Star of the West, first shot or not?

I have been doing a lot of reading the last few weeks regarding the War of Northern Aggression, and in one of the books I’m reading, Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, I came across something I had never ever heard before…while I am sure a lot of people HAVE heard this, I am equally sure I’m not the only one to whom this story was “new”. I thought I would pass it along to those that may have interest in it. It is in no way meant to be an “opinion” piece; I am just passing along a story.

Were the shots fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861 indeed the first shots fired in the war? Some would say yes, some would say no. A lot of people in Charleston SC would definitely say no considering the events of January 1861 when cadets from the Citadel fired shots upon a Yankee supply ship called The Star of the West, to others the events starting at 4:30 A. M. on April 12, 1861, when Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina was when War of Northern Aggression had begun.

Three months prior to that fateful day in April, Charleston was notified by a southern sympathizer by telegraph that a ship mean to resupply the troops at Fort Sumter had left New York carrying about 200 men with Charles R Woods of the 9th Infantry in command.

The story goes that cadets along with some militia were camped in a converted small pox hospital on Morris Island to work on fortification and in about 4 days installed 4 twenty-four pound siege guns at the northern end of the island. After the guns had been installed the cadets participated in drill exercises and a schedule was established for guard posts.

On January 9, 1861 Cadet William Simkins spotted the steamer “Star of the West” from his sentry post sailing towards Morris Island in the early morning light. Major P. F. Stevens was alerted and Cadet Simkins was ordered to take his position on Gun No. 1 to help prepare it for firing at the on coming steamer. The unarmed ship, The Star of the West arrived in the harbor and was fired upon by the cadets, the first shot a warning shot across the bow of the ship, at this point the ship raised a full sized garrison flag and continued towards Fort Sumter, who was unaware of the mêlée taking place and all told was fired upon at least 17 times, taking two or three actual hits. As the ship had no cannon and no support from the unalerted Fort Sumter, she aborted her mission, lowered her flag and turned around and headed back to New York taking all her supplies and men with her.

The next day, the peppery Charleston Mercury carried the headline: “THE CITADEL CADETS FIRE THE FIRST SHOTTED GUN. The Mercury characterized the firing on the Star of the West as the “opening ball of the Revolution” and expressed pride that “our harbor has been so honored.

It would be another 3 months before the “official” start of a 4 year bloody war that would change this country forever, but in the hearts and minds of many, this WAS the beginning.

I definitely think it makes for an interesting trivia question!!

If you would like to discuss this story, you may do so HERE

2 Responses to “Star of the West, first shot or not?”

  1. Moovers and Shakers: Week of May 7, 2008 | Cow Hampshire Says:

    [...] all learned that the shots fired on Fort Sumter began the Civil War, but is that story true? ShaniFaye investigates at “Ancestrally Challenged.” Transit Geeks–Adam at “Seacoast NRG” helps you learn if you are a [...]

  2. sentry safe Says:

    sentry safe…

    Star of the West, first shot or not? | | Ancestrally Challenged…

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