Tag Archives: US Civil War

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker. October 10, 2017. Candlewick Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780763677558.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.1.

The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River — and it could have been prevented.

In 1865, the Civil War was winding down and the country was reeling from Lincoln’s assassination. Thousands of Union soldiers, released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, were to be transported home on the steamboat Sultana. With a profit to be made, the captain rushed repairs to the boat so the soldiers wouldn’t find transportation elsewhere. More than 2,000 passengers boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi . . . on a boat with a capacity of 376. The journey was violently interrupted when the boat’s boilers exploded, plunging the Sultana into mayhem; passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam, and flung overboard into the churning Mississippi. Although rescue efforts were launched, the survival rate was dismal — more than 1,500 lives were lost. In a compelling, exhaustively researched account, renowned author Sally M. Walker joins the ranks of historians who have been asking the same question for 150 years: who (or what) was responsible for the Sultana’s disastrous fate?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, War, Violence, Criminal culture, Graphic descriptions of burn victims

 

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Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 7-12. It may surprise many to learn that the worst maritime disaster in American history was not the sinking of the Titanic. It happened 47 years prior, but the story begins during the Civil War, when the prisoner exchange system ended and the Andersonville prison camp swelled with Union soldiers. Once the war ended, these prisoners needed to be returned home, and transporting troops became a lucrative business for steamboats along the Mississippi River. Walker sets the scene for the Sultana disaster as she describes the captain’s greed (allowing 2,400 passengers when the legal capacity was 376), the chief engineer’s decision to repair rather than replace a deteriorating boiler, the flooded river, and other factors that would come into play. She tells the story through the lens of select soldiers and paying passengers, who each met different fates aboard the steamer. The author not only relates the aftermath of the tragedy that claimed 1,537 lives but also why it was almost forgotten. History buffs, and even adults, will be the biggest fans of this crossover YA title.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
The worst maritime disaster in American history, one that could have been easily prevented, is comprehensively recounted in this briskly paced narrative. On April 27, 1865, the Sultana, a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat, exploded just north of Memphis on the Mississippi River. The boat, which had a capacity of 376, was carrying over 2,000 passengers, most of them Union soldiers recently released from prisoner-of-war camps. When the Sultana’s boilers exploded, passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam or fire, and flung overboard into the cold, churning Mississippi River. Despite rescue efforts, over 1,500 lives were lost. The narrative focuses on five survivors. Walker chronicles their experiences in battle and as prisoners of the Confederates, their ordeals in the disaster and rescue, and what became of them after. She also discusses the official investigation into the disaster. The cause of the explosion was a damaged boiler that had not been properly repaired. Bribery was responsible for the gross overcrowding aboard the Sultana, but no one was ever held responsible or punished. In addition to archival illustrative material, Walker makes extensive use of primary sources, such as diaries and newspaper reports, although it is surprising more use is not made of the survivors’ recollections Chester Berry collected and published in 1892. Quibbles aside, a finely detailed, well-researched chronicle of a little-known disaster. (maps, glossary, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Sally M. Walker is the author of the Sibert Medal winner Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books, including Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation. Sally M. Walker lives in Illinois.

Her website is sallymwalker.com

Teacher Resources

Sinking the Sultana Discussion Questions

Sinking the Sultana Teachers’ Guide

Around the Web

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Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden. May 30, 2017. Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 241 p. ISBN: 9781599903194.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

She wanted to stay awake, wanted to see what freedom looked like, felt like at midnight, then at the cusp of dawn.

Freedom. Mariah has barely dared to dream of it her entire life. When General Sherman’s march through Georgia during the Civil War passes the plantation where she is enslaved, her life changes instantly. Joining the march for protection, Mariah heads into the unknown, wondering if she can ever feel safe, if she will ever be able to put the brutalities of slavery behind her.

On the march Mariah meets a young man named Caleb, and a new dream takes root—one of a future with a home of her own and a true love by her side. But hope often comes at a cost. As the treacherous march continues toward the churning waters of Ebenezer Creek, Mariah sees that the harsh realities of her and her peoples’ lives will always haunt them.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts, Discrimination, War, Violence, Implied sexual assault, Mutilation

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 11))
Grades 8-11. Award-winning Bolden’s latest takes readers back to 1864, the waning days of the Civil War. In rural Georgia, recently emancipated Mariah hides in the root cellar when Sherman’s troops sweep into town. Joining the march, she meets Caleb, a young black man whose manner of dress and comfort with the white Union soldiers raises an eyebrow among Mariah and other formerly enslaved people. As they march toward Ebenezer Creek, Caleb develops feelings for Mariah, while she struggles to believe in her newfound freedom and plan for a future for herself and her younger brother, Zeke. Caleb and Mariah both harbor secrets and pasts that shape their worldviews, but they’re starting to warm to each other when the unthinkable happens. Chapters alternating between Mariah’s and Caleb’s points-of-view lay bare the differences between the experiences of a free black man and those of an enslaved woman. Caleb’s journal entries, for instance, signal a desire to publish or own a newspaper, while enraged Mariah laments, “colored lives don’t matter.” With keen insight, Bolden mines a lesser-known historical event and brings the human cost vividly to life. In particular, the moment when the freed men and women are abandoned by the creek as Confederate forces descend will surprise and horrify many readers. Bolden’s trenchant, powerful novel is a strong testament to the many lost lives that certainly did—and still do—matter.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
In late fall of 1864, Sherman’s March to the Sea is underway, and while the Union army wreaks havoc throughout the South and stamps out Confederate defenses to win the war, thousands of enslaved black people find themselves suddenly, disorientingly, freed by the army as well. Mariah, a young black woman in Georgia, can scarcely believe that her dream has come true when she is liberated along with her little brother Zeke and joins the march as it heads toward Savannah. She wants nothing more than an acre of her own ground, with the memories of death and cruelty behind her—nothing more, that is, until she meets the kind but inscrutable Caleb, who helps her and her friends adjust to life amidst the army. Caleb returns Mariah’s feelings and relishes planning a bright future with her and Zeke, but he is also wary, aware that tensions are rising as the march continues, as the previously enslaved confront despised black slave drivers, and as Union soldiers begin to see the black civilians as a burden. Mariah and Caleb’s relationship develops a little quickly for two such cautious and responsibility-laden young adults, but their shared trauma and fragile hopes are breathtaking in their authenticity as tragedy inevitably engulfs them. Alternating between Mariah and Caleb’s perspectives, Bolden fleshes out a small, harrowing historical betrayal, weaving an unforgettable story and capturing both the frailty and resilience of hope. An author’s note tells more about the December 1864 drownings and massacre at Ebenezer Creek; a list of sources is also appended. anastasia m. collins

About the Author

Tonya Bolden is a critically acclaimed award-winning author/co-author/editor of more than two dozen books for young people. They include Finding Family which received two starred reviews and was a Kirkus Reviews and Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year; Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, a Coretta Scott King honor book and James Madison Book Award winner; MLK: Journey of a King, winner of a National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children; Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and winner of the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Middle Level Book Award. Tonya also received the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC’s Nonfiction Award. A Princeton University magna cum laude baccalaureate with a master’s degree from Columbia University, Tonya lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tonyaboldenbooks.com

Around the Web

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Amazon

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on Goodreads

Crossing Ebenezer Creek on JLG

Crossing Ebenezer Creek Publisher Page