Sultana The Titanic of the Mississippi

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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Here's an article from the San Francisco Chronicle regarding the Sultana, which sank in the Mississippi River when its boilers exploded:

Descendents seek memorial to nation's worst maritime disaster

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) -- Descendants of Union soldiers killed in the worst maritime disaster in American history are asking city leaders in Vicksburg to help erect a marker to those who died on what has been called the ``Titanic of the Mississippi.''

Civil War historian Pam Newhouse knows all about the ill-fated journey of the steamship Sultana that left the wharf at Vicksburg on April 24, 1865. Her great-great-grandfather was one of the estimated 1,700 passengers who died three days later when three of the ship's four boilers exploded as Sultana steamed north to Cairo, Ill.

By contrast, about 1,500 died when the Titanic sank 47 years later in the North Atlantic.

The spring of 1865 had seen the end of the four-year Civil War and Vicksburg had become a staging area for former prisoners of war returning to their Northern homes.

Exact numbers were not kept, but it is estimated that some 2,300 people, most of them former POWs, were packed aboard the steamer when it left Vicksburg. The Sultana's legal limit was 376.

About seven miles upriver from Memphis, the Sultana passed a cluster of islands known as the ``Hen and Chickens'' around 1 a.m. There, earlier hasty repairs on one of the boilers gave out, and the midsection of the ship exploded in a ball of fire seen as far away as Memphis.

I think Clive Cussler's NUMA organization is trying to locate the wreck.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Hi Jan, If Cusslers chums are trying to find the wreck, I wish them all the luck in the world as they are going to need it. The course of the Mississippi has and continues to change constantly as the old Man Muddy fills in old channels and cuts new ones. If the wreck exists, it's as likely to be under some farmers field as it is to be in some channel somewhere.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
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Michael,

You're point about the river shifting around is well taken --according to the NUMA site several Civil War vintage ships have been located on the river, but they are sometimes found nine feet under a levee, or buried in the shoreline.

Incidentally, eight of the nine crewmember's remains on the C.S.S. Hunley have been located. Only the commander, Lieutenant George Dixon, has not yet been located --but they haven't got to where his post actually was. The remains were all found at the men's stations around the hand crank that propelled the submarine. It doesn't appear, therefore, that there was any last minute rush to escape from the submarine. Pretty sad.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,587
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Easley South Carolina
Hi Jan, pretty sad is right, but not really all that surprising as the hatch wasn't exactly designed for rapid evacuation. When the time comes for their burial, I hope they get it with all the military honors they deserve. They may have been on the wrong side, but their courage, commitment, and devotion to duty is above question.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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A few days ago the researchers recovered a skull from the Hunley. Apparently, what they want to do is reconstruct the looks of the submarine sailors from the skulls. That sounds a bit macabre to me. It was done with the sailor's skeleton found in La Salle's ship off the Texas coast two years ago. I confess that it would make a cool exhibit, and generate museum revenues --but it sounds a bit tacky.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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A Union soldier's dog tag has been found among the C.S.S. Hunley crew's remains. It was found with a skull, and therefore, is believed to have been worn around the neck of the individual. This is very strange. The dog tag identifies Ezra Chamberlain, a Union solider who purportedly died at the Fort Wagner, battle on July 11, 1863. He is buried in a graveyard in Connecticut. How did his dog tag get aboard the Hunley? There's some speculation on this. One of the theories is that he was a Union spy aboard the Hunley. Check out http://www.hunley.org