Posts from the ‘Sultana’ Category

Steamboat SULTANA biographical information

The following information is from Way’s Packet Directory 1848-1994 compiled by Frederick Way Jr. The SULTANA is vessel number 5216 in the directory.


SW p wh b. Cincinnati, Oh., 660 tons. 260×42 (39 ft. floor) x 7. Engines, 25’s – 8 ft. Four tubular boilers, quite a fad at the time, each 46″ by 18 ft., having twenty-four 5″ flues. Paddlewheels 34 ft. dia. working 11 ft. buckets. Built at the John Litherbury yard, and machinery by Moore and Richardson. Launched Jan. 3, 1863, in a double ceremony, the LUMINARY, – almost a duplicate, also being launched. Built for Capt. Pres Lodwick, well known on the Upper Mississippi for his NORTHERN BELLE and NORTHERN LIGHT (both see) and was designated for the New Orleans trade. Due to the uncertainties of war, she was entered int the trade Cincinnati-Wheeling on February 12, which she continued until mid-March. In charge of the office was W.H. Cropper, with Charles Matthews, second clerk. J.W. Keniston was chief engineer. She then loaded for Nashville under U.S. auspices. Joe Curtis looked up the old U.S. Custom files at Memphis for 1864 and she first appears downbound for New Orleans on January 25, Capt. Lodwick. She was sold at St. Louis in early March 1864 to a number of firms and citizens of that place, also her new skipper Capt. J. Cass Mason, and first clerk W.J. Gamboel. They ran her St. Louis-New Orleans. Capt. Mason, about 34, was born in Lynchburg, Va., and was brought to Missouri as a child. He boated on the A.B. CHAMBERS and lately had been clerk and master of ROWENA i the Memphis trade. First clerk Gamboel lived in Glasgow, Mo., and had been a steamboat agent at Kansas City. The Memphis Custom’s entries show that due to the war she was forced to return to St. Louis from that port until along in August when she apparently went on through. On Feb. 9, 1865, Capt. J. Cass Mason, she departed Memphis for New Orleans. She was back at Memphis February 26, and returned to New Orleans from there. On Apr. 26, 1865, she cleared Memphis upbound, Capt. Mason. A notation on the Custom record: “Burned and 1600 persons perished.”

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

The Customs clerk used an approximation. The life-loss afterwards was set at 1,547 lives, at least 1,100 of whom were U.S. soldiers mustered out and returning to Northern homes. A popular and widespread belief was that Confederate spies had secreted dynamite in the coal bunkers, but three of her boilers had exploded without any help from spies. True, she had been having boiler trouble at Vicksburg where the troops came aboard. Nathan Wintringer, chief engineer, later testified that one boiler had been repaired there to his satisfaction. Capt. Speed, U.S.A. ordered 1,886 troops aboard this SULTANA which legally was allowed 376 persons, including the crew. It was common talk there at Vicksburg that two other large steamers, PAULINE CARROLL and LADY GAY, both bid for portions of these troops but were turned down. Landings were made at Helena, Ark. (where a photographer took a picture of her with the soldiers aboard), and another at Memphis. The night leaving Memphis was described as black with a thunderstorm gathering. A few miles above that city, in the crossing at Paddy’s Hen and Chickens, the explosion torched a ruddy glare among the cottonwoods of Tennessee and Arkansas and a dull rumble shook the countryside. The storm broke at the same time.

On the downbound trip to New Orleans, the last she made, the SULTANA carried the shocking news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to towns and hamlets cut off from all communication save what arrived by river. Now as she returned the nation’s newspapers were loaded with columns of excitement: J. Wilkes Booth had been located and killed; Lee had surrendered; the President was dead. A country geared to appalling losses took the SULTANA disaster with seeming indifference. The explosion happened early morning Apr. 27, 1865.

See S&D Reflector, issue June 1965, pages 10-12; also September 1965, page 12.

