Thursday, April 15, 2010

Castle Morgan - Point of Origin for many of the Sultana victims

The wreckage of the ill-fated steamboat Sultana was found some years ago buried beneath a soybean field near West Memphis. The Mississippi River has changed its course over the years since the war and now flows about two miles away from where the Sultana went down in 1865.

One of the best-known tragedies of the Civil War, the sinking of the Sultana took place when the overloaded paddlewheel steamboat tried to carry more than 2,000 released Union prisoners of war up the Mississippi from Vicksburg. A boiler explosion (or torpedo, according to one post-war confession) ignited a fire on the boat and the loss of life was horrendous. It is thought that around 1,800 men died in the fire and sinking. Another 300 died from burns and other wounds in the weeks and months after the accident.

Among the former p.o.w's aboard the Sultana at the time of the accident was a large group of soldiers from the Cahaba military prison at Old Cahawba, Alabama. Also known as "Castle Morgan," apparently in honor of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the prison was located in a never completed cotton warehouse overlooking the Alabama River. Conditions were abysmal, but the death rate at Castle Morgan was relatively low when compared to other Civil War prisons.

When the prisoners were freed at the end of the war, they were taken first to Vicksburg.From there they embarked for home aboard the Sultana, which went down in Arkansas on April 27, 1865.

The ruins of the Cahaba prison are now preserved as part of the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site near Selma, Alabama. To learn more, please visit

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