THE SULTANA DISASTER
The Sultana, a Civil War-era paddle-wheel steamboat, exploded and burned on the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. The Sultana Disaster has been acknowledged by Congressional Resolution as the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. The Sultana, only licensed to carry 376 passengers and crew, was overloaded with more than 2,100. More than half of the passengers and crew were killed in the explosion and fire which sank the boat near Marion, Arkansas, across the river from Memphis, Tennessee. Investigations revealed a litany of corrupt practices, including kickbacks and bribes paid to high-ranking Union officers, which caused the overcrowding of the boat and led to this deadly disaster. Despite its significance, the Sultana has been overlooked in history because it was overshadowed at the time by the surrender of General Robert E. Lee as well as the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the search for his murderer. These 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 before it was brought back to light. 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.
VISITORS TO THE MUSEUM
The Sultana Disaster Museum has been visited by people from all fifty U.S. states and from nations around the world. Take a look at the map to see where folks who have signed our visitor registry have traveled from.