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tv   History Bookshelf  CSPAN  August 2, 2015 8:04am-8:57am EDT

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>> overshadowed by the end of the war in the assassination of abraham lincoln, the sinking of is steamship sultana considered the worst disaster in american history. discusses the an discussesxt, the sinking. this is about 50 minutes. ♪ katty: thanks for joining us, i am katty kay of the bbc sitting in for diane rehm.
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shoes visiting station w you uom in michigan public libraries. on april the ninth, 1865, general robert e. lee surrendered and the sultana sank in the mississippi river. it remains the worst maritime disaster in american history. alan huffman tells us overlooked story. thank you so much for joining us. we will be opening a phones a later on in the program, and comments to alan at our e-mail address. let's start by describing what you have on the front of your book, a picture of the sultana. describe it to the audience.
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alan: the boat in the painting is in flames in the middle of the river, and you see a lot of rescue boats and it is night and you see people drifting down the river clinging to debris. obviously it is that it was painting but it does -- obviously it is a stylized voteing but it does the evoke what was going on. the river was full of people. there were 2400 people aboard a boat that was supposed to carry 375, roughly. after it exploded and caught higher, you had people and horses swimming in the river channel, and in some cases, there may have been eight or nine guys hanging onto a horse was swimming down the channel, trying to get to the banks. people drowning each other, people floating on debris, there was a lot going on in the river that night. katty: and the boat itself, tell us about the sultana. alan: the vote itself was a that was designed for
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transferring cargo up and down the river, but during the war, most of the steamboats, there wasn't a lot of commerce, most of the steamboats were used for troop transports, there were contracts with the federal government, and in this case, that was how this disaster came about. the owners of the sultana and the captain of the sultana were to have negotiated to bringing these soldiers home from the war. that's what was happening, they were being paid by head and they d to fit 2400 on. katty: so that was how this happened, they were getting paid by head? alan: yes, and you can imagine there were already 100 passengers on the boat when the soldiers were marched aboard, so i am sure that recorded -- i am sure they were quite
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bemused as they watched the overloading of the boat in vicksburg. the boat has three or four levels, if you count the pilot house. had the an -- you open deck and then you had then the state rooms, you know, that ran down the center of the boat. katty: where the richer passengers would have been? alan: right, and then coming you had steerage, where the rest of the lower-class citizens were done with the members of the crew of the bow, and if you have a state room, the officers would have been crowded into that area, and the decks were completely covered with men. katty: was it a luxurious boat, the sultana? alan: from the accounts that i read, it was not the top-of-the-line, it was just a typical steamboat that was meant primarily for cargo and also for passengers. katty: so it also had a dining room, that kind of thing? alan: right, and it would have had nice touches in the state
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rooms and had its own china, probably. most steamboats did, and chandeliers hanging in the hallways and that sort of thing. by our standards today, it would has been a very nice boat. there were more lavish boats of the era. katty: and when it took that fateful journey that night, in april, was it still a fairly new boat, had it been around for a while? what condition was it in? alan: it was a good condition, it was only a couple of years old. and so -- but it had a couple of problems. one was the overcrowding, which was causing the decks to sag, and the crew of the boat were very concerned about that, so they actually had hastily reinforced the decks with beams to support them because there were so many men standing there. the other was that there were problems with the boat's
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boilers, the boilers were fired by coal furnaces. the boilers of the sultana had already exhibited problems. katty: even though they were only a couple of years old? alan: right, it was a new design, and innovative design that was lighter weight, and it was later discontinued. and so it was known at that boilers, the boilers were fired there were problems with this type of boiler, and in fact, the boilers had sprung a leak on the way from new orleans to vicksburg had been hastily patched even though the consensus was that they had needed more work. katty: now when you take an airplane, and there is the tiniest maintenance problems, it delays you for hours and you usually have to change planes. it seems that there was a potentially dangerous problem on board this boat, but she sailed anyway. alan: they absolutely new and bsolutely knew and they kept it secret. some of the people on board the
