Remembering the Sultana: A Great-Great-Great Grandaughter’s Quest

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Earlier this year, I received a letter from Dee Cody of Columbus, Ohio. She wrote to the Internet Archive, asking  for our help in keeping alive the story of a Civil War-era tragedy. 155 years ago today, on April 27, 1865, the steamship Sultana exploded on the Mississippi, killing more than 1100 passengers—most of them Union soldiers returning home from Confederate prison camps at the end of America’s most bitter war. Dee writes:

The story of the Sultana is personal to my family, for my paternal great-great-great grandfather survived the disaster. His name was Daniel Garber, a private in the 102nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He enlisted in 1862, was captured in 1864, and then sent to the Cahaba prison camp in Alabama. His first-person account of enduring the tragedy can be found in a book called Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors which was compiled by fellow survivor Chester D. Berry and first published in 1892. 

The story of Daniel Garber and his fellow soldiers intrigued me. I discovered in the Internet Archive this Librivox Audiobook of “Loss of the Sultana,” where you can hear Garber’s first-person account from 1892. To honor Dee’s wishes to preserve “this almost forgotten story,” we put together the Sultana Maritime Disaster Collection of books, audio and even the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, April 29, 1865 edition, recounting the “Shocking Steamboat Disaster” in vivid detail:

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