January 9, 1861: First Shots Fired in Civil War

The nation began going down a very dark path towards civil war 162 years ago when the first shots in the Civil War were fired.  The Buchanan administration had sent the civilian steamship Star of the West to resupply Fort Sumter.   Cadets from The Citadel on Moultrie Island fired on the ship as it entered Charleston Harbor.  The cadets were acting under the orders of the Governor of South Carolina.  The ship was hit three times, and the Star of the West, abandoning its mission, sailed back to its home port of New York.

This sad event is still celebrated at The Citadel,with a Star of the West medal being awarded to the best drilled cadet.  The Star of the West was later used as a troop transport by the Union, until captured off the Texas coast by the Confederacy on April 18, 1861.  Renamed the CSS St. Philip, it remained in Confederate service until it was sunk by the Confederates.  In 1863 it was sunk by the Confederates in the Tallahatchie near Greenwood, Mississippi in an attempt to bar the passage of a Union flotilla.  The owners of the ship collected $175,000.00 in damages from the Federal government after the War.

Published in: on January 9, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (25)  
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  1. “Scholars” always forget to mention details about this incident. Why did the CS fire on Sumter. The Lincoln administration assured the CS that Sumter would be evacuated. Then the CS found out that a Union floatilla with over 30 ships and nearly 1000 men was sailing to Charleston to capture the city and to make sure the custom houses there stayed open so the North could continue to collect taxes. Lincoln’s economic war had begun. The invasion was underway. Lincoln knew that the CS would need Sumter to adequately defend Charleston from his invasion. Its strategic location made it perfect to fire on ships while they were still well at sea. Naturally the CS would try to take the fort to defend themselves against the one who broke his promise to evacuate it.

    So it is VERY disingenuous to say “the South fired the first shot”. That would be like the Nazis rolling into Poland and not shooting, but waiting for a Polish soldier to shoot first, and then claiming, “Poland fired the first shot !! They started the war !!”

  2. God bless America

  3. Eric,

    Did you actually read the post? This was about an incident that occurred a year before Lincoln was president.

    It doesn’t really matter because facts will never deter paleoconfederate conspiracy charges, but you might want to learn to read things before ranting.

    • Sir, I don’t need to be corrected by you nor was I “ranting”. The Star of the West incident was indeed a precursor to Sumter and this was a fitting time to bring up many other aspects surrounding the events in Charleston. That’s all I was doing. Next time I’ll get your permission if it makes you feel better.

      As for “paleoconfederate conspiracy charges”, if you knew as much as you think you do, you’d know that what I wrote is factual. You, like most Union apologists, don’t like it when facts are revealed that might put Old Abe in a bad light.

  4. “The Lincoln administration assured the CS that Sumter would be evacuated.”

    Untrue. Major Anderson told the Confederates that if he were not resupplied he would have to surrender the Fort. That happened shortly before Fort Sumter was bombarded.

    “Then the CS found out that a Union floatilla with over 30 ships and nearly 1000 men was sailing to Charleston to capture the city and to make sure the custom houses there stayed open so the North could continue to collect taxes.”

    Untrue again. The Lincoln administration specifically informed the Governor of South Carolina that it intended to resupply the Fort. On April 6 Lincoln sent a message to the Governor of South Carolina advising him of the expedition and that if no interference was given to the relief expedition only supplies would be landed at Fort Sumter and no ammunition or new troops would be landed.

    “Lincoln’s economic war had begun.”

    If it is your contention that the Civil War was fought in order to collect custom’s duties, that contention is one of the more risible ones made by Mr. Dilorenzo.

    “Naturally the CS would try to take the fort to defend themselves against the one who broke his promise to evacuate it.”

    That of course goes to the heart of the issue. Fort Sumter was Federal property, paid for by the entire Union. The contention that a combination of States could seize Federal property was anathema to supporters of the Union, and completely proper to those who wished to destroy it.

    “That would be like the Nazis rolling into Poland and not shooting, but waiting for a Polish soldier to shoot first, and then claiming, “Poland fired the first shot !! They started the war !!”