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boat, some who were more curious, they heard hammering going on down in the engine room and they checked it out. they came down and they saw them working on this patch on the floor. if you try to get off the boat. some perhaps did, but some moved to other sections of the boat because they perceived that there might be problems around the boiler. exploding boilers was not new. the steamboat travel in the mississippi river was very dangerous by nature. katty: it was known to be dangerous? alan: yes, absolutely, the average lifespan of a boat on the river was about 10 years. they were dangerous. so these guys saw that work that was going on with the boilers and they moved to the other side of the boat. they knew. they tried to keep it secret because they wanted to get these passengers. and two other boats actually left vicksburg the same day empty because they were unable to get passengers while the sultana was overloaded. katty: set the scene, while the sultana was there, what did the
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mississippi river look like in the mid-1800s? alan: well, it looks similar to what it looks like now, but there is more along the river is the result of loads. floods.result of log there is not as much development right on the river down there. that at this particular moment, the city of vicksburg would have been ravaged by the war from continual bombardment in 1863, and there would have been a lot of boats tied to the wharf and the river, which was at flood stage, was very high. it would have been full of logs and debris that was bumping up against the boat. when the river reached flood stage, it was just insane. there were whirlpools coming up everywhere, there is the image of the river, old man river, it is this lazy river, but all it takes is to stand on the bank during a flood and watching it
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and the last thing you think of is an old man. katty: which makes it more dangerous. alan: absolutely. very dangerous river at any stage, but especially at flood stage. and the people on this boat were the last people you wanted to subject to this kind of situation. many had to be carried on board. because of injuries or weaknesses. katty: tell us about that night, in april. the sultana leaves vicksburg very crowded. what happened? alan: it stops en route to memphis in helena, arkansas, and at that point, the only known photograph of the sultana is taken by a photographer named t. w. banks. katty: so it is still daylight? alan: it is a two-day trip,
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essentially. this is the day after it left vicksburg, it docked there to i presume a take on more coal, because that is usually why steamboats stop, to pick up passengers or discharge cargo. because even at this point, the sultana did have cargo that it was bringing up river from new orleans. you mentioned lincoln's assassination, this was part of the cargo we carry downriver, -- cargo it carry downriver, -- cargo it carried downriver, the news of the lincoln assassination, and that was one of the ways a news traveled during that time period. it stopped in helena, arkansas, and the men rushed to one side of the boat to be in this photograph, everybody wanted to be in this photograph. then it headed up north. it got to memphis around sunset. the men were told to stay on the boat, but nobody was going to -- these guys have been imprisoned, they had been in war, this was the first minute that they had had in any city of any size, and they were getting off the boat.
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and so they did. they went to saloons and going down the river in memphis and they actually had a hard time to get some of them back on the boat. an interesting little aside, they didn't get all of the men back on the boat. they missed the boat. one tragic little side story is that this guy at miss the boat and when the sultana docked on the other side of the river to take on more coal, he paid of boatman to take him across the river and he was very proud. katty: and they were all eager to get back home. alan: exactly. katty: the just get out of prison. alan: exactly, they thought -- you just got out of prison. alan: exactly, they thought they just got out of prison. alan: exactly, they thought their troubles were behind men. the thing that interested me the most about this story was that the disaster was just the climax of basically a staged experiment in human survival. these guys at them through the war, they had been through these
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terrible prison camps, they had been through train reqs on the way to the prison to the docks, and then many died in basically holding camps waiting to get on the boat. they thought at this moment they were home free, their troubles were behind them. so by the time they departed memphis, the boat pulled away at about midnight, they went to sleep, you know, feeling like they were on their way. katty: alan hoffman is the author of "sultana: surviving the civil war, prison, and the worst maritime disaster in american history," and we will be opening the phones later on in the program, we have the phone number or you can send us an e-mail with your questions and comments for alan. we are going to take a quick break. stay listening. ♪ katty: amazing. poor things. alan: yeah, you know, the guy that got the man to row him across the river, to the boat, he died. katty: yeah, yeah. and he paid money. he should have stayed drunk in a saloon. a very good argument for staying drunk in a saloon. [laughter]
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katty: did you know if sandra managed to get through? to my babysitter? >> i think she did. katty: great. >> [indiscernible] katty: she must be out. i e-mailed the school and tell them that -- and told them i would be out at 12:30. thank you for trying. >> standby. ♪ katty: welcome back, i am katty kay of the bbc. i am sitting in for diane rehm.
