Star of the West

Last updated
Steamship Star of the West, with reinforcements for Major Anderson, approaching Fort Sumter.jpg
Star of the West approaching Fort Sumter. Illustration from Frank Leslie's Weekly.
Operator: U.S. Department of War (1861–)
Builder: Jeremiah Simonson
Launched: 17 June 1852
General characteristics
Type: Steamship
Tonnage: 1,172 tons
Length: 228.3 ft (69.6 m)
Beam: 32.7 ft (10.0 m)
Propulsion: Paddlewheels

Star of the West was an American civilian steamship that was launched in 1852 and scuttled by Confederate forces in 1863. In January 1861, the ship was hired by the government of the United States to transport military supplies and reinforcements to the U.S. military garrison of Fort Sumter. A battery on Morris Island, South Carolina manned by cadets from the South Carolina Military Academy (now The Citadel) fired upon the ship, effectively the first shots fired in the American Civil War. [1] [2]


The ship was later captured by Confederate forces, then used for several purposes including as a hospital ship and a blockade runner, and finally scuttled in defense of Vicksburg in 1863.

Prewar service

Star of the West was a 1,172-ton steamship built by Jeremiah Simonson, of New York City for Cornelius Vanderbilt, and launched on June 17, 1852. Its length was 228.3 feet (69.6 m) and its beam 32.7 feet (10.0 m), with wooden hullside paddle wheels and two masts. She started service between New York and San Juan de Nicaragua on October 20, 1852 and continued the service for Charles Morgan from July 1853 to March 1856. In June 1857, she started the New York-to-Aspinwall service for the U.S. Mail Steamship Company until September 1859, when it went onto the New York, Havana, New Orleans service. [3] In January 1861, she was chartered to the War Department.

Word of the Star of the West incident was received by Gov. Pickens at his temporary executive headquarters at 107 (now 155) Meeting Street. Executive Mansion in Charleston, SC - Jan 1861.jpg
Word of the Star of the West incident was received by Gov. Pickens at his temporary executive headquarters at 107 (now 155) Meeting Street.

American Civil War

On January 9, 1861, weeks after South Carolina declared that it had seceded from the United States, but before other states had done so to form the Confederacy, Star of the West arrived at Charleston Harbor to resupply Major Robert Anderson's garrison at Fort Sumter. The ship was fired upon by cadets from the Citadel Academy and was hit three times by what were effectively the first shots of the American Civil War. [4] [5] Although Star of the West suffered no major damage, her captain, John McGowan, considered it to be too dangerous to continue and turned about to leave the harbor. The mission was abandoned, and Star of the West headed for her home port of New York Harbor.

The ship was then hired out of New York City as a troop transport for $1,000 a day under its master, Elisha Howes. Star of the West sailed for Texas to pick up seven companies of Union Army troops, assembled at Indianola. On April 18, 1861, while anchored off Pass Caballo bar leading into Matagorda Bay, the ship was captured by Colonel Earl Van Dorn and members of two Galveston militia units, the Wigfall Guards and the Island City Rifles. Two days later, the ship was taken to New Orleans, where Louisiana Governor Thomas Overton Moore changed its name to CSS St. Philip. The old name persisted, however, and Star of the West served as a naval station and hospital ship until Admiral David Farragut captured New Orleans.

Still under Confederate control, Star of the West escaped recapture when she was sent to transport gold, silver, and paper currency worth millions of dollars. After delivering that cargo to Vicksburg, she continued to Yazoo City, Mississippi. When federal Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith tried to lead two ironclads and five smaller vessels through the Yazoo Pass into the Tallahatchie River to attack Vicksburg from the rear, Confederate defenders hurriedly constructed Fort Pemberton, and Major General William W. Loring had Star of the West sunk broadside in the Tallahatchie near Greenwood to block the passage of the Union flotilla. In a skirmish on April 12, 1863, the Union forces suffered heavy casualties and were forced to withdraw.

After the war, the owners of Star of the West collected $175,000 in damages from the U.S. government for the loss.


The Star of the West Medal is awarded annually to the "best drilled cadet" at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. [6] In June 1893, The Citadel Superintendent, Colonel Asbury Coward, took the corps to Aiken, South Carolina, for their annual encampment and graduation exercises. The excellent military work of the cadets suggested to Dr. Benjamin H. Teague, a Confederate Veteran and a collector of Confederate relics, to present to the Citadel a medal for the winner of the Best Drilled Cadet competition. Among his many curios, Teague had a piece of oak from the Steam Ship Star of the West. He sawed a small piece of this wood into the shape of a star and had it mounted on a gold medal. The recipient would wear the medal for one year and then pass it to the next recipient. The winner's names are inscribed on the "Star of the West" monument on the college grounds. However, the original medal with the wood has been lost to history.

