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Topics in Chronicling America - The Sinking of the SS Sultana

A boiler explodes, shattering the silence of the night and throwing the hopeless passengers of the SS Sultana into the Mississippi River. Legally allowed to carry 376 people, the Sultana was carrying over 2,300 passengers, most of whom were Union soldiers recently released from Confederate prisons. The estimated death toll increases steadily to 1,700 or 1,800 in the worst maritime disaster in American history. Read more about it!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


Drawing of the Sultana explosion

Jump to: Sample Articles

Important Dates:

  • April 21, 1865. The SS Sultana, commissioned to transport paroled Union troops leaves New Orleans.
  • April 26, 1865. The Sultana arrives in Vicksburg, where one of the boilers undergoes repairs. The ship takes on over 2,200 Union troops.
  • April 27, 1865. A boiler explosion devastates the Sultana. Newspaper estimates vary from 1,400 to 1,700 dead. Others later die from their injuries adding to the death toll.
  • May 1865. Bodies of those killed in the Sultana disaster continue to be found for weeks after the disaster as they drift downstream and eventually come ashore.
  • January 1866. The court martial of Captain Fredric Speed for his role in overcrowding the Sultana begins.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] SS Sultana, General Washburn, Captain Frederic Speed, Vicksburg, Cairo, New Orleans, Mississippi, boiler, parole, union soldiers, and Confederate.
  • News of the sinking of the SS Sultana was notably overshadowed by the death of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, a day earlier. As such the front page only filter is not as useful as in other searches.
  • It is important to use a specific date range if looking for articles for a particular event in order to narrow your results.

Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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  October 6, 2014
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