April 27, 2015
Today marks a historical tragedy of epic proportions, the sinking of the SS Sultana. The largest maritime disaster of our nation’s history occurred 150 years ago April 27, 1865 right outside of Memphis, TN on the Mississippi River. Nearly 1,800 passengers lost their life, a total that somberly surpasses the more popular Titanic tragedy. In order to commemorate this grave loss of life, descendants of both victims and survivors came together for a day of activities on the river.
Their Saturday began with the Descendants Association eating lunch at Harbor Landing on Mud Island. After lunch the group toured the Mississippi River Museum and Mud Island River Walk through the capable leadership provided by Mud Island River Park staff, Trey Giuntini and Alisa Bradley.
Next 150 passengers boarded the Memphis Queen III at Beale Street Landing for the Sultana Descendants Cruise. Capt. William Lozier and the Memphis Riverboats crew provided an exceptional cruise experience and also coordinated the “Burial at Sea” ceremony. The 52nd Regimental String Band performed Civil War era music on board. Once the vessel reached the point at which the SS Sultana sank, mile marker 742 of the Mississippi River, the ceremony began. This included a four gun salute, laying of the flag, tossing of red and white roses and more. This all while family members recalled names of their ancestors involved in the tragedy 150 years ago. This occasion was indeed an once-in-a-lifetime historical affair.
Frank Fogleman, Mayor of Marion, Arkansas, the Marion Chamber of Commerce and the staff of the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion indeed made the weekend a wonderful memory for all. The spontaneous formation by the group of descendants on the terrace steps of Beale Street Landing for a group photo captures the happy mood at the conclusion of the cruise!
All photos are courtesy of Robert Burke, Marion, Ind., Jimmy Ogle, Library of Congress and Ken Keene.