Sultana Disaster Records online for FREE

I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and also to be a contributor the the Stern-NARA Gift Fund and the Preserve the Pensions Project. Have you donated? Our donations are vital to making records available for all of us. This is last week’s FGS Press Release about these records. Thank you to Fold3 too!

Free Access Provided by Fold3

May 4, 2012– Austin, TX: The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) is proud to announce its recent participation in making the Sultana Disaster records available to genealogists and family history researchers. When the boiler exploded aboard the steamer Sultana on April 27, 1865, more than 1,700 people lost their lives. The records include lists of survivors, along with their military service information, as well as information on those who perished.

Through a grant from the Malcolm H. Stern-NARA Gift Fund, FGS has helped to bring this important Civil War record set to the Fold3 website. The fund is a nationally supported program to finance preservation and imaging of valuable research materials now preserved in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C.

In addition, FGS and NARA, with the help of the genealogical community, have begun an exciting project to digitize the War of 1812 pension files. There are 7.2 million pages in 180,000 pension files that have never been available in any other form before. The Preserve the Pensions Project is in progress to digitize and make every page of these information-rich files available as part of a bicentennial commemoration of this historic conflict. Learn more about this important preservation and digitization project at the Preserve the Pensions page ( and get involved by making a donation today.

Here is the recent announcement from Fold3 about the Sultana Disaster database and the specific information to be found within the records:

When the boiler exploded aboard the steamer Sultana on April 27, 1865, more than 1,700 people lost their lives. Most of those aboard were recently released Union prisoners from Confederate prisons in Cahaba, Alabama, and Andersonville, Georgia. They were en route from Camp Fiske in Mississippi to Camp Chase, Ohio, but the explosion occurred only a few hours into the journey.
In addition to the faulty boiler, the ship was also grossly overburdened with 2,200 passengers on a vessel built to carry 376.
Records relating to the Sultana Disaster, April 1865, are now available on Fold3. They include lists of the former prisoners who survived the disaster, with military service information and brief comments on their injuries. There are also lists of those who perished, yet not of the civilian survivors or those who died.
The enormity of the disaster led quickly to investigations. By January 1866, a court-martial was convened to charge Captain Frederick Speed, the man who volunteered to coordinate the transfer of prisoners, with “neglect of duty to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” There are 647 documents in the court-martial case with testimonies, witness accounts, and statements by the defense and prosecution. After “nearly six long weary months” the trial came to a close. Capt. Speed was the only person charged in the incident. He was found guilty, yet the charges were later dismissed by Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt.

The Sultana Disaster records can be accessed on the Fold3 website at The original publication was financed by The Abrams Foundation of Michigan through the Stern-NARA Gift Fund and the National Archives Trust Fund.

© 2012 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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