NFPA Journal - March/April 2013 - (Page 88)

>>LOOKING BACK Death on the River They survived the Civil War and a Confederate POW camp—but not the SS Sultana IN THE SPRING OF 1865, after spending months in the notorious With a load approximately six times its legal capacity, the Confederate prison camps of Andersonville and Cahaba, all the Sultana set off for Memphis to pick up more cargo, then crossed freed Union soldiers wanted to do was to go home. That April, the river to Arkansas to load coal. In the wee hours of April 27, they finally got their chance. They boarded the Mississippi River the ship was again on its way north when the repaired boiler steamship SS Sultana at Vicksburg, Mississippi, eager to see their exploded, as did two others. Shrapnel and steam tore through the families again, some for the first time in years. deck above the boiler room, killing many passengers outright and Most never made it home. At 2 a.m. on April 27, about seven hurling hundreds of others into the frigid waters of the Missismiles north of Memphis, one of the Sultana’s boilers exploded, sippi. Those who could grabbed anything else that might float and triggering a deadly chain of explosions and fire. An estimated jumped to escape the flames that erupted around them. 1,700 people were killed in the incident, making it the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history—dead- SHRaPNEl and steam tore through the deck above the boiler lier even than the sinking of the Titanic 47 years room, killing many passengers outright and hurling hundreds of later, when slightly more than 1,500 people died. others into the frigid water. The SS Sultana, built in 1863 to ply the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Louis, was designed to carry a The explosion was heard all the way back in Memphis, and resmaximum of 376, including a crew of 85. When it left New Orleans cuers responded immediately. By the time they arrived, however, on April 21, it carried between 75 and 100 passengers. The boat most of the passengers were beyond help. “Boats searched for landed at Vicksburg on April 23 to take on more passengers and survivors all morning but stopped looking by midday,” according to to repair one of its four boilers, which was leaking. When told that “Of the estimated 2,300 passengers, replacing the boiler would take days, the captain told the boileronly 600 survived.” Despite rumors of sabotage, a board of inquiry maker to patch it instead and said he would replace it when they concluded that the explosion was the result of insufficient water in reached St. Louis. the boilers. No one was blamed for the tragedy. The captain also persuaded army representatives to let him The wreckage of the Sultana lay undisturbed for more than 100 take aboard 2,000 or more newly released Union soldiers, thereby years as the river flowed over it, changing course every now and earning the $5 a head that the government was offering to carry then. In 1982, in a field near Memphis, archeologists unearthed each former POW north. The soldiers, many weak from disease blackened planks believed to belong to the ill-fated ship. and malnutrition, crammed themselves into every available space. —Kathleen Robinson 88 NFPA JOURNAL MARCH/APRIL 2013

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - March/April 2013

NFPA Journal - March/April 2013
First Word
In a Flash
Heads Up
Structural Ops
In Compliance
Electrical Safety
Wildfire Watch
Cover Story: Storage Occupancies
Fifty Years of Smoke Detection
Industrial Occupancies
Chicago 2013
Fire Analysis + Research
Section Spotlight
What’s Hot
Looking Back

NFPA Journal - March/April 2013