Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History (HarperCollins, 2009)
Sultana is a survival story set during and after the American Civil War. It follows three soldiers as they journey through the ravages of war, being wounded and imprisoned and finally released, only to face the greatest challenge of their lives at a time when they thought their troubles were behind them.
In April 1865, as the steamboat Sultana slowly moved up the flooded Mississippi River, its overtaxed engines straining under the weight of 2,400 passengers—mostly Union soldiers recently paroled from Confederate prison camps, three of its four steam boilers exploded. Within 20 minutes, it went down in flames and an estimated 1,700 people lost their lives – more than would later die on the Titanic.
The story of the Sultana disaster — a poignant, tragic tale riddled with pathos and political intrigue, barely garnered a footnote in history, lost as it was in the turmoil of the times: the war’s end, the assassination of President Lincoln and the pursuit of his murderer, John Wilkes Booth. In addition to shedding light on this forgotten episode, the book chronicles an epic survival tale for those who endured war, disease and starvation, waking up aboard a burning boat on a flooded river, and finally, dealing with the consequences for the rest of their lives.
You can watch a C-SPAN video of “The Diane Rehm Show” episode about Sultana here.