THE SULTANA DISASTER
The Sultana, a Civil War-era paddle-wheel steamboat, exploded and burned on the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. Acknowledged by Congressional Resolution as the greatest maritime disaster in United States history, nearly 1,200 of the more than 2,200 passengers and crew were killed in the explosion and fire which sank the Sultana near Marion, Arkansas, across the river from Memphis, Tennessee. Designed to carry only 376 passengers plus crew, investigations revealed a litany of corrupt practices, including kickbacks, and bribes paid to high-ranking Union officers caused the overcrowding of the boat. The disaster has been overlooked in history since it was overshadowed by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the search for his murderer. Events at the end of the Civil War conspired to wipe the memory of this tragic event from our national history for over 130 years. In its magnitude, the story of the Sultana is as great as that of the more famous Titanic, and yet much more intriguing.
The mission of the Sultana Disaster Museum is to tell the story of the tragedy that occurred on April 27, 1865, and the events that led up to that fateful night. The museum is committed to telling the full story of the steamboat, from its construction to its destruction and beyond. Stories of the men who were freed from Andersonville and Cahaba prisoner of war camps and how and why they were grossly overcrowded onto one steamboat are told in great detail. Compelling accounts from the victims on board the Sultana, rescuers along the Mississippi River, as well as many Union officers involved in the selection and overcrowding of the boat are on display in the museum.