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THE STAR OF THE WEST AT CHARLESTON.

155

. 1861,

Speaking for those who, true to the instructions of their ancestral traditions, were anxious to revive that species of maritime enterprise which made Charleston so famous and so rich in far back colonial times, the Mercury shouted, Seize those forts, and then “the commerce of the North in the Gulf will fall an easy prey to our bold privateers; and California gold will pay all such little expenses on our part.” There was a wild cry for somebody, in the interest of the conspirators, to capture the California treasureships; and the Louisianians were invoked to seize the mint at New Orleans, and to put into the coffers of their State its precious metals. This piracythis plunder--this violation of every principle of honor-was counseled by the South Carolina conspirators before the politicians in any other State had even held a convention to determine on secession! It was the spirit of an outlaw, whose life is forfeit to offended justice, armed to the teeth, and with the frenzy of desperation, defying all power, denying all right, and, desiring to drag every one down to his own base level.

Cut off by the insurgents from communication with his Government, Major Anderson could not know whether his appeals for re-enforcements and supplies had been heard or heeded. Anxiously all eyes in Sumter were hourly turned ocean-ward, with a desire to see some vessel bearing the National flag that might promise relief. With that apparition they were greeted on the morning of the 9th of January,' when the Star of the West was seen coming over the bar, and making her way toward the fort. She had arrived at the bar at half-past one o'clock, and finding all the lights put out, extinguished her own, and lay there until morning. At dawn she was discovered by the scouting steamer, General Clinch, which at once burned colored lights as signals, passed the bar into the ship-channel, and ran for the inner harbor. The Star of the West followed her, after putting all the soldiers below, and giving her the appear. ance of a mere merchant vessel, with only crew enough to manage her. The deception was fruitless. Her name, her character, and the object of her voyage, had already been made known to the authorities of South Carolina, by a telegraphic dispatch to the Charleston Mercury,' and by Thompson, one of the conspirators in Buchanan's Cabinet, who was afterward an accomplice in deeds exceeding in depravity of conception the darkest in the annals of crime. Some spy had revealed the secret to this man, and he, while yet in the pay of the Government, betrayed it to its enemies. “As I was writing my resignation," he said, “I sent a dispatch to Judge Longstreet that the Star of the West was coming with re-enforcements." He also gave a messenger another dispatch 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 dispatch.

1 On the 24th of January, 1861, the following card appeareil in the New York Tribune :

** I have to state that I am no spy, as charged in your paper of this morning. I utterly detest the name, and am incapable of acting the part of one.

* I have been for some time employed as a special telegraph news reporter for a few Southern newspapers, including one in Charleston. My business has been to send them, when occasion required it, important commer. cial intelligence and general news items of interest. llence, in the discharge of my duty as a telegraph reporter, I did send an account of the sailing of the Star of the West. If that was treason, all I have to say in conclusion is, make the most of it.

"ALESANDER JOXES. " HEBALD OFFICE, New York, January 23, 1561." Speech at Oxford, Mississippi.

156

ATTACK ON THE STAR OF THE WEST.

The insurgents at Charleston were thus enabled to prepare for her reception. They did so; and when she had arrived within two miles of Forts Moultrie and Sumter, unsuspicious of danger, a shot came ricocheting across her bow from a masked battery on Morris Island, three-fourths of a mile distant, the only indication of its presence being a red Palmetto flag. The battery was under the command of Major Stevens, Principal of the State Military School, kept in the Citadel Academy, and his gunners, called the Citadel Cadets, were his pupils. He was supported by about two hundred and sixty-five soldiers under Lieutenant-Colonel J. L. Branch.

