review: “Sultana” revisits a little-known American disaster | Arkansas News

By ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press

“Destroying the Steamer Sultana” by Gene Eric Salecker (Naval Institute Press)

Nearly 1,200 people perished when the steamer Sultana exploded and burned in the early morning hours of April 27, 1865 in the Mississippi River. It’s the worst maritime disaster in US history, but it’s not as well known as other doomed ships like the Titanic or the Lusitania.

In “Destruction of the Steamboat Sultana”, Gene Eric Salecker offers a full and sometimes compelling account of the disaster. The book is the second written on the Sultana by Salecker, a retired police officer and teacher who is a consultant on the Sultana disaster. Marion Museum, Arkansas.

The sinking of the Sultana happened during one of the most important months in the country’s history, just days after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War.

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Most of the passengers on the overcrowded ship were Union soldiers who had been held as POWs, eventually on their way home from captivity.

Unsurprisingly, the most captivating sections of Salecker’s book are descriptions of the ship’s destruction and its aftermath. Salecker skillfully lets the stories of survivors, rescuers and witnesses speak. These stories leave readers with haunting images that will stay with them.

Although not as dramatic as the descriptions of the disaster itself, Salecker’s book also examines in detail the mechanical causes as well as the human factors that contributed to so many deaths. It further debunks already disproven but persistent conspiracy theories that the explosion was caused by Confederate saboteurs.

The book is a must read for Civil War enthusiasts and those who wish to learn new details about the Sultana. While sometimes hard reading for those unfamiliar with the event, Salecker’s account is a solid introduction to an often-overlooked piece of history.

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