American Republic Bradley J. Birzer Civil War Constitution History News Senior Contributors War

The First Shots of the Civil War: The Star of the West

Star of the West

The Union troopers defending Forts Sumter and Moultrie in Charleston Harbor had come to consider that their honor, in addition to the honor of the Structure and the federal authorities, have been at stake…

Star of the West

Star of the West

Shortly after daybreak, round 6 am, on January 9, 1861, Captain Abner Doubleday noticed a steamer getting ready to enter Charleston Harbor by route of the Morris Island channel. The males at Fort Sumter had heard rumors the earlier day that a service provider ship was approaching with re-enforcements. They understandably dismissed the rumors. In any case, why would the authorities publicize such an important secret, the males at Sumter questioned? Much more importantly, why would the authorities fail to tell the Union forces in Charleston Harbor of such re-enforcements? Moreover perplexing, why would the authorities ship a service provider ship slightly than a vessel of conflict? Assuming the authorities to not be utterly inept (a poor assumption with President James Buchanan in cost), the males of Fort Sumter fearful that the whole story and ship may be a ruse, perpetrated by South Carolina. Perhaps the ship was a decoy or a check. Worse, the ship may include a number of hundred South Carolinian marines, able to assault a trusting Fort Sumter. No matter the rumors, Doubleday instantly famous that this ship, bearing a traditional American flag, was not an official naval vessel.[1] This was odd, in and of itself.

Virtually as quickly as Doubleday spied the ship, a battery, lately planted on Morris Island by the South Carolinians, opened hearth with a warning shot when the ship was inside about 5/eight of a mile of Morris Island and two miles, equidistant, from Forts Moultrie and Sumter. The battery, although hidden, was marked with a close-by pink Palmetto flag, Main Stephen of the Citadel Cadets, commanding.[2] “Suddenly, whi-z-z! comes a richochet shot from Morris Island,” a sailor remembered. “It plunges into the water and skips along, but falls short of our steamer. The line was forward of our bow, and was, of course, an invitation to stop.”[3] The offending ship, Star of the West, entered the harbor “with barely water enough to float my vessel over the bar,” its captain, Samuel McGowan, wrote 5 days after the occasion. There have been “no buoys in proper places, the ranges all cut down, with the assistance of no person on board who had ever been in Charleston before.”[4] In response to the warning shot, the Star of the West, hoisted an enormous U.S. garrison flag. “A large garrison flag, 30 by 40 feet, had been furnished to me, with orders to hoist it in case Fort Moultrie fired upon the vessel,” the captain defined. “And that being recognized, Major Robert Anderson would protect the ship by the guns of Fort Sumter. After the first shot being fired this flag was hoisted at the fore, and could be plainly seen from” Anderson’s place.[5]

Doubleday ran as shortly as potential to Anderson’s quarters and awoke him. Anderson instantly ordered the males to man their posts.[6] His males responded admirably, manning their weapons “almost before the guns of the hidden battery had fired their second shot.”[7] Many of the males apprehensive that the ship meant the finish of their sojourn in Charleston Harbor. “There had been some talk among the men, based upon rumors from Charleston, that the garrison would either be withdrawn from the harbor or returned to Fort Moultrie,” Davis recorded. Those that believed this rumor “were now confident that withdrawal had been determined on,” with the Star of the West arriving to whisk them away. “There was no denying that appearances favored the theory, yet there was no enthusiasm. The men were beginning to feel that they were a match for their adversaries, and they were loath to leave without proving it.”[8] The males had labored too onerous since December twenty-sixth to depart now. Their honor, and the honor of the Structure and the federal authorities, have been at stake, or in order that they believed.

Surgeon Samuel W. Crawford, Lieutenant R.Okay. Meade, Lieutenant Jefferson C. Davis, and Anderson met the males at the weapons on the parapet, and every recognized the Star of the West, underneath the U.S. flag, trying to enter the harbor. The ship started to sign Sumter, however Anderson couldn’t reply, as his personal flags have been tangled in a twisted mess.[9] The mariners of the Star of the West have been completely confused by the failure of Anderson to reply.

