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The first shots of The Civil War

Citadel Cadets fire on The Star of the West opening The American Civil War
Citadel Cadets fire on The Star of the West opening The American Civil War
Library of Congress

   Most people today associate the events of  April 12, 1861 and Fort Sumter as the first shots of The Civil War.  But history is written by the winners and sometimes gets changed.  The opening shots of Americas deadliest conflict were actually fired more than three months before.

     A ship The Star of the West had been outfitted with supplies and 200 men in New York Harbor bound for Charleston.  Fearing this kind of maneuver, Governor Pickens ordered a battery of guns built on Morris Island outside the range of Sumter's cannon.  The battery known as Fort Morris, was commanded by Major Stevens and manned by forty cadets from the Citadel Academy.  Spies and Southern sympathizers informed Charleston of the mission of The Star of the West.  It's departure from New York was even noted in the Charleston papers. 

     On the morning of January 9, 1861 was spotted trying to enter Charleston's harbor.  Citadel cadets awoke to the firing of rockets from guard ships alerting them to the enemy ship.  Cadet George Haynesworth pulled the lanyard, opening the war.  The first shot was fired across the bow of the ship.  The warning not heeded, cadets opened up on The Star of the West and hit her several times.  During the engagement, Major Anderson at Fort Sumter ran out his guns but didn't return fire concerned that it might start a general engagement.  Taking hits and not getting any help, The Star of the West turned around and headed for New York.

     Everyone who heard the shots knew they meant war.  The Charleston Mercury wrote that "yesterday morning was the opening ball of the Revolution."  On Fort Sumter, Captain J. G. Foster wrote "The firing upon The Star of the West by the batteries on Morris Island opened the war..."  Seems the only people who didn't think The Star of the West incident opened the war are those who look back through the eyes of history.