The incident looms large in a novel by John Updike, Memories of the Ford Administration (1992). [7] Although Updike's protagonist is trying (in the early 1990s) to write about the mid-1970s, he spent those years seeking to write a book about President Buchanan, and his mind keeps reverting to the 19th century and, among other incidents, the mission of the sloop to Fort Sumter.

See also

Related Research Articles

Fort Sumter Fort in Charleston, South Carolina

Fort Sumter is a sea fort in Charleston, South Carolina, notable for two battles, the first of which signified the start of the American Civil War. It was one of a number of special forts planned after the War of 1812, combining high walls and heavy masonry, and classified as Third System, as a grade of structural integrity. Work started in 1829, but was incomplete by 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the Union.

Morris Island island in the United States of America

Morris Island is an 840-acre (3.4 km²) uninhabited island in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, accessible only by boat. The island lies in the outer reaches of the harbor and was thus a strategic location in the American Civil War. The island forms parts of the cities of Charleston and Folly Beach, in Charleston County.

Battle of Fort Sumter bombardment of Fort Sumter, immediate cause and first battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Fort Sumter was the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston, South Carolina by the South Carolina militia, and the return gunfire and subsequent surrender by the United States Army, that started the American Civil War. Following the declaration of secession by South Carolina on December 20, 1860, its authorities demanded that the U.S. Army abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. On December 26, Major Robert Anderson of the U.S. Army surreptitiously moved his small command from the vulnerable Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island to Fort Sumter, a substantial fortress built on an island controlling the entrance of Charleston Harbor. An attempt by U.S. President James Buchanan to reinforce and resupply Anderson using the unarmed merchant ship Star of the West failed when it was fired upon by shore batteries on January 9, 1861. South Carolina authorities then seized all Federal property in the Charleston area except for Fort Sumter.

Robert Anderson (Civil War) Union Army general

Robert Anderson was a United States Army officer during the American Civil War. He was the Union commander in the first battle of the American Civil War at Fort Sumter in April 1861; the Confederates bombarded the fort and forced its surrender to start the war. Anderson was celebrated as a hero in the North and promoted to brigadier general and given command of Union forces in Kentucky. He was removed late in 1861 and reassigned to Rhode Island, before retiring from military service in 1863.

Stephen D. Lee Confederate Army general

Lieutenant-General Stephen Dill Lee was an American politician who served as the first president of Mississippi State University from 1880 to 1899. Prior to that, he was a senior officer of the Confederate States Army in the Eastern and Western theaters of the American Civil War.

CSS <i>Nashville</i> (1853)

CSS Nashville was a brig-rigged, side-paddle-wheel passenger steamer that served with the Confederate Navy during the Civil War.

Second Battle of Fort Sumter

The Second Battle of Fort Sumter was fought on September 8, 1863, in Charleston Harbor. Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had commanded the defenses of Charleston and captured Fort Sumter in the first battle of the war, was in overall command of the defenders. In the battle, Union forces under Major General Quincy Gillmore attempted to retake the fort at the mouth of the harbor. Union gunners pummeled the fort from their batteries on Morris Island. After a severe bombing of the fort, Beauregard suspecting an attack replaced the artillerymen and all but one of the fort's guns with 320 infantrymen, who repulsed the naval landing party. Gillmore had reduced Fort Sumter to a pile of rubble, but the Confederate flag still waved over the ruins.

South Carolina in the American Civil War The first state in the Confederate States of America

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860, and was one of the founding member states of the Confederacy in February 1861. The bombardment of the beleaguered U.S. garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861 is generally recognized as the first military engagement of the war.

Hugh Smith Thompson American politician

Hugh Smith Thompson was the 81st Governor of South Carolina, from 1882 to 1886.

Charleston in the American Civil War

Charleston, South Carolina, was a hotbed of secession at the start of the American Civil War and an important Atlantic Ocean port city for the fledgling Confederate States of America. The first shots against the Federal government were those fired there by cadets of the Citadel to stop a ship from resupplying the Federally held Ft. Sumter. Three months later, the bombardment of Fort Sumter triggered a massive call for Federal troops to put down the rebellion. Although the city and its surrounding fortifications were repeatedly targeted by the Union Army and Navy, Charleston did not fall to Federal forces until the last months of the war.

