INDIANAPOLIS—More than 150 years after the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history, the story of the steamboat Sultana takes on new life, thanks to an author who found inspiration in her own family tree. The Indiana Historical Society (IHS) Press invites readers along for the journey with the release of Yours: The Civil War, a Love Triangle and the Steamboat Sultana by Lila Jeanne Elliott Sybesma.
Yours is the fictional but historically inspired tale of three young Indiana neighbors and their experiences during the Civil War. While written as romantic fiction for young adults, Sybesma based the book on the 1913 IHS publication, The Sultana Disaster, written by her great-granduncle Joseph Taylor Elliott. Elliott survived the 1865 explosion and sinking in which nearly 1,200 soldiers and civilians perished.
“My greatest joy in writing this book was that I wrote alongside the ghost of my great-granduncle more than a century after his death,” wrote Sybesma in the preface to Yours. “Although I never met him, I feel as if I knew him well.”
With Elliott’s story and others serving as inspiration, Sybesma crafted the characters of Sarah Sutton and Gabe and Joseph Elliott. During the war, the brothers serve with the Union Army, before being taken prisoner and sent to Andersonville prison camp. Meantime, Sarah serves as a nurse in battlefield hospitals, crosses Confederate lines and takes on duties as a spy.
The three friends are reunited aboard the Sultana, a steamboat returning thousands of soldiers home after the war. Old feelings come rushing back, and it finally seems Sarah will choose one of the Elliott brothers. With both boys vying for her heart, Sarah’s relationship with Gabe and Joseph is put to the test when the dangerously overloaded ship explodes and sinks in the Mississippi River.
While appropriate for young adult readers (grades 8 through 12), Yours will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. For more information about Yours and its author, or to learn where IHS Press books are sold, call (317) 232-1882 or visit www.indianahistory.org.
About the Sultana
The Sultana was the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history, but with news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and General Robert E. Lee’s surrender dominating headlines, the story received little space in the newspapers of the day. Designed to carry 376 passengers, the ship was loaded with more than 2,100 people when three boilers exploded just north of Memphis, Tennessee. Passengers on board were confronted with a fatal decision: stay on the boat and face the flames or plunge into the icy Mississippi. Many soldiers who survived battles and brutal prisoner of war camps never made it home to their families.
About the Author
Lila Sybesma is an associate professor at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, where she specializes in early childhood education and reading. Her personal obsession with the story of the Sultana and the Civil War began when she discovered The Sultana Disaster by her great-granduncle, as well as her family’s letters.
About the Indiana Historical Society
Since 1830, the Indiana Historical Society has been Indiana’s Storyteller™, connecting people to the past by collecting, preserving and sharing the state’s history. A private, nonprofit membership organization, IHS maintains the nation’s premier research library and archives on the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest and presents a unique set of visitor experiences called the Indiana Experience. IHS also provides support and assistance to local museums and historical groups; publishes books and periodicals; sponsors teacher workshops; produces and hosts art exhibitions, museum theater and outside performance groups; and provides youth, adult and family programs. IHS is a Smithsonian Affiliate and a member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.