[Giovanni Luzzo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

January 9, 1861: The Precursor To The Civil War

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On January 9, 1861, the United States moved one step closer to going to civil war. On that day, A crew on The Star of the West, a ship hired by the U.S. government to supply American troops, found itself caught in between working for the American military and the recently seceded South Carolina. 

The ship’s mission was to resupply the soldiers at Fort Sumter, who were cut off by South Carolinians in Charleston Harbor and desperately needed more supplies and people. At the time, tensions between the North and South were escalating, and several Southern states had already seceded from the Union.

Tasked with delivering supplies and reinforcements to the beleaguered Fort Sumter, the Star of the West’s mission was fraught with the tension that gripped the nation. However, this was no secret mission. Everyone knew the ship was coming to South Carolina. 

Once the ship got close to Charleston Harbor early in the morning, students from The Citadel military college saw it. They thought it was an enemy ship and fired warning shots., sparking one of the first actions of the Civil War. 

After the ship refused to stop its mission, the students hit the boat directly. The captain, John McGowan, knew he couldn’t finish the mission without putting his crew in danger. So, he turned the ship around and left. Fort Sumter was left on its own. 

The Star of the West incident is important because it was a clear attack on the U.S. by what would become the Confederacy and revealed a precursor as to what was going to come. Only a few months later, along with the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, the war would truly begin in earnest at the Battle of Fort Sumter.  


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