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i'm joined by alan huffman, the author of "sultana," actually, i should give the full title, which is "sultana: surviving the civil war, prison, and the worst maritime disaster in american history." because you were speaking just before we went to break about this being not just the story of this terrible accident where all of the lives that were lost, but this is also the story of the people on the boat before, during, and after. alan: that's right, the most interesting thing that hit me about this was that these guys were on their way home when this disaster had occurred. they had already been through the mill and had fought through the war and had seen friends and compatriots going down around them, and managing to survive that and then being imprisoned in a squalid prison camp were people died of disease and injuries and starvation, thousands died of starvation in these prisons, and these guys survived that.
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and then they are loaded on these trains, and there were three train wrecks are along the way, and they were finally released. men killed in the train wrecks. it just goes on and on. finally, all they could think about was that they just wanted to get home and then they could finally get on the boat and it is just taking them home and they have no idea that the worst is ahead. so the idea that i had basically followed a few, just a small group of soldiers, that you could just get to know and follow them all through these series of trials. and what i did not foresee going in was that living the rest of their lives was going to be its own survival trial, and that the
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book was going to lengthen in that direction as well. i idea is that i was going back to the original opening of the story and building up towards the climax aboard the sultana. but there was so much that happened after the boat that was also interesting, you know, i ended up following these three guys to the rest of their lives. katty: we are going to talk about those three guys for just a second, but i want to backtrack to the actual moment where those boilers explode. those boilers on the sultana. alan: ok. what happened was it was a terrific explosion that sent many, many people flying through the air, hundreds of feet into the air, many people were killed by the explosion. some guys survived and didn't know what was happening, even after they hit the water. they would try to swim back to the boat, but when they did, they saw that the boat was on fire. so basically when the boat -- when the boilers exploded, it sent, you know, embers raining down all over the boat, so there were little fires that were just spreading all over the boat in every direction, so there was no sense in swimming back to the boat at that point. katty: and what caused those boilers to explode? alan: well of course --
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katty: was it what you mentioned earlier? alan: that was the consensus. there were inquiries into it, they boilers were salvaged after the boat went down when the boat was exposed, and i think the consensus today -- i mean, there were certainly conspiracy theorists who believed the boat was sabotaged -- but the consensus is the type of boilers condusiveconducive -- to having sedimentation. the river water had mud that would flow through them and it could cause a blockage and make one of the tubes overheat. not to get too technical for you, but there were flaws in the design of these particular boilers, that in all likelihood, were exacerbated by the extreme careening of the boat, and caused the waters to go to one side.
