Star of the West,
A steam merchantman, sent to relieve Major Anderson
in Fort Sumter
It having been resolved, on the advice of Secretary Holt
and General Scott
, to send troops to reinforce the garrison at Fort Sumter
, orders were given for the United States
—the only war-ship available then— to be in readiness to sail from Norfolk
at a moment's notice.
This order Jacob Thompson
, Secretary of the Interior
, revealed to the early Confederate leaders.
were ready to seize the Brooklyn
; the lights of the shore-beacons in Charleston Harbor
were extinguished, and the buoys that marked the channel were removed.
Informed of the betrayal of his order, President Buchanan
countermanded it, when Thompson
threatened to resign in consequence of such an order.
The President promised him that none like it should be given “without the question being first considered and decided in the cabinet.”
It was soon evident that there were members of the cabinet who could not be trusted.
Dangers were thickening; and the President
, listening to the counsels of Holt
, resolved to send supplies and men to Sumter
, by stealth.
The stanch merchant steam-vessel Star of the West
was chartered by the government for the purpose and quickly laden with supplies.
She was cleared for Savannah
and New Orleans, so as to mislead spies, and left New York at sunset, Jan. 5, 1861.
Far down the bay she received, under cover of thick darkness, four officers and 250 artillerists and marines, with their arms and ammunition, and proceeded to sea, under her commander, Capt. John McGowan
On the morning of Jan. 9 she reached Charleston Bar, before daylight.
Finding all the shore-lights put out, she extinguished her own. Just at dawn a scouting steamboat discovered her, burned colored lights as signals, and ran for the inner harbor.
the Star of the West
had all her soldiers concealed below and was in the guise of a merchant vessel.
The deception was fruitless: her errand was already known.
, a telegraphic correspondent of the Southern
newspapers, had informed the Charleston
of the sailing of the vessel from New York, and Secretary Thompson
, in possession of the secret, imparted it to the authorities at Charleston
“As I was writing my resignation,” he afterwards wrote, “I sent a despatch to Judge
The Star of the West.|
that the Star of the West
was coming with reinforcements.”
He also gave a messenger another despatch to be sent, in which he said, as if by authority, “Blow the Star of the West
out of the water.”
The messenger patriotically withheld the despatch.
When the vessel was within 2 miles of Fort Sumter
, unsuspicious of danger, a shot came ricochetting across her bow from a masked battery on Morris Island
, three-fourths of a mile distant.
The national flag was flying over the Star of the West
, and her captain immediately displayed a large American ensign at the fore.
As she passed on, a continuous fire was kept up from Morris Island
, and an occasional shot from Fort Moultrie
was hurled at her. Two steam-tugs and an armed schooner put out from Fort Moultrie
to intercept her. Captain McGowan
, finding himself hemmed in, powerless, and in imminent danger of capture, turned his vessel seaward, after seventeen shots had been fired by the insurgents, and returned to New York, Jan. 12.
This firing on the flag of the United States
was the first overt act of war that marked the inauguration of the great Civil War
Had Major Anderson
, in Sumter
, then known that loyal men were in power in his government, he would have opened the great guns of the fortress, and the Star of the West
and her precious freight would not have been driven to sea.
There was great exultation in South Carolina
because of this act of war. The legislature resolved that they “learned with pride and pleasure of the successful resistance this day by the troops of this State, acting under orders of the governor, to an attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter
The Charleston Mercury
, Jan. 10, said, exultingly: “Yesterday, the 9th of January, will be remembered in history.
Powder has been burned over a decree of our State, timber has been crashed, perhaps blood spilled.
The expulsion of the Star of the West
from Charleston Harbor
, yesterday morning, was the opening of the ball of revolution.
We are proud that our harbor has been so honored.” . . . South Carolina
“has not hesitated to strike the first blow, full in the face of her insulter.
Let the United States government bear or return, at its good-will, the blow still tingling about its ears— the fruit of its own bandit temerity.
We would not exchange or recall that blow for millions.
It has wiped out half a century of scorn and outrage. . . . If that red seal of blood be still lacking to the parchment of our liberties—and blood they want—blood they shall have, and blood enough to stamp it all in red. For, by the God of our fathers, the soil of South Carolina shall be free