There is a popular saying that declares "timing is everything", and in no other field of study is that truer than in history. For instance, under normal conditions, a ship that sank with more than 2,000 passengers aboard - most of whom died - would be big news, yet today the sinking of the SS Sultana is often overlooked if not entirely forgotten. While it might have generated the type of publicity and reaction of the Johnstown Flood of 1889 or the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 under normal circumstances, the explosion and sinking of the Sultana on April 27, 1865, has become something of a historical footnote.
The irony is that the Sultana is a historical footnote because of the Civil War, but it was also intimately tied to the war. Although Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox was not technically the end of the Civil War, it took one of the last remaining Confederate armies out of the field. Furthermore, on the night of April 14, many of the Union's hopes for the future were dashed when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D. C. The people of the nation quickly became a volatile mix of grief and outrage, uninterested in anything that did not relate to the death of their beloved president. In fact, just the day before the disaster, as the Sultana was sailing up the Mississippi River to her rendezvous with destiny, Union Army soldiers cornered and killed Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
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Very well done.
- Stephen Raff