I consider myself somewhat of an amateur maritime enthusiast. Because of this, I was nothing short of stunned that I had never heard of the 19th-century steamship, the Sultana. What occurred aboard the Sultana in the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, remains the deadliest maritime disaster in American history.
Remember the Sultana, the tremendously detailed documentary about the doomed Civil War-era steamship that was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign, walks the viewer through the years leading up to and including that terrifying morning on the Mississippi River. Employing an incredible arsenal of archival photographs of the Civil War and the Sultana, directors Mike Marshall and Mark Marshall resurface an episode of American history that has largely been forgotten by time.
“…had been commissioned to ferry the weakened soldiers up the Mississippi to their northern homes.”
For thousands of imprisoned Union soldiers in late 1864, it was supposed to be a comparatively upbeat moment. The bloody and devastating Civil War had just ended with General Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox. The soldiers that had endured the brutal conditions and endless starvation at prison camps Cahaba and Andersonville were to finally begin their long journeys home.
With acute precision, the film details the voyages of the men from the prison camps to their fateful boarding of the Sultana, which had been commissioned to ferry the weakened soldiers up the Mississippi to their northern homes. However, the Sultana, a ship that had been designed and constructed as the pinnacle of steamship luxury (think the Titanic, but a steamship), had underlying issues that would manifest in a catastrophe the likes of which the United States, a country emerging from the ravages of war, had never seen.
"…a vital record since the tragedy has been, we learn, more or less forgotten by time."