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SS Sultana

Worse than SS Titanic, SS Sultana was a Mississippi River steamboat paddlewheeler that exploded on April 27, 1865 in the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. An estimated 1,600 of Sultana's 2,400 passengers were killed when three of the ship's four boilers exploded and Sultana sank near Memphis, Tennessee. This disaster was overshadowed in the press by other recent events. President Lincoln's assassin, was killed the day before. The previous week ended the Civil War.

SS Sultana

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Photograph of Jesse M. Huffaker, Co. D, 3rd US Cavalry

Photograph of USS Sultana survivor, John H. Simpson

Photograph of dedication of USS Sultana monument in Knoxville's Mount Olive Baptist Church burial ground on July 4, 1916, on the occasion of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry reunion

This is my cousin John H. Keeble, Co. A, US 3rd Calvary who died on the SS Sultana. He did make it off the ship, but being a poor swimmer, he drown in the freezing waters of the Mississippi and his body was never recovered.

Inside the box was a small glass bottle containing some dried red Georgia clay from Andersonville Prison. The handwritten note attached to the bottle states, “A reminder of my stay at Andersonville Wm. L.” Additionally, the box contained a hand-carved, scrimshaw ivory figure of an alligator, apparently kept to remind Lugenbeal of his miraculous escape from the burning vessel.

The box was once owned by William Lugenbeal, 135th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who wrote in his memoirs in the Chester Berry book that he survived the disaster by killing the Sultana’s mascot alligator with a bayonet and then floated to safety in the pet’s sturdy wooden crate. Known as the “alligator killer,” the top of Lugenbeal’s curio box is adorned with an etching of an alligator and contains the words “Wm. Lugenbeal saved by a alligator

Sultana model

Harvey Annis who died along with his 7 year old daughter, Belle, after jumping from the Sultana into freezing waters. Only his wife Ann Annis survived.

  • Michael Annis
    Michael Annis

    His daughter's full name was Isabella Annis. The story of Harvey, Ann and Isabella is soon to be on the PBS program: The History Detectives

Ann Annis, a native if Liverpool, England move to the states after her first 2 husbands who were ship captains died at sea. She was on board the Sultana with her 3rd husband Harvey and 7 year old daughter Belle. She was the only survivor if the 3 and one of only a couple of women survivors. The bodies of her family were never found.

SS Sultana, a steamship that regularly traveled from St. Louis to New Orleans, was commissioned by the war department to transport just-released Union prisoners of war back home. The ship was legally registered to carry a maximum of less than 400 people, but with the government paying $5 per soldier, 2,300 soldiers were packed in so tightly that they could barely stand. At 2 a.m., April 27, three of the ship’s boilers exploded sending passenger, most of who couldn't swim to their deaths.

Ann Annis - Notable Women Ancestors

Sultana Disaster Memorial to the Sultana Disaster in Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee. On 27 April 1865 the SS Sultana exploded just north of Memphis, Tennessee on the Mississippi River. Of the 2400 people onboard, 1700 died. Most of the passengers were newly freed Union POWs heading home. At 2am the boilers exploded.

Caleb Rule was 24 years old at the time of the sinking of the Sultana. He survived due to being a great swimmer and lived to become a preacher at several churches in Sevier and Blount counties. He lived to the age of 72. His 20 year old brother John who could not swim drown in the icey waters and his body was never found.

According to accounts, the captain of the boat kept an alligator in the hull. After the explosion, soldier William Lugenbeal killed the alligator in order to use the crate that held it as a flotation device. Later, he made a box from the wood and etched an image of the reptile and the following words: "Save by a Alligator"

The 376 passenger vessel loaded over 2,200 people on board who were eager to get home after the fighting. A multiple boiler explosion killed an estimated 1,800 passengers and crew after midnight in the icy Mississippi River near Memphis TN in the Spring of 1865. 75 men from the Michigan 18th Infantry organized in Hillsdale Michigan lost their lives on this night.

There is a monument on the grounds of the Hillsdale County Courthouse in Hillsdale Michigan that remembers the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history and it's link to Hillsdale. The S.S. Sultana was a steam ship that was bringing soldiers home at the end of the American Civil War.

Albert Norris' grave - survivor of the Sultana

SS Sultana

SS Sultana

The State of Arkansas 175th Anniversary Collector's Grade Henry .30-30 rifle with blued barrel

At 2:00 AM, three of the four boilers on the ship exploded.  The ship began to burn, and finally sank, with a loss of approximately 1,800 souls.

The SS Sultana, a Mississippi River paddlewheel steamboat, packed with 2,400 passengers, left Memphis and headed north.  Most of the passengers were union troops who had just been released from duty and were headed home.  The capacity of the ship was 376.  This severe overcrowding made the vessel top heavy and unstable.

Lyrics of Love and Lore: Sultana

Captain J. Walter Elliott, Wabash College Class of 1858, survived the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville only to witness the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history aboard the S.S. Sultana.

Wabash College: Magazine Crawfordsville, Indiana


Zettwoch's Suitcase: The Sinking of the SS Sultana

SS Sultana

Zettwoch's Suitcase: The Sinking of the SS Sultana

SS Sultana

Zettwoch's Suitcase: The Sinking of the SS Sultana