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katty: not to interrupt, but how did most die? alan: most died from exposure, a human being cannot last long in water below 70 degrees which sounds warm. it drains heat out of the body very fast, and swimming does that more. katty: and how wide with the river have been at that time? would it have been possible for people to swim to the banks at that side? alan: yes, and many did. it was about five miles wide, . katty: 20 swim up. swim.te a alan: yes, and you had the currents to deal with and the darkness. so if you are flying through the air and landed and you don't really know where you are in
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relation to anything except a burning boat, it was a very difficult swim. it would have been under the best of circumstances. these guys were very weak, again, and many of them did not know how to swim. of course, even if you knew how to swim, and everyone around you did not know how to swim, then you are going down, too. katty: they are going to pull you down. you said that you focus earlier about some of the people in the book. let's focus on romulus tolbert. alan: romulus i really feel like i became friends with in the course of this book. he, you know, one of the things you have to keep reminding yourself about is that most of these guys, what they had been through, this drama that would be enough for 100 lifetimes, were not yet 21. they were young. that had been through all of this. and romulus, that was the case with romulus. he was 20 years old. the thing that attracted me about romulus was that he and his buddy, just another farm boy
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from down the road had enlisted together, and they fought together, and they fought in the cavalry drew, were captured in in thee incidents, -- cavalry together, were captured and sent incidents -- in separate incidents, and they ended up in the same prison camp. so their stories just unfolded in tandem. then they both were loaded onto the sultana, and they both survived, and they both went home, back to their family farms, and tried their best to create a normal life. katty: when romulus signed up and it listed for the union army, he had already lost relation to it, hadn't he? one of his brothers had been killed. alan: that's correct, he had five brothers who it served in the union army, and one was killed in kentucky. so he enlisted soon after. and you know, it is easy to imagine that maybe that had something to do with his decision to do that. maddox, you know, his friend,
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maddox, i think they decided to do that together. katty: and maddox was just 17? alan: that's right. and there were raiders in that area in the same time to really period and that prompted a lot of young men to join the military. katty: so they joined the military thinking they were protecting their homesteads. do you think that was a motivating factor? alan: it was certainly the case for people who were joining, there were bounties to be paid for people who join the military as well, so their individual motivations, i would like to think that, based on what i know about romulus, that it was more personal. katty: did he have a bit of a swagger about him? alan: yes, definitely. and, you know, he was obviously a very driven guy to be so young. he never had experienced any of this beforehand, being shot at by a person or being denied food
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or medical treatment, all of the things he was about to go through, but he honestly has what it takes. it is one of the reasons that i wanted to explore these guys' stories, because you are always somebody isf subjected to all of what the world can throw at you and they continue to survive, because you want to know how. katty: what was it about these characters, romulus in particular, that made you want to follow them -- made them able to survive? alan: i think that romulus was able to obtain focus. threat is a big problem when you are thrown into a survival situation, and anyone who panics is going to make bad decisions. sometimes people who don't panic make bad decisions. there is no template for surviving that will guarantee you every step of the way, but romulus had a very even temper, and based on everything that i saw, and even-tempered people tended to size up the situation around them and pay attention to how others were reacting and
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take that into account. and romulus, i think it was his even-tempered disposition that helped him more than everything. there is no discounting luck. you know, if you were sleeping above the boilers on the sultana, the odds are that you were not going to survive. or if the sniper had focused on you, or anything that was beyond anyone's control. but what i saw again and again was that there were people who were able to recognize the situation around them and that it had changed and they were able to adapt to that, and i think romulus was a very adaptable person, and that had to have helped him. katty: another person who survived was jay walter elliott. alan: yes, jay walter elliott was another person from louisiana. was that there were people who were able to recognize the situation around them and that it had changed and they were able to adapt to that, and i
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think romulus was a very and have a completely different reaction. katty: he grew up not far from romulus? alan: that's right, he was almost right on the road. he was a couple of years older. elliott was a captain and he earned his last promotion when he agreed to take an appointment over the u.s. colored troops, as they were called, because it was not exactly a plum assignment. they were not treated the same way as mainstream troops, and they suffered a lot at the hands of their own army. so he was given a promotion for taking that assignment. unlike romulus and john maddox, generally kept their experiences to themselves up to -- after the war, there is fortunately a lot of records that allow us to trace their stunning trajectory of their experiences but they were not the kind of people who were long-winded and told anyone who is nearby what they had experienced. jay walter elliott was that guy. and you know, fortunately for us, because a lot of the details
