Monday, January 10, 2011

South Carolinians fire on Star of the West

Star of the West
150 years ago yesterday the first shots of the Civil War occurred when a group of South Carolinians fired on the Star of the West which was trying to relieve Fort Sumter.

President Buchanan’s policy when dealing with the secession crisis was to try to buy time for the Congress to work out the problems. So he was reluctant to condemn or support Anderson in Charleston harbor. However, he decided to send 250 troops along with supplies to Fort Sumter, but in a civilian steamer – the Star of the West. He hoped that this would be less inflammatory towards the Southerners, and also its shallower draft would allow it to approach the fort more easily.

Charleston was prepared to meet the threat. They had been informed about the sending of the ship by one of Buchanan’s cabinet members, who had resigned over the decision. They tried to put some obstructions in the channels, as well as build a battery which was manned by cadets from the Citadel, a military college in South Carolina.

The Star of the West arrived early on the morning of January 9th, but they had to wait until daylight to navigate through the channel. They were hailed by a patrol ship and asked who they were, but they did not answer. Therefore the patrol ship fired a rocket, alerting the batteries of the hostile ship. When it reached the harbor, it was greeted by the fire of the new battery. These were the first shots of the Civil War. The relief ship signaled to Fort Sumter for help, but as they were the only ones in Charleston who did not know the ship was coming, they were not prepared to meet the threat. By the time they were ready to lend aid to the Star of the West, she was already turning back after being hit several times by the shots from the batteries. Anderson decided not to start the war by opening fire on the batteries.

This event, surprisingly, did not immediately precipitate the war. The governor of South Carolina asked Major Anderson to surrender, and he said that he could not without asking for instructions from Washington. Therefore he was allowed to send a messenger there. Even though the war did not begin here, he set it on a course that would result in conflict.

Star of the West
Note: If you want to know why we do not post on Sunday, get a copy of Sanctified by God.


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