While the conclusion of the Civil War should have been a time of celebration, this fatal disaster was a sad blow for the families of soldiers who had managed to survive the cruelties of war only to perish upon their return trip home.
The steamboat Sultana departed port in New Orleans on April 21, 1865 bound for St. Louis, Missouri. Legally permitted to carry only 376 passengers, an estimated 2,200 to 2,500 passengers, primarily Union soldiers making their long awaited journey home, boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Many had been incarcerated at Confederate prison camps at Cahaba and Andersonville and were injured and or sick.
Bursting at the seams with passengers packed into berths and no room to move on deck, the overcrowded ship made its way up river past Memphis, Tennessee where it exploded in the early hours on April 27th.
An estimated 1,800 passengers either drowned or were blown to bits as a result of the explosion. Of the survivors, several hundred died days later from burns or exposure. Bodies were discovered for months downstream following the disaster and many were never recovered.
Located in front of the Hillsdale County Courthouse, (29 North Howell Street, Hillsdale) the Sultana Monument pays tribute to Union Soldiers, a large number from Hillsdale County, killed in what’s known as America’s greatest maritime disaster.
The Sultana Monument is one of 200+ sites of interest found in our new guidebook Glory, Valor & Sacrifice: Michigan Sites Significant to the Civil War.