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The loss of the Sultana

Loss of the Sultana

By Jon Hamilton - NPR

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded and sank while traveling up the Mississippi River, killing an estimated 1,800 people.

The event remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history (the sinking of the Titanic killed 1,512 people). Yet few know the story of the Sultana's demise, or the ensuing rescue effort that included Confederate soldiers saving Union soldiers they might have shot just weeks earlier.

So on the 150th anniversary of the sinking, the city of Marion, Ark., is trying to make sure the Sultana will be remembered. The city has created a museum and is hosting events intended to bring attention to the tragedy.

Marion, across the river from Memphis, Tenn., is near the spot where the 260-foot side-wheeler came to rest. "We feel like we're a part of this Civil War story, but we're the conclusion that no one heard," says Lisa O'Neal, a Marion resident and member of the Sultana Historic Preservation Society.

The Sultana was on its way from Vicksburg, Miss., to St. Louis when the explosion occurred, says Jerry Potter, a Memphis lawyer and author of The Sultana Tragedy. It was just weeks after the Civil War ended, Potter explains, and the vessel was packed with Union soldiers who'd been released from Confederate prison camps.

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