Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Battle of Franklin / Union POWs and the Sultana Disaster

Marker ID:  
Location: 1345 Eastern Flank Cir, Franklin, TN
County: Williamson
Coordinates: N 35° 54.372    W 086° 51.613
  35.9062    -86.86021666
Waymark: None


Battle of Franklin
Union POWs and the Sultana Disaster

More than 700 Union soldiers were made prisoners before, during, and after the Battle of Franklin. Although the war was almost over, many of them would never see their homes again. The vast majority were taken to prison camps in Cahaba, Alabama, and the infamous Andersonville stockade in Georgia. In April 1865, Confederate authorities paroled the survivors, most of whom were barefoot, sick, and malnourished. Some still suffered from wounds received at Franklin. Severe food shortages at the camps reduced several of them to less than 100 pounds (45kg). Transferred to Vicksburg, Mississippi, the soldiers filed onto steamboats for the final voyage north.

The Sultana, a wooden paddlewheel vessel with recently repaired leaky boilers, was one of the transports. It was designed to hold 376 passengers and crew, but to maximize profits and to accommodate those who were desperate to return home, officials jammed about 2,400 people on board.

On April 27, near Memphis, Tennessee, Sultana’s boilers exploded, wrecking part of the ship and tearing men apart. Within minutes, flames engulfed the decks. Countless soldiers were burned alive, some were crushed to death, and others fell into the freezing waters and drowned. Approximately 1,700 passengers—about 75 percent of those on board—perished. Many of the recovered bodies were buried in the Memphis National Cemetery. Among the dead were 173 soldiers captured during the Franklin Campaign. To date, the Sultana explosion is the deadliest maritime disaster in United States history.

“I saw many men mangled—some with arms and legs broken, others scalded and screaming in their agony… some crying or praying, some jumping in the water to escape from the fire and drowning.”—Pvt. Peter Roselot, 50th Ohio Infantry, survivor

Erected Tennessee Civil War Trails.

[This marker may also be found on HMDB.org]