In the Review Queue: Sultana

by Brett Schulte on March 15, 2009 · 1 comment

The “In the Review Queue” series provides TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog readers with a brief look at books Brett Schulte is planning to review here on the blog.  These will be very similar to Drew Wagenhoffer’s “Booknotes” series at Civil War Books and Authors.

I recently received Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History in the mail from HarperCollins Press.  For those of you who don’t know, the Sultana was a steamer which was transporting Union soldiers home, many of whom had survived the fighting of the Civil War and the horrid conditions at Andersonville.  Unfortunately, in the worst maritime disaster in United States history (for once the subtitle of a book isn’t an exaggeration!), the Sultana blew up and sank in the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865, resulting in the deaths of over 1700 of the 2400 passengers.  The book follows three Union soldiers through the war and to their fateful trip on the Sultana, and after the disaster.  The book looks to be directed at a wider audience than the typical books I read and the author is a freelance journalist, so I expect this story to be well written.

The information on the book from the publisher’s web site follows:

Price: $19.95
On Sale: 3/24/2009
Formats: E-Book | Hardcover

Available E-Book Formats: Microsoft Reader | Adobe eBook Reader | Gemstar eBook | MobiPocket | Palm Reader | Sony

A powerful account of a surprisingly forgotten tragedy of the Civil War

A stunning wartime account of human endurance and adventure, and an exploration of just how much the human body and mind can take, Sultana follows several young Union soldiers through the Civil War and what was, for them, its unimaginably disastrous aftermath. We see them enlist and then almost immediately be plunged into a cascading series of wartime horrors: Battle, trauma, prison camp, and, finally, the sinking of the Sultana, the steamboat that was taking them back home.

On an April night in 1865, the Sultana slowly moved up the dark Mississippi, its overtaxed engines straining under the weight of a human cargo that included an estimated twenty-four hundred passengers—more than six times the number it was designed to carry. Most were weak, emaciated Union soldiers, recently paroled from Confederate prison camps, on their way home after enduring the violence of war. At two a.m., three of Sultana‘s four boilers exploded. Within twenty minutes, it went down in fire and water, taking an estimated seventeen hundred lives.

The sinking of the Sultana remains the worst maritime disaster in American history, yet due to a confluence of contemporary events (Lincoln had recently been assassinated and the war had ended), it soon faded into relative obscurity. Now Alan Huffman presents this harrowing story against the backdrop of the endless suffering already endured by its survivors. Using contemporary research as well as digging deep into archives and family keepsakes, Huffman paints a gripping portrait of the young men who made it home alive.

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