« PreviousContinue »
was not believed, as Anderson had not thought it
Few things reflect more discredit upon American administration than the failure of the Siar of the West to render the service intended. Arriving off Charleston at 1.30 in the morning of January 9, the harbor lights were found extinguished, and it was not until 4 A.M. that a light, supposed to be on Sumter, was made. At daybreak a vessel inshore fired colored signals and steamed up the channel. As soon as the leading marks could be made out, the Star of the West, with colors at the peak, moved up the channel. When abreast Cummings Point (the northern end of Morris Island) and "within one and three quarter miles of Forts Sumter and Moultrie,' "2 fire was opened by the battery there, one shot from which struck abaft the port fore-channels and one near the rudder, doing no important damage. A large American ensign was now hoisted at the fore, put aboard at New York by Colonel Thomas with instructions to be so used if fired upon, and with the statement that "Major Anderson would understand it and protect the ship under the guns of Sumter." As the ship approached
1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 185.
Report of Lieutenant Woods, commanding tioops, War
Moultrie, which had to be passed at about threequarters of a mile, "a steamer was seen approaching with an armed schooner in tow, and the battery on the island firing on us all the time and having no cannon to defend ourselves from the attack of the vessels, we concluded that to avoid certain capture or destruction, we would endeavor to get to sea, consequently we. wore round and steered down the channel, the battery firing upon us until the shot fell short." The ship was back at New York Saturday, January 12.
Captain (later General) Doubleday's account is so graphic that it must be given in his own words: "Soon after daylight on the morning of the 9th I was on the parapet with my spyglass; for I fancied from a signal I had observed the previous evening on a pilot boat that something must be coming. As I looked seaward I saw a large steamer pass the bar and enter the Morris Island channel. It had the ordinary United States flag up; and as it evidently did not belong to the navy, I came to the conclusion it must be the Star of the West. . Anderson himself was still in bed. When the vessel came opposite the new battery which had been built by the cadets, I saw a shot fired to bring her to. Soon after an immense United States garrison flag was run up at the fore. . . . I dashed down to Anderson's room. .. He told me to have the long roll beaten, and to post the men on the parapet. 1 1 Captain McGowan's report, N. Y. Times, January 14, 1861.
. It took but a few minutes for men and officers
to form at the guns. . . .. The battery was still firing, but the transport had passed by and was rapidly getting out of range. At the same time it was approaching within gunshot of Fort Moultrie. The latter immediately opened fire from one or two guns. Anderson would not allow us to return this fire; and the captain of the vessel, wholly discouraged by our failure to respond, turned about. . . We had one or two guns bearing on Fort Moultrie; and as that was within easy range we could have kept down the fire there long enough to enable the steamer to come in." 1
Fine as Anderson's conduct in general was, it here fell short both of duty and the traditions of the service. The moment was one for action which would have covered his name with highest honor; he hesitated, the ship fled, and what might have become a great turning-point of the time became a ridiculous fiasco. Anderson listened to advice which tallied too much with his own feelings. Of those proffering it, no doubt with good intentions, was Lieutenant Meade (who later joined the South), who earnestly advised that fire should not be opened, as it would at once "initiate civil war," 2 and that the governor would repudiate the act. The attack was war; and there should have been not a moment's hesitancy in treating it as such.
'Doubleday, Sumter and Moultrie, 102-104.
The fault was in the ineptitude of the government itself: in its not giving Anderson in the outset of preparation full and definite information of its intention; in its repeated admonitions to preserve the peace; in not sending the troops in a man-ofwar, or, if sent in a merchant vessel, in not placing the ship under the direction of a naval officer. The duty under the circumstances was one which it was scarcely possible to expect the merchant captain to fill successfully. To give its leadership to one unaccustomed to war, whose whole life had been an education merely in the navigation and preservation of his ship, was an act of bad judgment which it is difficult to criticise too harshly. But had he received any support; had his signals, made by lowering and hoisting the ensign at the fore, been noticed in any, way (the fort halyards unfortunately fouled); above all, had Sumter fired a single gun to hearten him, the captain and the officer in command of the troops aboard would probably have held to their duty and run all risks.
The risks were not great. The raw volunteers in the batteries had never been trained to use the guns; the results of the two shots which struck the ship showed no more, in fact, than that the powder used was of a very deteriorated sort, and any vessels of the port which might have attempted to pass in the narrow waters between Sumter and Moultrie 1 Crawford, Fort Sumter, 186.
would have been quickly sunk by the guns of the former in expert hands.
But the chief personal blame must fall upon Scott, in changing from the Brooklyn and the trained men at Fort Monroe to the Star of the West and raw recruits. Even if the batteries had dared to fire upon the former, which was most unlikely, her own heavy battery of twenty-two 9-inch guns would have quickly silenced their feeble efforts; no naval commander could have hesitated a moment to return such fire; Sumter would have been reinforced, and the ship herself would have been a powerful fort in the harbor to resist future attack, even had Moultrie and the Morris Island battery been left undestroyed. There would have been no future question of holding Charleston harbor. It was, however, an era of failure; it required the rough school of defeat and humiliation to teach the way of moral courage and success.
Scott,' says Lincoln's secretaries, "had never favored the plan of sending the Brooklyn. Two insuperable objections to it appeared to his professional judgment. It was affirmed that the vessel, by reason of her deep draft, could not cross the Charleston bar, unless under circumstances exceptionally favorable. Her arrival at low tide, or during a storm, would delay and most likely defeat her entrance by giving notice of her approach and time to organize resistance. But the second objection was even more imperative. Fort Monroe was one