    Your Nazi-Polish analogy is bizarre. The United States of America was and is one country, and the attempt to hold otherwise was decisively defeated in the Civil War. More to the point of course, the Confederates precipitated the beginning of the War by overreacting to Fort Sumter. Allowing the Union to continue to hold it would not have threatened the Confederacy. The Confederates had ample troops to beat back any sea-borne invasion, and during the War, Fort Sumter was quickly battered into ruin and added little to the successful effort to hold on to Charleston by the Confederates against Union amphibous assault, Charleston not falling to the Union until Sherman’s army advanced upon it. The Confederates by firing on Fort Sumter inflamed Northern sentiment to no advantage to their cause. Complete and utter folly.

  5. Sunday is busy for me, so I will have to answer you in more detail later.

    “Your Nazi-Polish analogy is bizarre. The United States of America was and is one country, and the attempt to hold otherwise was decisively defeated in the Civil War.”

    Might does not make right. In the final analysis, the CSA is irrelevance to the topic of the legality of secession, as is the war’s outcome. What is relevant is what the Framer’s believed. While they hoped that States would not secede on a whim, they intentionally left out of the Constitution any authority for the Federal government to use military force to bring seceding States back into the Union. Madison specifically dealt with this issue during the Constitutional Convention.

    But in the end, you are a northern apologist and won’t care what I have to say one way or another. The myth of a “consolidated union” must be preserved to justify your regions unconstitutional actions of 1861-1865. Perhaps you should read the writings of Abolitionist Lysander Spooner.

  6. I have read the writings of Mr. Spooner, an anarchist crank, and was singularly unimpressed.

    In regard to secession, I have written about that subject many times on this site and elsewhere. The Constitution is silent on the question of secession, and James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, believed no such right existed. What the Confederates attempted was revolution pure and simple and they were defeated in their attempt, thank God.

  7. As I stated previously, I am very busy on Sunday, but I promise to follow up with documentation.

    Furthermore, I am not a “Confederate Apologist”. I approach history like I do biblical interpretation. I listen to what the “experts” say, then I study for myself and draw my own conclusions. I became fascinated with nature of the Union in 1984 when I was a freshman in college. I’ve spent years researching this topic, as I’m sure you have too. Obviously, our studies have brought us to different conclusions, and that’s fine. It does not make you any less of a patriotic American in my eyes, nor does it make you my enemy.

    For me, the CSA is not that important. It is irrelevant to the topic of the legality of secession. I have no desire to see “the South rise again ” per say. Like most of the statesmen who formed the Confederacy, I believe in the Union and would hate to see it break apart. My opinions and conclusions are not based on sectional loyalty, culture, or emotion. They are based on my interpretation of the original intent of the Framers. Had the North seceded and had been subsequently invaded by the South in an effort to “save the Union”, my opinions would remain the same.

    I hope you’ll take me at my word and I look forward to more dialogue.

  8. I believe most of this controversy stems from the fact this incident was in 1861 not 1860.

  9. Oops, thanks O! I have made the correction. I will chalk the error up to the fact that I am still writing “2010” unless I catch myself!


    The last clause of the sixth Resolution, authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent State, came next into consideration.

    Mr. MADISON observed, that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted tile practicability, the justice and the efficacy of it, when applied to people collectively, and not individually. An union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment; and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound. He hoped that such a system would be framed as might render this resource unnecessary, and moved that the clause be postponed. This motion was agreed to, nem. con.

    The Committee then rose, and the House adjourned.

    The matter was never discussed again and NO power was EVER given to the Federal Government to force seceding States back into the Union. This was a separate discussion from what to do in case of insurrections, or instances like the Whiskey rebellion.

  11. “If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not a rebellion. His [Jefferson Davis] capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason.”

    Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, 1867

  12. As I posted previously, the Lincoln Administration did indeed promise and re-promise the Davis Administration that Sumter would be evacuated. At the same time they were making excuses for the delay in Sumter’s evacuation, they were secretly re-fortifying Sumter’s defenses. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the Lincoln Administration announced that Sumter would NOT be evacuated, but that eight ships and FIFTEEN HUNDRED men were on their way to “relieve Sumter”. Not only was this a breach of promise, it was an provocative military violation. It did not take so many men to resupply and relieve Sumter. Jefferson Davis thoroughly documents all of this in his book “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”. I trust you will be kind enough to read what Davis wrote and his sources before you dismiss them as being from the “rebel leader” or such.

    Other sources show that the real intention of this “relief effort” was to seize the custom houses in Charleston so duties and imposts could continue to be collected. This was the REAL “first shot”.

    Furthermore, to use as justification for these illegal acts the fact that Sumter was “Federal property” is lame. South Carolina was no longer part of the Union, so the U.S. government had no claims to own property own her soil without her permission. South Carolina and the CSA were both more than willing to pay for their part of any Federal ebt owed, including the costs needed to pay for Sumter.

  13. The last paragrah should have read.

    “South Carolina and the CSA were both more than willing to pay for their part of any Federal DEBT owed…..”

  14. I’m very sorry for the typos. It’s time for a new keyboard.

  15. “Only a despotic and imperial government can coerce seceding States.”

    William Seward, US Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, to Charles Francis Adams, minister to England , 10 April 1861

  16. “The matter was never discussed again and NO power was EVER given to the Federal Government to force seceding States back into the Union.”

    Of course the Federal government had the power to bring seceding states back into the Union. It was done during the Civil War. The Constitution gave to Congress the power to raise the military force and to the President the power to utilize it. No other power was necesssary under the Constitution. Madison of course later in life did not believe that the Constitution granted any right of secession as he indicated when the issue arose the first time that South Carolina attempted to start a Civil War during the Nullification Crisis.

    As to the Salmon P. Chase quote, go to the blog below to find out why that is very misleading:


    In regard to Fort Sumter you simply are mistaken on your facts. The Lincoln administration never promised Jefferson Davis that Fort Sumter would be surrendered. Confederate Secretary of State Robert Toombs’ advice to Davis just before the bombardment was prescient: “You will only strike a hornet’s nest. … Legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary. It puts us in the wrong. It is fatal.”

    The War was not fought over tariffs but rather was caused by the desire of the secessionists to preserve slavery. The historical record is crystal clear on that point.

    South Carolina’s unilateral action could not transform property of the federal government, paid for by all the states of the Union, into state property. Only Congress had that power. Of course it is precisely this type of issue which the Civil War resolved.

    In regard to the Seward quote, here is the full quote:

    “Only an imperial or despotic government could subjugate thoroughly disaffected and insurrectionary members of the State. This Federal Republican system of ours is of all forms of Government the very one which is most unfitted for such a labor. Happily, however, this is only an imaginary defect. The system has within itself adequate, peaceful, conservative, and recuperative forces. Firmness on the part of the Government in maintaining and preserving the public institutions and property, and in executing the laws where authority can be exercised without waging war, combined with; such measures of justice, moderation and forbearance as will disarm reasoning opposition, will be sufficient to secure the public safety until returning reflection, concurring with the fearful experience of social evils, the inevitable fruits of faction, shall bring the recusant members cheerfully back into the family, which, after all, must prove their best and happiest, as it undeniably is their most natural home. The Constitution of the United States provides for that return by authorizing Congress, on application to be made by a certain majority of the States, to assemble a national convention, in which the organic law can, if it be needful, be revised so as to remove all real obstacles to a reunion, so suitable to the habits of the people, and so eminently conducive to the common safety and welfare.

    Keeping that remedy steadily in view, the President, on the one hand, will not suffer the Federal authority to fall in abeyance, nor will he, on the other, aggravate existing evils by attempts at coercion which must assume the form of direct war against any of the revolutionary States. If, while he is pursuing this course, commended as it is by prudence as well as patriotism, the scourge of civil war for the first time in our history must fall upon our country during the term of his administration, that calamity will then have come through the agency not of the Government, but of those shall have chosen to be its armed, open and irreconcilable enemies; and he will not suffer himself to doubt that when the value of the imperiled Union shall be brought in that fearful manner home to the business and the bosoms of the American people, they will, with an unanimity that shall vindicate their wisdom and their virtue, rise up and save it.”

