Sinking the ‘Sultana’: A Civil War History of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home

Sally M. Walker. Candlewick, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7636-7755-8
Drawing on letters, diaries, and other eyewitness accounts, Walker (Winnie) delves into America’s worst maritime disaster: the 1865 sinking of the steamboat Sultana near Memphis, Tenn., with more than 2,000 paroled Union prisoners aboard. Beginning by detailing modifications to steamboat construction that allowed for Mississippi River navigation, Walker thoroughly investigates this forgotten disaster, whose loss of life exceeded that of the Titanic. She paints not-always-flattering portraits of key Army personnel and the crew, soldiers, and passengers aboard the luxurious Sultana, reconstructing—almost hour by hour—the crucial loading of the soldiers onto the ship and the aftermath of the boiler’s explosion. Replete with vivid details, including the terrible conditions in Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, Walker’s engrossing narrative builds to a horrific description of the terrified passengers’ actions and ensuing civilian rescue efforts. Although Walker conveys astonishment, even outrage, that no one was held responsible for this tragedy, she presents the evidence with an even hand. After closing everyone’s story, she exhorts readers to apply the lessons from this preventable catastrophe to the present day. Period photographs, maps, a glossary, source notes, and bibliography are included. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/09/2017
Release date: 10/10/2017
Genre: Children's
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