Quincy Adams Gillmore Union Army general

Quincy Adams Gillmore was an American civil engineer, author, and a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was noted for his actions in the Union victory at Fort Pulaski, where his modern rifled artillery readily pounded the fort's exterior stone walls, an action that essentially rendered stone fortifications obsolete. He earned an international reputation as an organizer of siege operations and helped revolutionize the use of naval gunnery.

Ellison Capers Confederate Army general

Ellison Capers was a Confederate general in the American Civil War, theologian, college Professor and administrator from South Carolina.

The South Carolina Military Academy was a predecessor, two-campus institution to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. It was established in 1842 by the South Carolina Legislature.

USS <i>Winona</i> (1861)

USS Winona was a Unadilla-class gunboat built for service with the Union Navy during the American Civil War. Winona was heavily armed, with large guns for duels at sea, and 24-pounder howitzers for shore bombardment. Winona saw significant action in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waterways of the Mississippi River and was fortunate to return home safely after the war for decommissioning.

USS <i>Wissahickon</i> (1861)

USS Wissahickon was a Unadilla-class gunboat that was built for service with the United States Navy during the American Civil War.

William Stewart Simkins Confederate Army soldier

William Stewart Simkins was a Confederate soldier and professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin. While a Citadel cadet, he quite possibly fired the first shot of the American Civil War.

Yazoo Pass expedition

The Yazoo Pass expedition was a joint operation of Major General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee and Rear Admiral David D. Porter's Mississippi River Squadron in the Vicksburg campaign of the American Civil War. Grant's objective was to get his troops into a flanking position against the Rebel defenders. The expedition was an effort to bypass the Confederate defenses on the bluffs near the city by using the backwaters of the Mississippi Delta as a route from the Mississippi River to the Yazoo River. Once on the Yazoo, the Army would be able to cross the river unopposed and thus achieve their goal. The operation would require a deep penetration into enemy territory that was dominated by water, so cooperation between the two services was necessary. The Army was led by Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross. Naval commander was Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, who was in extremely poor health; his health was an important factor in the ultimate failure of the expedition.

Moses Cohen Mordecai (1804-1888) was an American businessman, politician, and parnas. He was the owner of the Mordecai Steamship Line, which he used to import fruit, sugar, tobacco, and coffee. He also served as a member of the South Carolina Senate. He became "the most prominent Jewish Charlestonian of the 1850s and 1860s." During the American Civil War, he supported the Confederate States of America, and his ships were used by the Confederate States Navy. He retired in Baltimore.

History of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

The History of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina began in the early 1800s with the establishment of state arsenals in Charleston, South Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. These arsenals would come to be military schools comprising the South Carolina Military Academy. Playing a key role in South Carolina's efforts during the Civil War, the college gained a reputation for military discipline and rigor. After the Civil War, only the Charleston location reopened, known as The Citadel Academy. Renamed in 1910 as The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, the school's academic reputation grew, even as larger colleges within the state and region competed for resources and students. After moving to a new campus near Hampton Park in 1922, the college has grown substantially, integrating minorities in the 1960s and women in the 1990s, and producing many military officers, business, and political leaders throughout its history.

Peter Fayssoux Stevens an American soldier

Peter Fayssoux Stevens was an American soldier, educator and clergyman. He was an Officer in the Confederate States Army and a Bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church who also served as 4th Superintendent of the South Carolina Military Academy.


  1. "152nd anniversary of the Star of the West - The Citadel - Charleston, SC".
  2. Baker, Gary R. Cadets in Grey: The Story of the Cadets of the South Carolina Military Academy and the Cadet Rangers in the Civil War. Lexington, SC: Palmetto Bookworks, 1989. ISBN   0-9623065-0-9.
  3. "Steamships on the Panama Route – Both Atlantic and Pacific". The Ships List. Retrieved 2013-09-20.
  4. "Star of the West". Georgia's Blue and Gray Trail. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
  5. Horres, Russell. "Brief History of Morris Island". Civil War Trust . Archived from the original on 2009-01-23. Retrieved 2008-07-22.
  6. Tony Horwitz (1998). Confederates in the Attic (1st Vintage Departures ed.). Vintage Books. p.  65. ISBN   0679439781.
  7. Updike, John (1996). Memories of the Ford Administration . Ballantine Books. ISBN   0-449-91211-6.