    This quote is from Secretary Seward’s instructions to Charles Francis Adams, the ambassador to Great Britain. Go to the link below to read the entire document:


  17. As I suspected, you were very selective in what you responded to. Before you dismiss the idea that the U.S. government never promised to evacuate Sumter, I suggest you analyze Jefferson Davis’ sources. A fair, objective researcher would do so.

    Furthermore, Madison never said that he thought the Constitution forbade secession. He did say he felt it would be a violation of an agreement, but he added this stipulation….

    “The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created.”

    Concerning the crisis of 1832-1833, I think Madison had a valid point. But allot happened between 1832-1860 that gave the Southern States more than enough reason to rightfully secede. NO WHERE in this letter did Madison denounce what he had said during the Convention concerning forcing seceding States back into the Union. Remember also, the States of the upper South did not secede until Lincoln violated the Constitution by calling for troops to force the States of the lower South back into the Union.

    Had Madison been alive in 1860, I have no doubt that he, with great sadness, would have cast his lot with his native State of Virginia.

  18. “But a lot happened between 1832-1860 that gave the Southern States more than enough reason to rightfully secede.”

    Such as? What possible grievances did white Southerners have in 1860 that justified destroying the Union and precipitating Civil War? Before you say tariffs please note that the 1857 tariffs were the lowest since 1816 and that in 1860 tariffs were a dead issue. It was slavery, and nothing else, which caused the Southern states to secede and which led to the bloodiest war in our history.

    In regard to Jefferson Davis, give me exact quotations on the subject from his vast two volume tome and I will explain why he is in error.

    In regard to Madison, how he would have reacted in 1860 is sheer speculation. We know how he reacted in the Nullification Crisis.

  19. As to your link concerning Salmon P. Chase’s comments, all I can say is SPIN, SPIN, SPIN.

    “Chase did oppose Davis’s trial, both privately and in his official capacity as Chief Justice, but not because he endorsed Davis’s take on the legality of secession.”

    WHO ever said Chase “endorsed” Davis’ view on secession? He di however, that, by the rule of law, Davis had committed no crime because the rule of law did not declare secession to be illegal.

    Even if Davis’ lawyers cited the 14th amendment as their main defense for their client, secession itself would have come up and the result would have been very embarrassing to the consolidationists.

    This is also why there has never been a real answer to Davis’ book, “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”. The lawyer Davis uses flawless arguments in this document.

  20. Simply go online to this link http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19831/19831-h/19831-h.htm

    Read part III Chapters 10-13

    Everything is documented.

  21. I don’t have endless amounts of time Eric. I spend about twelve hours a day on my real job. Cite the specific incidents,including dates, when Davis claims that Lincoln promised to surrender Fort Sumter, and I will be happy to respond to his specific assertions.

  22. Neither do I have endless amounts of time. When you get the chance, please read the chapters I outlined in Davis’ book. He shares in great detail concerning his administration receiving NUMEROUS assurances from the U.S. Government (Dept of State in particular) that Sumter would soon be peacefully evacuated. When this did not seem to be happening, excuse after excuse was made to the CS government by Washington. All the while , Sumter’s defenses were being enhanced. The final straw was the notice received by Richmond from the authorities in Washington that a fleet of 8 ships and 1500 men were on their way to “relieve Sumter”. The tone of the notice was basically a dare to the CSA to do anything about it. It did not take 1500 men to “relieve” Sumter. Other reports do indicate that these troops were being sent to seize the custom houses in Charleston in an attempt to continue to collect duties and imposts. Like it or not ,this was an act of war and the South was fully justified in seizing Sumter.

  23. Reblogged this on Practically Historical.

    • Thanks!

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