Sunday, January 9, 2011

Citadel cadets fire on Star of the West

Citadel cadets fire on the SS Star of the West

[SIEGE OF FORT SUMTER] Captain McGowan of the Star of the West arrives off Charleston Bar at 1am, and finding the coast dark, gropes his way. General Winfield Scott had hoped that an unarmed vessel could steam into Charleston Harbor without suspicion.

Supposed to be secret, the mission leaked to politicians, then to the press, then to the public until when the "secret ship" arrived off the Bar, it was the subject of gossip in the Charleston streets. South Carolina authorities had posted guard ships from the Main Ship Channel around to Morris Island. 

The SC forces had already smashed the Charleston lighthouse lantern lenses and pulled down the light while the light ship had been hauled away off Rattlesnake Shoal and picked up the buoys which marked the way across the Bar, in an effort to make navigation difficult for the Star. At dawn the Star steams across the Charleston Bar, flushing the South Carolina guard ship GENERAL CLINCH which signals with flares and rockets. The ship, a passenger liner, tries to steam up the Main Ship Channel toward Fort Sumter with her 'tween decks crowded with 250 United States soldiers.

The Vigilant Rifles, a group of firemen turned soldiers on duty on Morris Island were alerted to the Star of the West's arrival on the south end; Citadel cadets were alerted on the north end.
Major P.F. Stevens, commanding the Morris Island defenses which includes a battery of forty South Carolina Citadel cadets, orders Cadet G.W. Haynesworth to pull the lanyard and fire on the Star of the West from a battery half concealed in the sand hills of Morris Island. No damage is done to the Star although she is hit.

Citadel Cadets fire on the SS Star of the West
Though some officers at Fort Sumter want to provide fire cover to the vessel, Anderson forbids it,  providing no assistance to the relief ship, the commander there not sure of the ship's identity and intentions. The Star, with no guns, turns and runs back to New York without reinforcing Fort Sumter. She had been diverted from her New York to New Orleans trip to take these reinforcements to Major Anderson. 

Major Anderson complains to SC Governor Pickens that a ship bearing a United States flag was fired on. The governor replies that a United States ship represents a hostile presence that the Palmetto Republic can no longer tolerate. Anderson's appeals to Washington will go unheeded while Charleston bristles with excitement over the near outbreak of war. /1861 

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