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that we know are because of people like jay walter elliott, whose identity became a survivor of the sultana, and he took that opportunity. pitfallsies its own because people tend to omit things or borrow from other accounts. so one of the challenges was to compare notes constantly. katty: so what actually happened to the three people on that night on the sultana that we know? alan: we know that they clung to debris. jay walterm -- elliott breathes superheated steam from it -- when the boilers exploded, they released all of this steam, so anybody who is nearby would have had scalded lungs, and that was the case with him. romulus and john maddox were not in that part of the boat, and so their issue was just to get to
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shore and just to swim, and they throughmake their way drowners. of neither of them mentioned this, but most of the people that did survive who knew how to swim did so by waiting until the moment where the crowds of swimmers who were drowning each other subsided somewhat and then they would make their move. katty: waiting on the boat? alan: as people were piling into the water, they were taking each other down, and so was use all -- once you saw that happening, you would wait. it is hard to wait on a burning boat, right? there is all of this chaos going on around you, but if you wait until the largest numbers drown, there were waves of people going in and drowning, so if you waited until your moment in the fewest people were on the surface of the water, and then
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dove in and got away from the boat as quickly as possible, that is how they must have survive. jay walter elliott floated on a mattress for a while and then continued to drift with debris and then was found on some timber where he was eventually rescued. katty: i am katty kay from the bbc and you are listening to "the diane rehm show." if you have any questions or comments, you can phone us or you can e-mail us. we are going to go to the phones now to diane in glenwood, indiana. diane, thanks for waiting. diane: hello, i have a question, my husband has a, i think, third or fourth cousin who was on the sultana, and his name was holloway, and i was wondering if there was a record of who was on it and if you could find that information? alan: yes, there are records of who was on the boat. the best source that i found is from a guy named jerry potter, who actually found what he thought was the remains of the boat in an arkansas field back
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in the 80's, but there is also a book of survivors' accounts by a guy name chester barry. diane: b-e-r-r-y? alan: that is correct, but there is a list of survivors that are available there, and it is actually, there is a complete list, as far is it is known. some people got on the boat without ever being recorded. some people were recorded as having died who actually survived, there were a lot of mistakes, so it is very good advice to cross reference, but chester berry's book, i think it called, "sultana's survivors," that is the best source that i know. there are many sources. katty: all right, diane, i hope that helps. and let's get a little closer to home with washington, d.c., and we are joined by congressman rick snyder.
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thank you so much for joining us. rick: i am actually in recess, i am actually in arkansas, taking care of my babies. katty: so that is why you are calling from arkansas. coincidence, just about two weeks ago, i filed one of these resolutions in commemoration of the april 27 anniversary of the sinking of the sultana. i don't think that congress has really done much about this the years, as your guest knows. there wasn't much appetite at the time of the sinking for remembering these kinds of events. the nation was tired and lincoln had been assassinated. i think that, in a lot of ways, has continued. people don't realize the tremendous tragedy that occurred on the mississippi river. i just wanted to know that it is h.r. res. 329, and people will be able to find it online. it should come up when we come back from the recess.
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katty: government, you are calling from arkansas, but how much do people from your area know about the sultana? rick: i think it is fair to say that those people who know about the civil war or who are more historically oriented, they are very much aware about it. there are lessons to be learned, as in regards to contractors and contractors who can rip off, especially in the context of war. i think for the majority of people i think it is fair to say that in the states where the sultana went down, we are probably much, much more familiar with that than the history of the titanic, even though most people know about that, there were more lives lost on the mississippi river on that night in april of 1865 then there were lost in the titanic. i think another book is helpful. i put my resolution out there and i think there are lessons to be learned from this event, not to mention, remembering the
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suffering of those former pows who got on the boat and they lost their lives in the river. rick -- katty: congressman snyder, thank you so much for joining us from arkansas. we will be taking a quick break. you can join our conversation with alan huffman, and his book is "sultana: surviving the civil war, prison, and the worst maritime disaster in american history." the phone number here is available or you can send us an e-mail. you can also find us on facebook or you can send us a tweet. do stay with us. ♪ katty: we should get into what the congressman was raising about how so little was raised because of what was going on at the time. great, thank you. thank you. did sandra managed to call the babysitter? sandra: the phones were out. katty: the phones were out, were they? sandra: yes.
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katty: thank you. >> and by the annenberg foundation, opening a digital and print photography space in los angeles. find us on this is npr, national public radio. next "fresh air," a professor from the meigs school of management. -- mit's school of management. who writes in "the atlantic" that talks about national oligarchy. join us on the next "fresh air." katty: there are a lot of good e-mails. ♪
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>> standby. ♪ katty: welcome back. i am katty kay of the bbc, i'm sitting in a for diane rehm.
