Volume 33, Issue 3 (May 1988)
The III-Fated Passenger Steamer Sultana: An Inland Maritime Mass Disaster of Unparalleled Magnitude
On the night of 27 April 1865, the Sultana left Memphis for points north on the flood-swollen Mississippi River. An estimated 2347 individuals were on board this luxury passenger steamer—a boat designed to accommodate only 76 cabin passengers and 300 deck passengers.
At a point seven miles (11 km) north of Memphis near a group of islands known as Paddy's Hen and Chickens, 3 of the boat's 4 boilers exploded. The explosion, fire, and river claimed approximately 1547 lives, exceeding the death toll of the Titanic.
Why were so many passengers on board the Sultana? Why did the boilers explode? What were the stories of the survivors? And how does this tragedy compare with the Titanic disaster?
These questions are addressed along with other aspects of the tragedy. In addition, recent attempts by the authors to discover the exact location of the wreck are discussed.