Why doesn’t Main Anderson open hearth upon that battery and save us? We glance in useless for assist; the American flag flies from Fort Sumter, and the American flag at our bow and stern is fired upon, but there’s not the slightest recognition of our presence from the fort from which we search for safety. The sudden battery on Morris Island has reduce off all hope of escape by operating the vessel aground close to Sumter and taking to the boats. Is it potential that Fort Sumter has been taken by the South Carolinians? If it has not, why doesn’t Main Anderson present that he’ll shield us, or least acknowledge us ultimately? To go inside vary of the weapons of Fort Moultrie is to show vessel, males, and shops to virtually immediate destruction, or to seize by the enemy.[10]

At this level, Fort Moultrie opened hearth, however its distance was too nice, and the shot missed the Star of the West by almost .5 miles.[11] The hidden batteries at Morris Island continued to fireside as properly.[12] “We continued on under fire of the battery for over ten minutes, several of the shots going clean over us,” Captain McGowan reported. “One passed between the smoke-stack and walking-beams of the engine. Another struck the ship just abaft the fore-rigging, and stove in the planking; and another came within an ace of carrying away the rudder.”[13] Davis recommended to Anderson that Sumter ought to hearth upon Moultrie. Anderson appeared to agree, however simply as he was to offer the order, Lieutenant Meade cautioned him. Any return hearth would start civil warfare, and, moreover, the governor might simply dismiss South Carolina’s firing as an accident brought on by overzealous officers and troops. “One of the officers was very anxious to fire, if but once, but Maj. Anderson replied that he would, at every hazard, avoid the shedding of the first drop of blood. ‘If it must come,’” Anderson said on the parapet, “’let it come from our opponents first. On their hands be the crime of bathing their hands in their own brothers’ blood.’”[14] Two days later, Anderson reiterated his place in a personal letter. “I was sorely tempted to open my battery, but, perhaps fortunately, for the chance of having matters settled without bloodshed, I could not have touched the battery that opened upon her,” he defined. Lack of preparations induced Anderson to err on the aspect of warning. “My defenses were just then in such a condition that I could not have opened the war,” he claimed.[15] As Anderson ordered his officers to his quarters for a Struggle Council, a sixth shot was fired from the hidden battery, two South Carolina steamers and a schooner started to depart Fort Moultrie to intercept the unarmed U.S. vessel, and the Star of the West started its end up of the harbor.[16] “Helm out of port,” the captain shouted. “We turn without accident, and steam away, with the stars and stripes still floating, and the battery still playing upon us by way of a parting salute.”[17] It was completely clear, the commanding infantry officer on board the Star of the West, Lieutenant Charles Woods reported, that the “Charlestonians were perfectly aware of our coming.”[18]

Distraught over the firing on a vessel bearing the U.S. flag, Anderson met together with his officers in council. The males have been virtually evenly divided over what course to take, and emotions, particularly after seeing the American flag attacked for the time, “impressed each one” deeply. To start the proceedings, Anderson really helpful that they vote to shut the harbor to all vessels. He additionally famous his final orders from the Conflict Division which had cautioned towards any actions which could “precipitate hostilities.” Lieutenants Corridor and Snyder and Captain Doubleday argued for speedy retaliation. Lieutenants Meade and Davis referred to as for forbearance, needing an evidence from Governor Pickens. Meade particularly feared the outbreak of civil warfare ought to Fort Sumter act in any hostile method. Crawford agreed with Meade and Davis, solely as a result of the occasion was over. The fort had missed its alternative to guard its honor vigorously. Now, even protest can be half-hearted and make the fort and its males seem weak. Although Foster and Seymour have been additionally at the struggle council, no report exists for both of their suggestions. However, given Foster’s 1866 report back to the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the Warfare in addition to the response to the council recorded under, he virtually definitely should have favored speedy retaliation. With a divided council, Anderson determined to put in writing the governor, demanding an evidence and threatening to shut the harbor to all visitors.[19]

