was blown into the air, and was afterwards taken from the water. He saw the lower deck in flames, and knows no more. He can give no idea of the cause of the accident, and says the boat was going at the ordinary speed, and that all seemed well up to the moment of the explosion; that the second engineer, a sober reliable man named CLEMENS, was at the engines, and that nothing more than common was in progress. Captain CLAYTON was also hurled into the wreck among broken boilers and rubbish, sustaining slight injuries. He immidiately jumped overboard with a door, by which he was enabled to reach the Arkansas shore, three miles below, where striking a sapling he seized and clung to it until saved. CLEMENS, the engineer, was badly burned and scalded, and can hardly recover.
In the woods among the drift of the wreck, the officers of the Rose Hambleton found a family Bible containing the records of a family named SPIKE, of Assumption Parish, La. The names recorded are SAMUEL D. SPIKE and ELITHEN SPIKE, married Oct. 31, 1837. The record shows that there were twelve in the family. It was subsequently learned that the father, mother, three daughters, two brothers and a niece were lost. This family had $17,000 in gold, all of which was lost. The steamer Bostona No. 2, Capt. WATSON, was coming down the stream from Cincinnati when the explosion occurred, and rendered very valuable assistance saving many lives. The Pocahontas and Silver Spray, Marble City gunboats Essex, Rose Hambleton and others also rendered much service at the time of the explosion. Capt. MASON had retired from his watch and was in bed. He was afterwards seen throwing shutters and doors to the assistance of people in the water, and here all traces of him vanish. Clerks GAMBLE and STRATTON are also missed.
The body of WM. CRUDDES, Co. 1, 1st Virginia cavalry, from Wheeling, Va., was found. He had taken the precaution to label himself. Among the soldiers on board were thirty commissioned officers. The troops were of various regiments, and nearly all exchanged prisoners. They belonged principally to western regiments.
At the hour of writing only 500 or 600 had been saved. Not less than 1,000 lives were hurled into eternity by this most melancholy of all river disasters. Hon. W. D. SNOW, member of Congress from Arkansas, was on board, and escaped uninjured.

Janesville Gazette Wisconsin 1865-05-03

Transcribers Note: More people perished in this disaster than in the sinking of the Titanic. There are many sites you can visit to find more detailed information of the SULTANA. This article is just a very small example.


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