Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five best books on the Steamboat Sultana, and America's greatest maritime disaster

Gene Salecker at Vicksburg's Sultana mural
My wife and I visited Vicksburg last month for the annual meeting of the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends. Next year we’ll meet in Marion, Arkansas for the 150th anniversary of the Sultana disaster. was a great pleasure to finally meet two authors who’ve written important works on the subject. Gene Salecker wrote what most consider the definitive study in, Disaster on the Mississippi, the Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865. Gene was our guide for the weekend, taking us to the site of Camp Fisk, where former Union POWs from Cahaba and Andersonville, Midwesterners, were processed for parole. Much of the area where Camp Fisk was situated remains undeveloped and bucolic. Once paroled, the soldiers were taken by train to the Vicksburg depot, from whence they hiked to the wharf and boarded steamboats for the trip home. The floodwall at Vicksburg boasts 32 murals depicting scenes from the town’s history, including the fateful boarding of over 2,000 Union soldiers onto the Sultana. was also a treat to meet author Alan Huffman (with Anne, at right), whose book, Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison,and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History, features Anne’s ancestor, Romulus Tolbert of the 8th Indiana Cavalry. In a bit of geographical schizophrenia, Alan splits time between his exceedingly quiet and lovingly restored old home in rural Mississippi, and an apartment in New York City. Alan has written some intriguing books on a broad array of subjects, which you can read about here other books round out the respectable Sultana bookshelf. First, Jerry Potter’s outstanding, The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster (Jerry also wrote the main article in "Blue and Gray" magazine’s Sultana issue –August 1990, vol. vii, issue 6). William O. Bryant’s contribution, from the University of Alabama Press, is Cahaba Prison and the Sultana Disaster, a fine, fast-moving, and well-documented narrative. And finally, an all-important collection of first-person accounts by survivors – recently reprinted in an attractive edition by the University of Tennessee Press in their “Voices of the Civil War” series – Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors, by Chester D. Berry. are a couple of lesser books on the subject, including the flawed Transport to Disaster, by James W. Elliott and, if I’m not mistaken, some historical fiction.

More urgently, there is still 7 days to go in the Kickstarter campaign to fund a Sultana documentary. Frodo’s friend Samwise (Sean Astin) has signed on as Executive Producer. Go here to see a little taste of what the documentarians are cooking up. 


Mike said...

David, I don't know why I'm just finding this wonderful blog post but I wanted to offer a belated "thank you" for not only your promotion of the Kickstarter campaign but also your continued sharing of the Sultana story. I've begun posting a series of comments on our "Sultana Documentary" Facebook page sharing information on all the books I can find about the Sultana. You've covered the cream of the crop admirably in your post here! Thanks again and we look forward to seeing you all again in Marion next April. Take care. Mike Marshall

dw said...

Glad you dropped by, Mike. We're all looking forward to your documentary next year.