The National flag was flying over the Star of the West at the time, and, as soon as possible, Captain McGowan displayed a large American ensign at the fore. Of course the assailants had no respect for these emblems of the Union, and for ten minutes, while the vessel went forward, a continuous fire was kept up from the battery, and one or two shots were hurled at her from Fort Moultrie, without producing serious damage. The heavy balls flew over her deck and through her rigging, "and one," said the Captain,

came within an ace of carrying away our rudder.” Fort Moultrie, well armed and garrisoned, was then just ahead, and from it two steam-tugs were seen to put out, with an armed schooner, to intercept the Star of the West. Hemmed in, and exposed to a cannonade without power to offer resistance (for his vessel was unarmed), Captain McGowan perceived that his ship and all on board of her were in imminent peril of capture or destruction; so he turned her bow ocean-ward, after seventeen shots had been fired at her, put to sea, and returned to New York on the 12th.' Major Stevens, a tall, black-eyed, black-bearded young man of thirty-five years, was exceedingly boastful of his feat of humbling the flag of his country. The friends of Colonel Branch claimed the infamy for him.

The garrison in Sumter had been in a state of intense excitement during the brief time when the Star of the West was exposed to danger. Major Anderson was ignorant of her character and object, and of the salutary official changes at Washington, or he would have instantly resented the insult to the old flag. Had he known that the Executive and the new

members of his Cabinet approved his course, and were trying 4 January 7, to aid him-had he known that, only two days before," a 1861.

resolution of such approval had passed the National House of Representatives by a large majority—the Star of the West and her preciousfreight of men and stores would not have been driven to sea by a band of less than three hundred insurgents. He was ignorant of all this. She appeared as only a merchant vessel on a commercial errand to Charleston. When the first shot was fired upon her, he suspected her of being a relief-ship. When she ran up the old ensign at the fore, he could no longer doubt. His guns bearing on Moultrie, Morris Island, and the channel, were shotted and

1 Report of Captain McGowan, January 12, 1861.

2 The resolution, offered by Mr. Adrain of New Jersey, was as follows:-"Resolred, That we fully approve of the bold and patriotic act of Major Anderson in withdrawing from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, and of the determination of the President to maintain that fearless officer in his present position; and that we will support the President in all constitutional measures to enforce the laws and preserve the Union.” This resolution was adopted by a rote of one hundred and twenty-four against fifty-six. For the yeas and nays, see Congressional Globe's report of the proceedings of the Thirty-sixth Congress, page 251.

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the sovereignty of the nation was insulted by this dishonoring of its flag, when the vessel that bore it turned about and went to sea.

This assault upon the Star of the West was an open act of war. The conspirators of South Carolina had struck the first blow that was to inaugurate a destructive civil war-how specially destructive to themselves, and to the hundreds of thousands of the innocent people in the Slave-labor States

158

EXULTATION OF THE CONSPIRATORS.

whom they deceived, betrayed, and ruined, let the history of that war declare. They gloried in the infamy. The Legislature resolved unanimously, “That this General Assembly learns 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 re-enforce Fort Sumter.” The organ of the conspirators, speaking in their name, said, exultingly :-“ Yesterday, the 9th of January, will be remembered in history. Powder has been burnt over the 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. We are more proud that the State of South Carolina, so long, so bitterly, so contemptuously reviled and scoffed at, above all others, should thus proudly have thrown back the scoff of her enemies. Intrenched upon her soil, she has spoken from the mouth of her cannon, and not from the mouths of scurrilous demagogues, fanatics, and scribblers. Contemned, the sanctity of her waters violated with hostile purpose of re-enforcing enemies in our harbor, she has not hesitated to strike the first blou, 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. Again South Carolina may be proud of her historic fame and ancestry, without a blush upon her cheek for her own present honor. The haughty echo of her cannon has ere this reverberated from Maine to Texas, through every hamlet of the North, and down along the great waters of the Southwest. The decree has gone forth. Upon each acre of the peaceful soil of the South, armed men will spring up as the sound breaks upon their ears; and it will be found that every word of our insolent foe has been, indeed, a dragon's tooth sown for their destruction. And though grisly and traitorous ruffians may cry on the dogs of war, and treacherous politicians may lend their aid in deceptions, South Carolina will stand under her own Palmetto-tree, unterrified by the snarling growls or assaults of the one, undeceived or deterred by the wily machinations of the other. And 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 !!!