[Source: Way, Frederick Jr., Way’s packet directory, 1848-1994: passenger steamboats of the Mississippi River system since the advent of photography in mid-continent America, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio., 1994, p. 436.]

The SULTANA was built at the John Litherbury Shipyard in Cincinnati, Ohio.

According to Bill Judd on, “The Litherbury yard was on Eastern Ave. (now Riverside Drive) just about where the big crane is located at Cincinnati Barge & Rail terminal, what we old timers refer to as Sheet Metal. The Verdin Bell Co. plant is also close by. That would be in the 3000 block of Riverside Drive. The 131 3rd. address was the Litherbury residence. The Weeks shipyard was just downstream from Litherbury’s and John Litherbury was married to a Weeks daughter. One reason researchers have a rough time in this area is because it was known as Fulton and not in the Cincinnati Corporation until about the 1860’s.”

The 1860 Cincinnati City Directory lists John Litherbury at 165 E. Third Street.

The same directory also lists the following:
Ship Chandlers
Barker, Hart & Cook 44 Pub. Landing
Isham & Fisher 47 Pub. Landing

Steamboat Agents
Athearn & Hibbard 5 E. Front
Bennet, A. 14 Landing
Brown, H.W. & Co. 25 E. Front
Cox & Fulton 7 E. Front
Cunningham & Heron 22 W. Front
Irwin & Co. 22 Broadway
Johnston, Geo. L & Co. 29 W. Front
M’Burnie Theoph., 3 E. Front
Paul & Murdock 13 Water
Ross & Co. 33 Sycamore
Schram, A.D., 23 Walnut
Sherlock, Thomas 20 Broadway

Steamboat Builders
Hambleton, S.T. & Co. 1215 E. Front
Horsley & Ehler 248 W. Front
Johnson, Morton & Co. 585 Front

Steamboat Inspectors
Custom House Building
Guthrie, James V. 422 W. 6th
Haldeman, Thos. J. 57 E. 4th

Boat Stores
Barker, Hart & Cook 44 Public Landing
Cullen, James 46 Public Landing
Isham & Fisher 47 Public Landing
Witte, Ferdinand 17 E. Front

The 1863 Cincinnati City Directory lists: Litherbury, John, saw mill, s.s. E. Front e. of Willow, b. 131 E. Third

Sultana Descendants to hold reunion this weekend

Courtesy of Sultana Remembered

Reunion 2011

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

This year’s annual Sultana Reunion is in Mansfield, Ohio April 29-30!

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to make your reservations at the Holiday Inn by calling (419)525-6000 for Friday, April 28th and Saturday, April 30th. Mention that you are with the Sultana Association to get the group discount of $83.00 per room/per night.

The banquet Saturday night (the 30th) will be a t 6:30 pm and will be an all-you-can-eat buffet. Price is $19.00 per person, including meal, drink, tax and gratuity.

Send check ASAP to:
Richard Troup
235 Poplar Drive
McConnelsville, Ohio 43756

Any questions for Richard, email him at:

A Soldier’s Story [Sultana Remembered]

A new website was launched last month called Sultana Remembered by the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends. This is one of their stories.

“A Soldier’s Story” – from the Sultana

In April of this year, seventy-five members of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends came to the Carter House, the centerpiece of the Battle of Franklin, TN of November 30, 1865.  The visit was an important part of their tour of the Franklin battlefield area because many of them had an ancestor who was part of the Union army which defended itself against General Hood’s Confederates on November 30, 1864.

Most of the soldiers who were captured at Franklin ended up on the ill-fated steamer, the Sultana.  This boat, which exploded and burned to the waterline on April 27, 1865, was carrying approximately 2,400 recently released prisoners of war on their way home from Confederate prisons.  This event stands today as this country’s worst marine disaster.

The group listened in fascination as Carter House Historian David Fraley recounted the events leading up to and including the action around the Carter House.  It was agreed by all that his presentation  helped everyone see and feel what the soldiers and sequestered members of the Carter family felt on that day.