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you are droning my conversation you are joining my conversation with alan huffman, he is author of "sultana: surviving the civil war, prison, and the worst maritime disaster in american history." i have an e-mail here from thomas mcqueen who writes from arlington, texas, asking if we could discuss the lifespan of an individual from that era, and how common were boiler explosions or boat fires? is there evidence that the additional people brought stress onto the oilers or was the i'm to the boilers or was the explosion -- on to the boilers or was the explosion completely independent of the boat overcrowding? alan: those are great questions, and as i mentioned earlier, lifespans were measured in years rather than decades, usually less than a decade. there were a lot of hazards on the steamboats in the mississippi rivers. there a lot of snacks, steamboat boilers would explode, just problems in general. the cause of the explosion of the boilers have been debated ever since, but the cause that is the most credible to me is
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that because the boat was very top-heavy after it unloaded its cargo in memphis, with all of the men on the deck, that it caused it to careen from side to side as it was crossing these flood currents, and as it did that, it caused gaps in the water that was moving through these tubular boilers. that is best theory that i have heard that may have caused the boilers to get overheated in certain places and to put pressure on what was already a problem where they had patched it, so the likelihood is, there was some connection. but the boat had had boiler problems before. so it was a weakness. katty: let's go to dan in jacksonville, florida. dan, you're on the air. dan: thank you so much for taking my call. katty: you're welcome. dan: i want to tell mr. hoffman that i am very excited about this book because there is very little written on the sultana. sixrst read about it at age
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in 1961, it was an american heritage book review. it featured a small picture and the account and almost nothing since then, so i deeply appreciate that finally someone has put something together. katty: dan, that is exactly what every author wants to hear. what dan says and we have other callers and e-mailers writing in as well that they know so much about the civil war, but so little is known about this. why are there so little details about this? alan: i think it was what the congressman had mentioned, there was so much information going out and the president had just been assassinated, and there was significant loss of life from the civil war battles. then there was the issue of that this was a story that was not a story that was comfortable to hear because the people that caused this to happen were the military who had just won the war, and they were not a
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comfortable target at that time. i think for all of those reasons, it just sort of slipped through the cracks. again, going back to congressman snyder's comments, i think the lack of accountability and the lack of awareness are, as always, linked. and there was no real accountability for what had sultana, evene though there is clear evidence of the bribery that had led to the loss of life. katty: hannah, you are from michigan, you'd join the program, but you do know about somebody who had written the sultana from direct experience. hannah: yes i did, and hello to alan, i read your book and my great, great grandfather died on ana, and i have been heavily immersed in this event ever since i found that out years ago.
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i want everybody to know there is an association of people who we getatives and together on april 27, we tell stories about her ancestors, we talk about the prison situation and such, and there is another meeting coming up in knoxville on april 24 and 25th of this month. and i will be there and i know the alan will be there as well. actually, our organization does keep a roster of those who were on board, at least as well as we know. the truth, the whole truth, we will never really know who all was on the boat, but if you were -- but if anybody would like me to check roster to check if someone's ancestor is on, you can e-mail me. katty: say the address again? hannah: my email is --
8:43 am katty: so if anyone wants to get in touch, they can get in touch with her. hannah, thanks so much for calling in. we have an e-mail here as well from charlie who raises points touched on about the conditions of the prison camp. he points out "the prisoners had been weak after being kept at prison camps and at andersonville. this was a direct result of grant's order to stop exchanging prisoners. there was an overwhelming feeling for the southern prison camp and the south was unable to feed its army of it keep in mind, the north didn't feed or keep confederate prisoners well despite larger resources." alan, is that the case? alan: that is true, and it is no question that both sides were overwhelmed by prisoners of war. no one really thought coming. once grant ceased the exchange program, then the southern
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prisoners were in even worse conditions because they weren't in a position to feed and house and clothe these people. conditions were bad in northern prisons as well but andersonville stands apart in terms of the depravity of the situation there and the numbers that died there. so yeah, there was plenty of blame to go around for the mistreatment of prisoners of war during this time. and that really wasn't what i was interested in pursuing. when i was there and doing my story, i was interested in finding out just exactly what these guys were going through. of course you can't talk about that without also addressing why they were going through it, but no, he makes a very good point, and i think that is an accurate statement. katty: when you talk about what these guys were going through and why some people survived and other people didn't survive, having gone through prison camp, having gone through the train
