Sunday, August 16, 2009

Riverboat Disaster Worst in History

The worst maritime disaster in US history occurred on the wooden-hulled steamboat Sultana. Just days after the assassination of President Lincoln the Sultana was headed north up the Mississippi, severely overloaded with Union soldiers. The soldiers had just been released from Confederate prison camps. In the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, at least one of the four steam boilers powering the paddle wheel exploded ripping the ship apart and setting it on fire. 1,400 of the 2,400 passengers on board that night died in the explosion, in the many fires, or by drowning. The Sultana's legal passenger limit was only 400.
Greed and negligence appear to be the main reasons for the Sultana disaster. One of the boilers had been leaking. The ship was not docked long enough for a safe repair. One of the ship's owners was a Union soldier who was fighting a court martial for stealing money from the army.