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

For those whose ancestors stood on this very ground it was an especially moving experience.  My own great-great grandfather, Pvt. Adam Schneider, 183rd Ohio Infantry, had been mustered into this newly formed regiment just weeks before in Cincinnati,  where he and his family had emigrated from Germany in 1854.  He was a “standby,” or a “100% man,” who was called into service when one of the original draftees from the city’s 12th Ward couldn’t fulfill his obligation.

At 42, he was three years shy of the cutoff age for the draft at that time.  When his regiment headed for Franklin after only three weeks of training, he left a wife and three small daughters at home.

Arriving at Franklin after joining Schofield’s army at Spring Hill, most of the183rd was placed near the Carter House among veteran troops, with the thought that Hood would not attempt a frontal assault against the entrenched Union army.  Of course, that is exactly what he did and my grandfather was captured that day, taken to Cahaba Prison near Selma, Alabama, and ultimately ended up on the Sultana that following April. I am sure he boarded the boat happily anticipating being reunited with his family.

He never had that reunion.  He, and nearly 1,800 others died when a faulty boiler exploded just after midnight as the boat made its way up the three-mile wide river, seven miles north of Memphis.  The water was frigid and the prisoners were fragile;  the death toll was fearful.

For many reasons, I’m sorry that grandpa Schneider didn’t survive.  Life without him was hard and sad for my great-great-grandmother, who now had to raise her children alone.  She never remarried and lived on the $12/month veterans’ survivor pension until her death in 1912, when another marine disaster, the sinking of the Titanic, shocked the world.  Her children never had a father, but thankfully all, including my great grandmother (Elisabeth, born in 1862) grew up to be well-adjusted adults who were happily married and raised upstanding families.

Instead of thinking of his death, I like to picture Grandpa Schneider coming back to reunions at Franklin with his family – standing at the Carter House and pointing toward distant Winstead Hill saying, “Mein Gott! What a day that was!  I can’t believe I lived to tell about it!”

—Pam Newhouse

Original article featured in The Washington Times- June 25, 2008

On this date in 1865: Tragedy on the Mississippi – Sultana explodes, thousands die


On 27 April 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, causing the greatest marine disaster in U.S. history. Approximately 1,700 people, mostly discharged Union soldiers, lost their lives on a frigid spring night when boilers aboard the over-crowded steamer exploded. April 1865 brought turmoil in America with General Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln’s assassination, and John Wilkes Booth’s death. As a result, the Sultana tragedy was given few headlines in American’s influential newspapers.

Launched from Cincinnati, Ohio, in January 1863, the side-wheeled steamer was named Sultana meaning a sultan’s wife, sister, or mother. It was considered one of the best steamers of its time with its new lightweight tubular boilers. The boat measured 260 feet in length and had the capacity to carry 1,000 tons while trimming only 34 inches of water; thus making it ideal for travel on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers. It provided accommodations for 376 passengers including crew, which was the Sultana’s legal capacity.

Like many boats during the Civil War, the Sultana came under fire. Twice in 1863, Rebel forces fired at the boat, causing heavy damage to its upper works. The Union ironclad Eastport also fired upon the Sultana later that year on the Mississippi River. As the Union began to seize more of the Mississippi River Valley, the Sultana began to carry troops, supplies, and cargo for the Federals.

Ill-fated Sultana, Helena, Arkansas, on or about April 26, 1865

On 21 April 1865, the Sultana departed from New Orleans with 100 passengers and headed north on the Mississippi River. As the boat steadily moved upriver, a Sultana engineer noticed a leaking boiler and sought out a boilermaker in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to repair the problem on 23 April. The boilermaker, R.G. Taylor, told Captain J. Cass Mason that two sheets on the boiler had to be replaced. Concerned about time and money, Captain Mason told Taylor to patch the boiler and promised to finish he repairs once he reached St. Louis. Taylor disagreed with Mason, but made the patch for the Sultana anyway.

