The Star of the West, which was a Union merchant ship, is fired at on January 9th, 1861 while making an attempt to bring supplies to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. History remembers this incident as being the original start time that shots were fired between the South and the North; interestingly, this event was not the main catalyst for the start of the Civil War.
During the time leading up to the official start of the Civil War, certain states had declared they were no longer be part of what once were states that stood united. One of those states that seceded was South Carolina and when they declared this act on December 20th, 1860, one of the immediate demands made was the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter should be withdrawn. Despite President James Buchanan wanting to be careful of making any provocative decisions; nevertheless, he declared he would not comply with this request. Meanwhile, Major Robert Anderson and his soldiers inside the fort that totaled 80 were in need of supplies. The Buchanan administration wanted to make sure to keep tensions from escalating; therefore, a civilian vessel was dispatched named the Star of the West rather than sending a military transport.
On January 5th, 1861, the Star of the West departed from New York and while the vessel was on the way, Secretary of War Joseph Holt was given a dispatch from Anderson declaring that supplies were not immediately needed and that the garrison was secure. Also, Anderson mentioned that the secessionists were constructing gun emplacements that overlooked the main shipping channel with Charleston Harbor; Holt comprehended a war could ignite as the vessel was in great danger. Anderson was unaware that the ship was still traveling toward him as Holt tried desperately to call back the Star of the West.
The Star of the West’s captain, John McGowan, began to steer the vessel into the channel on the morning of January 9th in order to reach the fort. Suddenly, two cannon shots could be heard roaring from Morris Island where a South Carolina battery had been built; the shots was fired from gunner George E. Haynsworth, a cadet from The Citadel in Charleston. Even though the shots fired were of poor quality, these came to represent the war’s opening salvo. The vessel sustained a minor hit as more shots sailed toward the Star of the West while Anderson looked on from Fort Sumter but would not react in any form of support for the ship; most likely if Anderson had responded as he should have, that day would probably have been marked as the official start of the Civil War.
Although the event resulted on both sides engaging in strong discussion, it ended just short of actually declaring a state of war. Nevertheless, the Fort Sumter standoff went on until April when the Confederates attacked; this would trigger the start of the Civil War.