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One of the only known photographs of the SS "Sultana", taken just hours before its fateful demise. (Wikimedia)

One of the only known photographs of the SS “Sultana”, taken just hours before its fateful demise. Roughly 2500 people were squeezed on board. Many can be seen crowding the decks in the photograph. (Wikimedia)

(West Plains) – A presentation being held at the West Plains Civic Center on Saturday will discuss how greed, carelessness and corruption lead to the worst maritime disaster in US history.

Louis Intres, an adjunct professor at ASU-Jonesboro, will be discussing the little-known disaster of the “Sultana”, a commercial and passenger steamer that was confiscated on multiple occasions by Union forces during the Civil War and was used for shipping men and weapons. On April 27, 1865 while transporting Union POWs from the South, multiple boilers on the ship exploded, catching the vessel on fire and sinking it. The disaster is estimated to have killed anywhere from 1500-1800 people on board.

The presentation will be from 1-3 PM Saturday at the West Plains Civic Center Theatre. Admission is free.

Intres spoke with Ozark Radio News Thursday and told us that the ship had a maximum capacity of around 370 people, but held 2500 people and crew, including 2200 soldiers, many of whom were sick or injured and unable to swim in the Mississippi when the boat started to sink. Intres says that the discussion will cover a number of topics, including the ship’s history, the reason behind overcrowding the ship, why the ship exploded, and the ship’s discovery in July 2013.

Groups helping put the speech on include the Southern Missouri-Northern Arkansas Civil War Roundtable, the History Department at MSU-West Plains, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 203.

Intres will also be bringing a number of artifacts to the lecture, including a curio cabinet made from wood from the “Sultana”. Other artifacts include other ship parts and planks, first edition books published in the late 1800s featuring first-hand accounts from survivors of the disaster, paintings, and a replica model of the ship.

Louis Intres received his teaching degree at what is now known as the University of Central Arkansas in the late-1960s, and became a banker soon afterward. After retiring from banking at the age of 58, and came back to school and received a masters degree in History and a masters in Heritage Studies. He will finish his PhD in Heritage Studies this year and is teaching three classes as an adjunct professor at ASU-Jonesboro.

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