By the time the Conflict Council completed, the battle was over, and the steamer departed from the space.[20] Throughout the one-sided melee, South Carolinian forces had fired a complete of seventeen photographs.[21] Livid, Captain Foster ran out of the assembly, “smashing his hat, and muttering something about the flag, of which the words ‘trample on it’ reached the ears of the men at the guns.”[22] Not surprisingly, Doubleday was additionally livid at Anderson’s choice, noting, in all probability appropriately, that the South Carolinians would lose all respect for the males at the fort. “I think the people in Fort Moultrie, who expected to be driven out to take refuge behind the sand-hills, were especially astonished at our inaction,” he wrote in his memoirs.[23] Anderson’s failure to behave when the U.S. flag had been fired upon, might solely diminish the psychological deterrent, stopping the southerners to assault the fort. “After the Star of the West affair,” the South Carolinians “probably thought we were very harmless people,” Doubleday lamented.[24] Definitely, the phrases of the Charleston Courier the subsequent day appeared to verify the New Yorker’s fears. “The first gun of the new struggle for independence, (if struggle there is to be) has been fired,” the paper claimed, “and Federal power has received its first repulse.”[25] Much more revealing, the South Carolina authorities, by way of the workplace of Governor Pickens, decided upon the greatest method to scale back Fort Sumter on the similar day as the newspaper report. “We are unanimously and decidedly of the opinion that—discarding all other methods of attack upon that fortress (whether by surprise, by open assault, or by stratagem), as uncertain in their results, and as, even if successful, involving probably much sacrifice of life—our dependence and sole reliance must be upon batteries of heavy ordinance, at least until a deep impression has been made upon the garrison, in its morale as well as in its physique, by an incessant bombardment and cannonade of many hours duration,” the report said.[26] Anderson’s refusal to defend an American vessel opened his personal place to assault.

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[1] Doubleday, Reminiscences, 102.

[2] “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861); and “Capt. McGowan’s Report,” reprinted in Frank Moore, ed., The Revolt Document: A Diary of American Occasions, With Paperwork, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, and so forth. (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1861), 21. The Confederates, after the Star of the West incident, all the time referred to the battery merely as the “Star of the West Battery.” See Pressely, “The Wee Nee Volunteers,” 485.

[3] “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861).

[4] Captain McGowan to the Editor of the New York Occasions, January 14, 1861, in New York Occasions (January 15, 1861), pg. four. Charles Wooden confirms this in Charles Woods to Colonel H.L. Scott, January 13, 1861, in Official Data of the Struggle of the Revolt, vol. 1, pg. 10.

[5] Captain McGowan to the Editor of the New York Occasions, January 14, 1861, in New York Occasions (January 15, 1861), pg. four.

[6] Doubleday, Reminiscences, 102.

[7] Davis, “Inside Sumter in ’61,” 61.

[8] Davis, “Inside Sumter in ’61,” 60-61.

[9] Crawford, Genesis, 186.

[10] “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861).

[11] Davis, “Inside Sumter in ’61,” 61.

[12] “Account of the Firing into the ‘Star of the West’ Taken from the Charleston Courier, of January 10 th , 1861, in Harris, ed., Report, 24.

[13] “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861).

[14] “The Disunion Crisis,” New York Occasions (February 7, 1861), pg. 2.

[15] Anderson, January 11, 1861, in New York Occasions (January 29, 1861), pg. four.

[16] Crawford, Genesis, 186; “Account of the Firing into the ‘Star of the West’ Taken from the Charleston Courier, of January 10 th , 1861, in Harris, ed., Record, 24; and “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861).

[17] “The Firing on the ‘Star of the West,’” Harper’s Weekly (January 26, 1861); and “The Condition of Fort Sumter,” New York Occasions (January 19, 1861), pg. 1.

[18] Charles Woods to Colonel H.L. Scott, January 13, 1861, in O.R., vol. 1, pg. 10.

[19] The proceedings of the Warfare Council are in Crawford, Genesis, 187-188. Foster provides a temporary description as properly in “Report of Major General J.G. Foster,” 7.

[20] Doubleday, Reminiscences, 104.

[21] “Return of the Star of the West,” New York Occasions (January 14, 1861), pg. 1

[22] Crawford, “Inside Sumter in ’61,” 61.

[23] Doubleday, Reminiscences, 103.

[24] Doubleday, Reminiscences, 106.

[25] “Account of the Firing into the ‘Star of the West,’ Taken from the Charleston Courier, of January 10, 1861,” in Harris, ed., Report of Fort Sumter, 23.

26 “Report of Walter Gwynn, Edward B. White, J.H. Trapier and Edward Manigault to Governor Pickens, in Relation to Batteries to Reduce Fort Sumter,” in Harris, ed., Report of Fort Sumter, 21-22.

Editor’s Notice: The featured picture is an engraving of the bombardment of Fort Sumter (1863) by artist George Edward Perine (1837-1885); the image above is an outline of the steamship Star of the West (1861). Each are licensed underneath Artistic Commons  

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