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crashes, having been gone through the sultana, you write in the book at one point that survival is not an achievement, it is a process. what do you mean by that? alan: i mean, you know, we tend to think that survival is some place that you get to. you know, that you are reaching shore on a capsized boat, and therefore it is over. but you never know where you are in the process of survival. these guys could have said, you know, once they were released from prison, that they had survived. they had survived prison and war, and yet they had a train wreck ahead of them and beyond that, a steamboat disaster. you never know where you are. you can always get worse. and you don't know whether you have experienced the worst at any given moment. and so that's why i say that it is a process. because some of these guys survived the war, the prison, the train wreck, the boat, and then committed suicide 10 years later because of everything that
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they had experienced and it was just weighing them down. you know, the way they reacted to the time after the sultana was just as dramatic and telling in many ways as anything that have happened before. katty: how did the three that you really followed, elliott, tolbert, and maddox, how did they differ from each other? alan: elliott was more different than maddox and tolbert. maddox and tolbert, the record indicates that the other two were mostly concerned with just trying to go back to the world that they had left behind. basically, moving back to their farms. romulus married and had five children, and there is a photograph of him standing in front of the farmhouse that he built with a picket fence and some maple trees that they
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obviously had planted on the lawn. you think, this is the place that he must've dreamed of when all of this was going on. this must be what he must've hoped to get to one day. he got there and he lived to be an old man and he didn't talk about what he experienced much. katty: it doesn't sound to me like it surprises you that he got there. alan: no, it doesn't, really, because it seems like maybe the vision of that place is what kept him going, and i think that he did keep -- he did stay on an even keel. john maddox, on the other hand, whose life ran parallel, up until that moment, had a completely different aftermath. and he married five times and he never really worked again and he had a lot of physical problems. he also lived to be an old man, also on a farm down the road, but it was a complete different aftermath for him. jay walter elliot, as i said earlier, this was his identity. he wrote extensively about it. he ended up moving to alabama after the war with the
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freedmen's bureau and married several times. he had constant health problems. katty: do you think that any of them, and you mentioned elliott's health problems, suffered from post-traumatic stress? alan: oh, absolutely. there was no word for that at the time, they clearly did. how could you go through this and not suffer some degree? that was just one thing, one more thing that you had to deal with. katty: let's go back to the phones to steve in king, new hampshire. steve, you have joined "the diane rehm show." steve: thank you so much, this is one of those great tragedies, along with reduced river in new york and the great lakes -- thought east river in new york and dog great lakes. the east river in new york and the great lakes.
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is there an effort in museums to collect artifacts to maybe memorialize this? it seems that someone found something in a field in arkansas. is there any effort to explore this to awaken some interest in this? alan: i do, there is no concerted effort to, for example, excavated the vote -- boat and i will get back to that . in just a second, but there is a website,, a guy by the name of david markland, who is part of the group that was mentioned earlier, sultana survivor descendents, he has put together a website. they are trying to document artifacts that may be found. katty: are there any remains, in fact, left by the sultana? alan: the boat is buried under a farm field in arkansas. katty: because the river has moved? alan: the river changed course the old abandoned the river has filled with sediment as a river -- old bend in the has filled with sentiment as a result. there was a type who wrote a story, a guy by the name of
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jerry potter, whom i mentioned earlier, and there was a farmer who found what he believed to be the remains of the boat. they found basically some burnt timbers and some iron near the surface, but they never actually excavated the boat, the feeling being that the expense of doing so would be prohibitive, considering the likelihood that most of the artifacts that have burned on the boat. of course, what was in the hull would still be there, but it is also a grave. all of those factors have prevented anyone from actually excavated the boat. but what i would like to see, hopefully, in going back again to congressman snyder, is, i think, is that it is important that this event be recognized, and particularly because no one was held accountable, which does sort of stick in your craw a little bit. that the people died and it was brushed under the rug. but i also think it is just something that is a fascinating story that should be known, and it should be well marked. katty: i am katty kay and you are listening to "the diane rehm show." do please call us or send us an e-mail.
