Thursday, April 27, 2006

Today In History - the Sultana Disaster

On this date in 1865, the steamboat Sultana, transporting formerly-captured Union soldiers being repatriated home after the end of the Civil War, exploded, killing 1700 people in the worst maritime disaster in US history.
Although at the time the disaster received only limited press attention (Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated only 12 days previously, and war-hardened Americans were accustomed to seeing gory casualty figures), over time the tragedy has been memorialized all through the Mississippi valley.
Perhaps the most compelling element of the Sultana story is the fact that after the explosion, some 500 survivors, most terribly burned, were taken in and nursed by the ordinary citizenry of Memphis - people who had been the enemies of these soldiers just weeks before. One speculates about how much goodwill must have been generated in northern homes when their wounded finally arrived, bearing tales of the kindness and charity of the people of Memphis.

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