From the groundbreaking North & South magazine article, featured on The History Channel in Civil War Terror, and upcoming in PBS History Detectives.
Among the steamboats destroyed on the Mississippi River, the one with the largest single loss of life was the steamer Sultana. The boat had been loaded with over 2000 people, most of them Union POWs returning from Southern prison camps. When the Sultana exploded and burned, as many as 1800 people were killed as many Union soldiers died on the river that night as died on the battlefield of Shiloh. With them died a number of women, children, and civilian men.
Was it an accident? Or sabotage?
Excerpt from Sultana: A Case For Sabotage
Seven miles out of Memphis, at 2:00 a.m. on April 27, 1865, the steamer Sultana chugged northward loaded with over twenty-three hundred people, most of them Union soldiers returning home from southern prison camps. Without warning, an explosion ripped through the boilers, scalding steam burst out, and a shower of flaming coal shot upward into the night, raining down on the crowded boat, which in moments was engulfed in flames. Over seventeen hundred people died, making the destruction of Sultana a maritime disaster worse than the sinking of the Titanic.
This publication also includes the full-length version of the originally published North & South article, with all footnotes and sources.