Prelude to the Sultana steamboat disaster

    It is easy to romanticize the steamboat era.
    Graceful white boats spewing black smoke from tall stacks roamed the Mississippi River and her tributaries. Massive paddlewheels drove boats laden with cargo and passengers through muddy waters. Cotton was king and suave gamblers always had an ace up their fancy sleeves.
    Yet, death was lurking around the next bend on the river. In that era of wooden hulls and before navigation channels were maintained, many a steamboat came to an untimely end when it struck some hazard lying just beneath the surface. Others met their end when boilers exploded or red hot cinders ignited the cotton cargo. A typical steamboat had a life expectancy of about four years.
    This is the tragic story of the steamboat Sultana. Built in 1863 at Cincinnati, the Sultana was a fast sidewheeler built to haul cotton and other freight plus 376 passengers.
    She was the fourth boat to carry the Sultana name. Ominously, the first three came to tragic ends, with the second and third boats being destroyed in fiery disasters.

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