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HISTORY DETECTIVES SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS: Civil War Sabotage?

The ill-fated SS Sultana in Helena, Arkansas on April 26, 1865, just hours before it exploded, killing 1,800 people. Can the History Detectives find out what caused the disaster?
Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
The ill-fated SS Sultana in Helena, Arkansas on April 26, 1865, just hours before it exploded, killing 1,800 people. Can the History Detectives find out what caused the disaster?

Airs Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

The HISTORY DETECTIVES SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS team brings cutting edge tools to some of our biggest historical mysteries. Each new hour-long episode asks probing questions behind a single iconic mystery from America's past. Three investigators team up to solve each case: Wes Cowan, an independent appraiser and auctioneer; Kaiama Glover, professor at Barnard College, Columbia University; and Tukufu Zuberi, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. As the detectives unearth fresh evidence, sift through clues and crisscross the country in search of answers, they reveal new perspectives on stories we thought we knew.

Detective Wes Cowan on the deck of a steamship in the middle of the Mississippi River, near the location of the sinking of the SS Sultana. Does this ship hold a clue as to what caused one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history?
Courtesy of Lion Television
Detective Wes Cowan on the deck of a steamship in the middle of the Mississippi River, near the location of the sinking of the SS Sultana. Does this ship hold a clue as to what caused one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history?

Rebel Boat Burners

The Confederacy paid top dollar to rebels who would burn boats like the Sultana. Read for yourself Provost Marshall J.H. Baker's report indicting a long list of rebel boat burners, including Rober Louden, the man some believe caused the explosion aboard the SS Sultana.

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"Civil War Sabotage?" - It was one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history. Officially, the death toll was 1,500. Unofficially, the count may have been far higher. When it mysteriously exploded on April 27, 1865, the Mississippi steamboat SS Sultana was packed with Union soldiers. The war had ended that month; at every stop more and more men clamored to board the homeward-bound ship, which blew up mid-river.

However, the story of the sinking quickly vanished from the papers. What really sank the Sultana? Was it Confederate sabotage?

Securing the original investigative report and its archives allows the team to forensically examine and scientifically test theories of the boilers’ failure. The team also researches the stories of a Confederate agent and spy who burned Union ships on the Mississippi and was an expert in using “coal torpedoes” and a former Union inspector’s deathbed revelation.

PBS HISTORY DETECTIVES is on Facebook, and you can follow @histdetectives on Twitter.

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"The detectives are back with a new mission: Solving the biggest mysteries in American history! History Detectives Special Investigations premieres Tuesday

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