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let's go to miranda in cleveland, ohio. miranda, thank you for waiting, i know you have been very patient. miranda: thank you so much, i am a retired coast guard officer and a former marine inspector for the coast guard. and most of these cases are just generally referred to in terms of numbers and basic data, you know, lives lost and whatever, but i wanted to make two points. number one, the type of boiler used in these vessels was called a fire tube boiler, and they are
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inherently dangerous, and for that reason, they were subsequently outlawed at some point in time by the steamboat inspection service. every time i hear about a ferry burning or blowing up or overturning, say in india or overseas someplace, i was wonder if it was the same kind of conditions that were alive and well during the heyday of steamboats on the mississippi river, because there are so many parallels involved. at the time of the sultana accident and the years prior and the years after, there was very little regulation on the part of the government, and when there was regulation, there was very little empowerment to take action against those who violated it. i was wondering if you could comment on those issues? katty: good point, miranda. alan: actually, very good points. and the sultana was investigated in st. louis. which came up in the inquiries after the disaster because it passed inspection. and then sprung a leak on its way back up the river, so wereusly, the inspections lax. you're are absolutely correct, knownwere no problems --
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problems with these boilers and they were outlawed after that. but i think, in general, i think at that point in time the issue was just getting people moved as much as possible and no one was paying as close attention to the safety issue as they should have been. katty: given that the safety issue was fairly clearly documented, and you know about it and we can find out about it a couple of hundred of years later, when years later, -- 100 years later, why was there not more accountability at the time? it must've been even easier for people back then to say, this is what happened and this is who should be held accountable and this steamship should not have sailed? alan: i think it goes back to what we were discussing earlier that the public appetite to know. i think it was much more important to think about this as a tragic accident and put it behind you than to somehow think that -- katty: even though somehow people knew that the boilers were unsafe?
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alan: right, for example, i mean, several of the people involved in loading the boats commented and there were several people who had inspections, but no one was held accountable. for example, no one went to prison and for example, i think some people lost licenses that were later reinstated. there was nothing ever really done. i think it was because there was not a lot of zeal on the public's part. it was not something they really wanted to delve into that moment, which is unfortunate and one of the reasons that the story got lost to history. katty: so the inquiry itself was a casualty of war? alan: yes. katty: one person we haven't mentioned and we should probably ask about before we go with the captain of the sultana. what should we know before i go? alan: captain mason was a captain and some of the crew members were arrested because they, according to the charges, actually caused people to die as they took over a boat. but captain mason died on the boat. katty: alan huffman is the author of "sultana: surviving the civil war, prison, and the
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worst maritime disaster in american history." thank you so much for joining me in the studio. alan: thank you for having me. katty: i am katty kay of the bbc sitting in for the "diane rehm show." [indiscernible] katty: it was great that we had to congressman call in. alan: and you knew he knew what he was talking about. [laughter] alan: good luck. katty: i've got to run because of got to go rescue her. thank you so much for coming. alan: thank you. join american history tv today as we look back 50 years
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to the voting rights act. president lyndon johnson went to , 1960 5,da on august 6 2 sided building felt would be his greatest legacy. true signistory -- the bill he felt would be his greatest legacy. we talk with lbj's domestic policy advisor and historian kent who has edited transcripts of the phone calls. and we will hear his speech. that is today on american history tv on c-span3. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> presidents dwight eisenhower, john kennedy, lyndon johnson, richard nixon, gerald ford, ronald reagan, and george h.w. bush all served in world war ii. up nexni


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