Days after the end of the Civil War, the worst maritime disaster in American history occurs when the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,100 passengers, explodes and sinks in the Mississippi River, killing all but 400 of those aboard. The Mississippi, with its dikes and levees damaged by four years of war, stood at flood stage, and most of those who died were drowned in the surging river. All but 100 of those killed were Union veterans, and most were Yankee survivors of Andersonville and other brutal Confederate prisoner of war camps.
Many mourned the loss of these men, who survived the deplorable conditions at the Confederate camps only to die during their long-awaited trip home. The Sultana, overloaded with passengers, exploded just north of Memphis, Tennessee, in the early morning hours. The cause of the blast was determined to be a boiler malfunction.