Four years after the war was so boastfully begun by these South Carolina conspirators, it had made Charleston a ghastly ruin, in which not one of these men remained; laid Columbia, the capital of the State, in ashes; liberated every slave within the borders of the Commonwealth ; wholly disorganized society ; filled the land with the mourning of the deceived and bereaved people, and caused a large number of those who signed the Ordinance of Secession, and brought the curse of War's desolation upon the innocent inhabitants of most of the Slave-labor States, to become fugitives from their homes, utterly ruined. The retribution was terrible!

i Charleston Mercury, January 10, 1861.

? A letter written in Charleston just after the National troopis took possession of it, in February, 1865, contained tbe following paragraph:

“The wharves looked as if they had been deserted for half a century--broken down, dilapidated, grass and

HOSTILE ATTITUDE OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

159

Major Anderson accepted the insult to his country's flag as an act of war, and promptly sent a letter to Governor Pickens under a flag of' truce, borne by Lieutenant Hall, as he would to a belligerent enemy, stating the fact of the firing upon an unarmed vessel bearing the flag of the Republic, and asking him whether the outrage had been committed in obedience to his orders. It was a humiliating but unavoidable confession of the weakness of the Government, when a commander of one of its powerful forts was compelled, with a supplicating flag of truce, to seek communication with the Governor of one of the most unimportant members of the Republic—the proconsul of a province. Anderson felt the humiliation keenly; but acted prudently. His demand for an explanation was made with courtesy, but with firmness. He notified the Governor, that if the outrage was not disavowed by him he should regard it as an act of war, and should not, after a reasonable time allowed for the return of his messenger, permit any vessel to pass within range of his guns. “In order to save, as far as it is in my power,” he said, “ the shedding of blood, I beg you will take due notification of my decision, for the good of all concerned.”

Governor Pickens replied promptly. He assumed the act as that of the State of South Carolina; and assured Anderson that any attempt to re-enforce Sumter would be resisted. He left him to decide for himself, whether he would carry out his threat concerning the interception of vessels passing the channel, which the Governor would regard as an attempt to “impose on the State the conditions of a conquered province.” The affair assumed an aspect of too much gravity for Anderson to act further upon his sole responsibility, and he resolved to refer the whole subject to his Government. He wrote to Pickens to that effect, expressing a hope that he would not prevent the bearer of his letter, Lieutenant Talbot, proceeding at once to Washington. No objections were interposed, and Talbot carried to the North the first full tidings, from Sumter, of the outrage upon the old flag, and the failure of the expedition of the Star of the West. It created an intense excitement in the Free-labor

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FRANCIS W. PIOKENS.

moss peeping up between the pavements, where once the busy feet of commerce trode incessantly. The ware. houses near the river; the streets as we enter them; the houses and the stores and the public buildings-we look at them and hold our breaths in utter amazement. Every step we take increases our astonishment. No pen, no pencil, no tongue can do justice to the scene. No imagination can conceive of the utter wreck, the universal ruin, the stupendous desolation. Ruin-ruin-ruin-above and below; on the right band and the left; ruin, ruin, ruin, everywhere and always—staring at us from every paneless window; looking out at ts from every shell-torn wall; glaring at us from every battered door and pillar and veranda ; crouching beneath our feet on every sidewalk. Not Pompeii, nor Herculaneum, nor Thebes, nor the Nile, have ruins so complete, 50 saddening, so plaintively eloquent, for they speak to us of an age not ours, and long Ago dead, with whos: people and life and ideas we have no sympathy whatever. But here, on these shattered wrecks of houses-built in our own style, many of them doing credit to the architecture of our epoch—we read names familiar to us all; telling us of trades and professions and commercial institutions which every modern city reckons up by the hundred: yet dead, dead, dead; as silent as the grave of the Pharaohs, as deserted as the bazars of the merchant princes of Old Tyre."

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