Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History by Alan Huffman
Finished reading: 3/21/2012
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Don’t let the only 3 stars fool you, this is a good book. I only give 4 stars to books that absolutely thrill me and 5 stars is for books that I can’t live without.
The weird thing is, I started this book about 5 times and kept putting it aside after the second chapter, but I couldn’t really say why, it wasn’t boring, I just wasn’t getting into it. After I promised someone I would read it, I sat down determined I would read 50 pages a day until I finished it. I read half the book the book that night. The next day I would have finished it, but I was falling asleep because I was tired. I finished it this morning.
After all those starts and stops, once I got into the book, I really got into it. The first few chapters talk about enlisting and how ill-prepared the men were for fighting. He also talks about the psychology of survival. Then he gets into the battles of the Civil War, none of the battle scenes are written in an ‘exciting’ fashion, he doesn’t ‘novelize’ the accounts, just reports the facts, the facts are enough. He relates how each man is captured, the conditions of the prisons and the hospitals. It is a wonder anyone who was injured in the Civil War survived, much less lived to old age.
For men who had survived battle, injury, disease and incarceration at Andersonville, “the worst confederate prison”, the explosion of the Sultana, on their way home, must have added insult to injury so to speak. Even afterwards, there was no justice either, the ones responsible, even when found guilty were not really punished. Officers were allowed to be ‘honorably discharged’.
Ultimately the Sultana inquiries were mostly for show. Even the death toll was never fully reckoned. Officially, it was listed at just more than twelve hundred, which failed to include an entire trainload of passengers from Camp Fisk.
The accepted estimated total was 1,700 dead making it the worst known maritime disaster in America, even eclipsing the Titanic with an estimated 1,500 dead.
And the disaster of the Sultana faded into American history. When I told people I was reading a book called “Sultana” they thought I was reading about a middle eastern princess.
As I said this is a good book, I would recommend it for history lovers, Civil War aficionados, disaster freaks and the like. I use the word freak affectionately. After all I’m a freak myself. It would be interesting to people for its human nature aspects, how people survive the worst and keep going when even worse happens.
For pictures of the Sultana (these were not in the book) click Sultana Photos.