A Story of Romance, Adventure & Greed Based on the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History.


Ten days after Lincoln’s assassination, more than 1,800 people died when a steamboat built for 376 but carrying over 2,400 exploded on the Mississippi River just outside Memphis. Most were Union soldiers who had managed to come through the savagery of the battlefield, the horrors of Confederate prison camps, and the treachery of the long journey to the Vicksburg docks. They died just a few days from reuniting with their loved ones in the north.

Even more tragic, though, was the reason behind those deaths: Money. Eighteen hundred heroes were sacrificed to a few men’s greed and corruption . It was all about the money.

Based on the true story of what still stands as the worst maritime disaster in the history of the United States, Sultana! follows the adventures, romance, high hopes, and renewed optimism of two generals — one Union, one Confederate — their families, their friends, and the people into whom they put their trust at the very tail end of the Civil War.

When Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, released early from a Union prison camp, boards the Sultana in St. Louis to carry him home, he befriends Anne Heel, who is traveling to Vicksburg to reunite with her husband, a Union General prisoner-of-war at Andersonville, and becomes smitten with Katy Rumson, Anne’s best friend and traveling companion. Over the course of their journey, Wheeler takes every opportunity to lavish Anne and her daughter Eloise with his family’s Southern hospitality, and to woo Katy with their wealth and his gallantry. Anne is suitably impressed, but Eloise is more interested in Tom, one of a pair of young rascals who finagle their way onto the boat, while Katy is drawn to Gregory Hackman, the captain of the Sultana.

The Sultana itself is tired. She could use an overall refurbishing, but barring that, absolutely must have a new boiler to replace the one already bulging and leaking. Captain Hackman would agree, were it not for Fred Knox and Charlie Greeland, the boat’s two owners, who are in hot water themselves with the bank, and have gone to great, albeit not necessarily legal, lengths to raise the money they owe by over-packing the Sultana with released Union prisoners on its way back up river — all with the help of Senator Henry Addams, who arranges things for what he considers a perfectly reasonable kickback. Their constant wires to Hackman urging him to put on more speed and shove on more passengers wear Hackman’s nerves to a frazzle, and put him in nose-to-nose conflict with his Chief Engineer, Robert Ducot, who’s own temper is ready to explode along with the boiler.

Then again, the boiler isn’t Ducot’s only problem. He also has long unfinished business with the First Mate, Rock Jensen, who’s hard-bitten, stubborn ways put passengers and crew alike in danger, first from his insistence on bringing aboard a 23’ alligator as Ship’s Mascot, then from his obsession with “taking care of” those two young rascals, Tom and Willie, to whom just about everyone else on board the boat take a shine. But the problems of the down-river passengers and crew are nothing next to those of the released Union prisoners-of-war. Malnourished, wounded, and sick, they have to make it from the Andersonville camp to the Vicksburg port via stuffed-like-sardine wagons or overloaded trains that keep derailing. The trip from Vicksburg to Memphis takes nearly half again as long as usual.

The boat finally chugs out of Memphis — with over six times its legal load — but just minutes later, the inevitable happens: the boiler blows up. Barely 600 people survive; those who aren’t burned to death drown in the Mississippi’s icy water or meet up with the escaped alligator. Senator Addams buys off the trial judge so Hackman, along with the real culprits, Fred and Charlie, go free.

Which leaves the question: Who lived? Who died?

DISCLAIMER: This is not intended as an historical documentary but as a novel set against actual events that occurred in 1865 within weeks of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

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