Owners of the Sultana, which included Captain Mason, anxiously awaited the layover in Vicksburg. In Vicksburg, they hoped to find former Union prisoners of war from Cahaba and Andersonville prisons because a government contract offered boats five dollars per enlisted soldier and ten dollars per officer to take them back north. Even though there were two steamboats docked at Vicksburg, Captain Mason and other Sultana officers lobbied prison officials to let their steamboat take all the soldiers. The tactic worked. The Sultana left the dock on the evening of 24 April 1865 with approximately 2,100 troops, 200 civilians, and cargo, more than six times its legal carrying capacity. The former prisoners, weakened from disease, dysentery, and malnutrition, were cramped together but in good spirits because the war had ended, and they were only a few days from reaching their homes.

On the evening of 26 April, the Sultana reached Memphis, Tennessee, to unload cargo, and then crossed the river to Arkansas to buy coal. Soon afterward, the boat slowly moved against the stream at 1:00 A.M. despite continued boiler problems and a strong current. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River rose to flood stage from spring rain and levees and dikes ruined by the war.

Seven miles north of Memphis at 2:00 A.M., the Sultana swung around a bend and began to labor through Paddy’s Hen and Chicken Islands. An explosion instantly tore through the decks above the boilers. Red-hot shrapnel and steam from the boilers killed or maimed scores of passengers instantly. The eruption hurled many people into the air and out into the frigid river. Passengers threw doors, shutters, mattresses, bales of hay, and anything else buoyant overboard. Few life preservers, only one lifeboat, the flood conditions, darkness, and weakened passengers made the chances of survival slim.

The explosion was audible in Memphis, but it took two hours for help to arrive. A steamboat heading down river and boats from Memphis went to help after hearing the screams and seeing the flames. But for most, it was too late. While rescuers attempted to save people still clinging to makeshift rafts or treetops, they saw the river full of dead bodies floating downstream. Boats searched for survivors all morning but stopped looking by midday. Of the estimated 2,300 passengers, only 600 survived. The rest died in the explosion, drowned in the dangerous currents, or died soon after their rescue.

On 30 April 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton created a board of inquiry to investigate the Sultana disaster. Rumors circulated that a Confederate had placed a torpedo in a lump of coal during the refueling in Arkansas, but nothing was proved. The board received testimony from surviving crew, passengers, and steamboat experts, but their reports only shifted blame from one person to another. Without conclusive evidence, the board decided that insufficient water in the boilers created the explosion, and that overcrowding did not cause the catastrophe. No individual was blamed for the tragedy, and no one knew definitively what caused the boiler malfunction.

With the nation’s mind focused on the closing scenes of the Civil War, little attention was given to the Sultana tragedy. The passengers who were lucky enough to survive formed the Sultana Survivor Association, which met every 27 April. More people died in the Sultana disaster than did on the Titanic 47 years later, yet the tragic story remains largely overlooked due to the dramatic events at the end of the war.

–          Nathan R. Meyer [Encyclopedia of the Civil War pages 1901-1902]

According to the National Park Service, “Sites at the bottom of rivers become land sites when the river channels change and get filled-in. In Tennessee, this happened with the paddlewheel steamboat Sultana. In 1865, just days after the end of the American Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the Sultana exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis. Built to carry 376 people, the Sultana was overloaded with Union soldiers going home after release from Confederate prison camps. Accounts vary on the cause of the explosion and the extent of casualties but agree this is the greatest maritime disaster in United States history. In 1982, the remains of the Sultana were discovered in an old filled-in river channel near Memphis on the Arkansas side.

For further reading

Elliott, James W. Transport to Disaster (1962).

Potter, Jerry O. The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster (1992).

Salecker, Gene Eric. Disaster on the Mississippi: The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 (1996).

Walker, John L. Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster (1910).

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