Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home
Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home

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Annotation: Provides a detailed account of the 1865 sinking of the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River, a preventable disaster that was fueled by greed and haste, and which left more than 1,500 dead.
Catalog Number: #148803
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Copyright Date: 2017
Edition Date: 2017
Pages: 196 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-7636-7755-8 Perma-Bound: 0-605-99158-8
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-7636-7755-8 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-99158-3
Dewey: 973.7
LCCN: 2017956985
Dimensions: 24 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
It may surprise many to learn that the worst maritime disaster in American history was not the sinking of the Titanic. It happened 47 years prior, but the story begins during the Civil War, when the prisoner exchange system ended and the Andersonville prison camp swelled with Union soldiers. Once the war ended, these prisoners needed to be returned home, and transporting troops became a lucrative business for steamboats along the Mississippi River. Walker sets the scene for the Sultana disaster as she describes the captain's greed (allowing 2,400 passengers when the legal capacity was 376), the chief engineer's decision to repair rather than replace a deteriorating boiler, the flooded river, and other factors that would come into play. She tells the story through the lens of select soldiers and paying passengers, who each met different fates aboard the steamer. The author not only relates the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 1,537 lives but also why it was almost forgotten. History buffs, and even adults, will be the biggest fans of this crossover YA title.
Horn Book
On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana--overcrowded with Union soldiers being transported home from POW camps--sank. The events were overshadowed by news of Lincolns assassination. Walker takes digressions into steamboats, POW camps, and the Civil War; it can be somewhat challenging to keep track of the various characters introduced. Numerous photographs, maps, portraits, and lithographs are interspersed. Extensive source notes are appended. Bib., ind.
Kirkus Reviews
The worst maritime disaster in American history, one that could have been easily prevented, is comprehensively recounted in this briskly paced narrative. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat, exploded just north of Memphis on the Mississippi River. The boat, which had a capacity of 376, was carrying over 2,000 passengers, most of them Union soldiers recently released from prisoner-of-war camps. When the Sultana's boilers exploded, passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam or fire, and flung overboard into the cold, churning Mississippi River. Despite rescue efforts, over 1,500 lives were lost. The narrative focuses on five survivors. Walker chronicles their experiences in battle and as prisoners of the Confederates, their ordeals in the disaster and rescue, and what became of them after. She also discusses the official investigation into the disaster. The cause of the explosion was a damaged boiler that had not been properly repaired. Bribery was responsible for the gross overcrowding aboard the Sultana, but no one was ever held responsible or punished. In addition to archival illustrative material, Walker makes extensive use of primary sources, such as diaries and newspaper reports, although it is surprising more use is not made of the survivors' recollections Chester Berry collected and published in 1892. Quibbles aside, a finely detailed, well-researched chronicle of a little-known disaster. (maps, glossary, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
Publishers Weekly
Drawing on letters, diaries, and other eyewitness accounts, Walker (Winnie) delves into America-s worst maritime disaster: the 1865 sinking of the steamboat Sultana near Memphis, Tenn., with more than 2,000 paroled Union prisoners aboard. Beginning by detailing modifications to steamboat construction that allowed for Mississippi River navigation, Walker thoroughly investigates this forgotten disaster, whose loss of life exceeded that of the Titanic. She paints not-always-flattering portraits of key Army personnel and the crew, soldiers, and passengers aboard the luxurious Sultana, reconstructing-almost hour by hour-the crucial loading of the soldiers onto the ship and the aftermath of the boiler-s explosion. Replete with vivid details, including the terrible conditions in Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, Walker-s engrossing narrative builds to a horrific description of the terrified passengers- actions and ensuing civilian rescue efforts. Although Walker conveys astonishment, even outrage, that no one was held responsible for this tragedy, she presents the evidence with an even hand. After closing everyone-s story, she exhorts readers to apply the lessons from this preventable catastrophe to the present day. Period photographs, maps, a glossary, source notes, and bibliography are included. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 UpA comprehensive recounting of the devastating but largely overlooked explosion of the Civil Warera steamboat, the Sultana. In April 1865 the Sultana set off along the Mississippi River, loaded with an excess of 2,000 passengers, including civilians and formerly imprisoned Union soldiers. In addition to the sinking, Walker details peripheral events and factors, such as the appalling conditions at Confederate prisoner camps, which the Union soldiers were desperate to escape from; steamboat officers competing to make a profit; a shoddy last-minute repair to the boat's boiler; and the subsequent investigation, which failed to hold anyone accountable for the disaster. Walker includes numerous first-person accounts, adding an emotional depth to the narrative, although the extensive cast of characters is sometimes hard to keep track of. Diagrams, maps, and photos throughout help clarify technical descriptions and ground readers in the time period, and asides are featured sparingly to detail relevant topics, such as steam power technology. The extensive back matter makes this a valuable source for research. Readers who have already devoured the abundance of material on the Titanic will be drawn to the story of the Sultana, which despite being the "worst maritime disaster in American history" is often overshadowed. VERDICT A riveting and informative addition to nonfiction collections.Jessica Agudelo, New York Public Library
Voice of Youth Advocates
At the end of the Civil War, just after the assassination of President Lincoln, the steamboat Sultana’s boiler exploded and the ship sank in the flooded Mississippi. As the vessel was filled to overflowing with Union soldiers released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps along with a handful of regular passengers, well over one thousand lives were lost in the tragedy. It was the worst maritime disaster in American history but has been largely forgotten with the passage of time. Walker’s extensively researched narrative attempts to rectify this oversite. The drama of the explosion and rescue are put into the context of the appalling conditions of the Civil War prisoner-of-war camps and steamboat history, which makes for a lengthy preamble before the actual disaster unfolds. The magnitude of the disaster is personalized with the stories of individuals; however, the forty-four named individuals are difficult to keep track of as their stories are briefly and sporadically inserted into the text. The real strength of the book lies in the examination of the aftermath of the disaster, the mystery of the explosion, and the disappearance of the event from the better-known annals of history. As a supplement to the Civil War curriculum or as an examination of how history is made, this is an excellent resource. For book reports and free-choice reading, fans of the Titanic and other real-life disasters will find something new to sink their teeth into—if they are careful and patient readers.—Elizabeth Matson.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
ALA Booklist (Fri Sep 01 00:00:00 CDT 2017)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Horn Book (Sun Apr 01 00:00:00 CDT 2018)
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
School Library Journal (Fri Sep 01 00:00:00 CDT 2017)
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (pages [188]-191) and index.
Word Count: 33,132
Reading Level: 7.7
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 7.7 / points: 6.0 / quiz: 191876 / grade: Middle Grades+
Reading Counts!: reading level:10.3 / points:10.0 / quiz:Q72314
Lexile: 1090L

The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River — and it could have been prevented.

In 1865, the Civil War was winding down and the country was reeling from Lincoln’s assassination. Thousands of Union soldiers, released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, were to be transported home on the steamboat Sultana. With a profit to be made, the captain rushed repairs to the boat so the soldiers wouldn’t find transportation elsewhere. More than 2,000 passengers boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi . . . on a boat with a capacity of 376. The journey was violently interrupted when the boat’s boilers exploded, plunging the Sultana into mayhem; passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam, and flung overboard into the churning Mississippi. Although rescue efforts were launched, the survival rate was dismal — more than 1,500 lives were lost. In a compelling, exhaustively researched account, renowned author Sally M. Walker joins the ranks of historians who have been asking the same question for 150 years: who (or what) was responsible for the Sultana’s disastrous fate?

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