J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Mississippi River”

Fireworks and the Fourth

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I’d like to wish everyone a very happy Fourth of July. This holiday brings many fun-filled memories of family, friends, and special summers. Although everyone has fond memories of July 4, let’s not forget what the holiday truly represents: FREEDOM. We have been a free country for so long that it’s easy to take that for granted, but remember our ancestors, who gave their lives so that we could be free. The Fourth of July  is historically significant, not only for our War of Independence, but also for the War Between the States.

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In 1863, two important events played out: Gettysburg and Vicksburg. The battle of Gettysburg, after three days of heavy fighting, ended on July 4, with both sides thinking they were victorious. It was realized later that the Confederate army had actually suffered a defeat; the first major loss of the war. At Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union General Grant succeeded in taking the town after a month-long siege, thus securing the Mississippi River for Federal use.

Our founding fathers sacrificed home and health to secure our freedom. This 4th of July, let us honor those who so loved, cherished, and believed in our country that they laid down their lives unselfishly. God bless America!

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Tragedy on the Mississippi

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One hundred and fifty years ago today, the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history took place. This little known event happened on the Mississippi River, not long after the Civil War ended. The name of the vessel was the Sultana.

At the close of the war, Union prisoners were released from Southern POW camps. Some of the parolees were transported to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they awaited their release. Riverboats traveling along the Mississippi River vied for the lucrative opportunity to transport newly released prisoners to their homes in the north, and were paid handsomely by the Federal government. One such vessel, the Sultana, was chosen to transport Andersonville and Alabama prisoners, who were crowded onto the boat, surpassing the 376 person limit.

The boat made its way upriver to Helena, Arkansas, where the above photo was taken. It docked in Memphis, and shortly before 2 a.m., set off for Cairo, Illinois. However, seven miles north of Memphis, the boat suddenly exploded, sending burning prisoners to their deaths or into the icy cold river, which was flooded and swollen with spring thaw. Those who weren’t burned to death or drowned managed to make their way to the riverbanks, and waited for rescue while they watched the unmanned boat spin helplessly in the water, aflame in the night sky. After being rescued, the surviving Union soldiers were taken to hospitals in Memphis. Many succumbed to their wounds, or to their weakened state as POW’s, but some survived. Approximately 1,800 of the 2,427 passengers perished.

Controversy still surrounds the tragedy, including a conspiracy theory that Confederates sabotaged the boat, but this was never proven. It is believed that a faulty boiler actually caused the explosion. Although the riverboat was overloaded, and some people were rumored to have taken bribes, no one was ever held accountable.

Today, there are monuments signifying the event. One is located in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. The disaster was overshadowed by President Lincoln’s assassination, as well as the manhunt for his killer, John Wilkes Booth, who was killed the day before in Virginia. The Sultana tragedy was barely reported in newspapers. Americans were tired of war and death, so the horrific event was essentially ignored. It was a terrible ending to a terrible war.

The Sultana

A special exhibit is on display in Marion, Arkansas through March 25. It tells the story of the Sultana, which was America’s greatest maritime tragedy. The riverboat exploded and burned on the Mississippi River just north of Memphis early on the morning of April 27, 1865. Over laden with paroled Union soldiers released from Andersonville and Cahaba prisons, the steamship was designed to carry only 376 passengers, but over 2400 were loaded on. About 1800 perished, which was 200 more than the number of souls who were lost in the sinking of the Titanic. 

 

Marion is the closest in proximity to where the Sultana now lies, several feet below the surface in a local farmer’s field. Mound City was the last place the Sultana stopped before it headed northward, but the town doesn’t exist any longer. Local citizens went out on boats and pulled as many survivors out of the cold, rushing waters of Old Man River as they could, but after twelve hours, no more survivors were found, including the ship’s captain, J.C. Mason.

 

The exhibit sheds light on the tragedy, displays artifacts that survived, and features a short film telling the story of that fateful night. Many paintings depicting the tragedy are on display as well. It is the hope that if the exhibit attracts enough people, the town of Marion will invest in a permanent museum. On Sunday, several reeanctors and historians were on hand to discuss the Sultana.

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