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This Week

A more substantive series of posts is in the works for this blog (promise), but I would definitely be remiss if I did not first take a little time here to call notice to a certain noteworthy event in history. Namely, that it was in fact 150 years ago this week–9 January 1861, to be exact–that anti-government, state rights reactionaries in the southern part of the United States, upset over the fact that a certain skinny guy from Illinois had been elected president, fired on the Star of the West.

Star of the West

Here is the report of the ship’s commander:

NEW-YORK, Saturday, Jan. 12, 1861.

M.O. ROBERTS, ESQ. — SIR: After leaving the wharf on the 5th inst., at 5 o’clock P.M., we preceeded down the Bay, where we hove to, and took on board four officers and two hundred soldiers, with their arms, ammunition, &c., and then proceeded to sea, crossing the bar at Sandy Hook at 9 P.M. Nothing unusual took place during the passage, which was a pleasant one or this season of the year.

We arrived at Charleston Bar at 1:30 A.M. on the 9th inst., but could find no guiding marks for the Bar, as the lights were all out. We proceeded with caution, running very slow and sounding, until about 4 A.M., being then in 4 1/2 fathoms water, when we discovered a light through the haze which at that time covered the horizon. Concluding that the lights were on Fort Sumter, after getting the bearings of it, we steered to the S.W. for the main ship-channel, where we hove to, to await daylight, our lights having all been put out since 12 o’clock, to avoid being seen.

As the day began to break, we discovered a steamer just in shore of us, who, as soon as she saw us, burned one blue light and two red lights as signals, and shortly after steamed over the bar and into the ship channel. The soldiers were now all put below, and no one allowed on deck except our own crew. As soon as there was light enough to see, we crossed the bar and proceeded on up the channel, (the outer-bar buoy having been taken away,) the steamer ahead of us sending off rockets, and burning lights until after broad daylight, continuing on her course up nearly two miles ahead of us. When we arrived about two miles from Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter being about the same distance, a masked battery on Morris Island, where there was a red Palmetto flag flying, opened fire upon us –distance, about five-eighths of a mile. We had the American flag flying at our flagstaff at the time, and soon after the first shot, hoisted a large American Ensign at the fore. We continued on under the fire of the battery for over ten minutes, several of the shots going clear over us. One shot just passed clear of the pilot-house, another 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, while another came within an ace of carrying away the rudder. At the some time there was a movement of two steamers from near Fort Moultrie, one of them towing a schooner, (I presume an armed schooner,) with the intention of cutting us off. Our position now became rather critical, as we had to approach Fort Moultrie to within three-quarters of a mile before we could keep away for Fort Sumter. A steamer approaching us with on armed schooner in tow, and the battery on the island firing at us all the time, and having no cannon to defend ourselves from the attack of the vessels, we concluded that, to avoid certain capture, or destruction, we would endeavor to get to sea. Consequently we wore round and steered down the channel, the battery firing upon us until the shot fell short. As it was now strong ebb tide, and the water having fallen some three feet, we proceeded with caution, and crossed the bar safely at 8:50 A.M., and continued on our course for this port, where we arrived this morning after a boisterous passage. A steamer from Charleston followed us for about three hours, watching our movements.

In justice to the officers and crews of each department of the ship, I must add that their behavior while under the fire of the battery reflected great credit on them.

Mr. BREWER, the New-York pilot, was of very great assistance to me in helping to pilot the ship over Charleston Bar, and up and down the channel.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN MCGOWAN, Captain.

Comments (2) to “This Week”

  1. The Star of the West had a fascinating, post-Charleston life — captured by Confederates outside Matagorda Bay, later sunk in the Tallahatchie to thwart Union efforts against Vicksburg.

    Has anyone written a book yet on the SoTW?

  2. Too busy writing the 50th book on the Alabama.