"SW p wh b. Cincinnati, Oh., 1863. 660 tons. 260 x 42 (39 ft. floor) x 7. Built at the John Litherbury yard, and machinery by Moore and Richardson. Launched Jan. 3, 1863, in a double ceremony, the LUMINARY,--almost a duplicate, also being launched. Built for Capt. Pres Lodwick, well known on the Upper Mississippi for his NORTHERN BELLE and NORTHERN LIGHT and was destined for the New Orleans trade. Due to the uncertainties of war, she was entered in the trade Cincinnati-Wheeling on February 12, which she continued until mid-March. . . . The Memphis Custom's entries show that due to the war she was forced to return to St. Louis from that port until along in August when she apparently went on through. On Feb. 9, 1865, Capt. J. Cass Mason, she departed Memphis for New Orleans. She was back at Memphis February 26, and returned to New Orleans from there. On Apr. 26, 1865, she cleared Memphis upbound, Capt. Mason. A notation on the Custom record: Burned and 1600 persons perished.'

The Customs clerk used an approximation. The life-loss afterwards was set at 1,574 lives, at least 1,100 of whom were U.S. soldiers mustered out and returning to Northern homes. A popular and widespread belief was that Confederate spies had secreted dynamite in the coal bunkers, but three of her boilers had exploded without any help from spies. Ture, she had been having boiler trouble at Vicksburg where the troops came aboard. Nathan Wintringer, chief engineer, later testified that one boiler had been repaired there to his satisfaction. Capt. Speed, U.S.A., ordered 1,886 troops aboard this SULTANA which legally allowed 376 persons, including the crew. It was connon talk there at Vicksburg that two other large steamers, PAULINE CARROLL and LADY GAY, both bid for portions of these troops but were turned down. Landings were made at Helena, Ark. (where a photographer took a picture of her with the soldiers aboard), and another at Memphis. The night leaving Memphis was described as black with a thunderstorm gathering. A few miles above that city, in the crossing at Paddy's Hens and Chickens, the explosion torched a ruddy glare among the cottonwoods of Tennessee and Arkansas and a dull rumble shook the countryside. The storm broke at the same time.

On the downbound trip to New Orleans, the last made, the SULTANA carried the shocking news of the assasination of Abraham Lincoln to towns and hamlets cut off from all communication save what arrived by river. Now as she returned the nation's newspapers were loaded with columns of excitement: J. Wilkes Booth had been located and killed; Lee had surrendered; the President was dead. A country geared to appalling losses took the SULTANA disaster with seeming indifference. The explosion happened early morning Apr. 27, 1865." (S16)