10 Most Devastating Fires and Explosions in U.S. History

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The original image is credited to Thomas W. Bankes, Helena, AR, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. S.S. Sultana Explosion

While America was still coming to terms with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865, just 12 days later, they would be hit with the worst maritime disaster in United States history. Constructed of wood in 1863 by the John Litherbury Boatyard in Cincinnati, Ohio, the commercial side-wheel steamboat Sultana was originally intended for the lower Mississippi cotton trade.

The ship had a regular route between St. Louis and New Orleans, and due to it being the final days of the Civil War and despite only being designed to hold 376, more than 2,000 Union troops were crowded onto the steamboat. As it steamed north up the Mississippi, three of the boat’s four boilers suddenly exploded, killing 1,168 and sinking the vessel near Memphis, Tennessee.

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