Post Civil War Disaster
In April, 1865, Union POWs were gathered at Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were loaded on steamboats for the trip to Cairo, Illinois, At 9 p.m., on April 24, the riverboat Sultana packed with freed Union POWs left Vicksburg headed up river. One boiler had a weakened spot that bulged. A quick patch was applied so the boat would not miss the lucrative job of carrying the POWs.
On Apil 26, the Sultana docked at Memphis to pick up coal. At midnight she headed upriver. At 2 a.m., April 27, the repaired boiler exploded. Two of the three other boilers exploded. Fire spread through mid-ship. The two smokestacks fell onto the boat, crushing the Hurricane or top deck and killing many men on the overcrowded deck. Those who survived panicked and rather than fighting the fire began to jump into the river. The flames started sweeping toward the stern, causing more panic and jumping. Of the 2,500 passengers, 1,900 died.