A short but moving history that effectively captures both the disaster and the soldiers’ ordeal.



The little-known story of a deadly steamship explosion at the end of the Civil War.

On April 27, 1865, the Sultana was moving along the Mississippi River, writes freelance journalist Huffman (Mississippi in Africa: The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia, 2004, etc.). At 2 a.m., near Mound City, Ark., three of its boilers exploded and the ship sank. Some 1,700 passengers died, many of them Union soldiers recently liberated from Confederate prisons. Occurring less than three weeks after Lee’s surrender and Lincoln’s assassination, the disaster was lost among larger developments in American history and is known today mainly to Civil War enthusiasts. Huffman rescues the Sultana tragedy from obscurity and brings the people and events surrounding it to vibrant life. He focuses mainly on the stories of three soldiers: Romulus Tolbert and John Maddox, farmers and friends from Indiana, and J. Walter Elliott, who later wrote about his experiences. The author’s descriptions of their travails during the Civil War, especially in Confederate prisons—Elliott was incarcerated in Georgia’s infamous Andersonville—are unflinching and powerful. So is his account of the confusion and corruption that resulted from Tolbert, Maddox and Elliott crowding onto the Sultana with about 2,400 other paroled prisoners, more than six times the number the ship could safely hold. Steamboat owners, paid by the head, bribed army officials to squeeze as many soldiers as possible on each vessel; these thin, weak and sickly passengers were “in no condition for a major survival challenge.” Huffman chronicles the explosion and its aftermath in startling detail with a wealth of striking images. “After the scalded swimmers were pulled from the water,” he writes, “they were sprinkled with flour to relieve their pain.”

A short but moving history that effectively captures both the disaster and the soldiers’ ordeal.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-147054-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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