The North’s war against the South could be said to have truly begun in 1854 Kansas, or Harper’s Ferry in 1859, or when the James Buchanan-ordered “Star of the West” left its dock at New York Harbor. This passenger ship had 200 officers and men concealed below decks along with munition of war, and escorted by the warship USS Brooklyn. This episode brings up the question of treason as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution: “. . . shall consist only in levying war against Them.” Buchanan was levying war against one of “Them,” a State. Lincoln would do the same.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Military Mission Against South Carolina
“When historians talk of the “first shot” of the Civil War it is a matter of disagreement. The men on the spot in Charleston Harbor Jan. 9, 1861, thought they knew when the first shot came. It was fired when a Citadel cadet at a battery half-concealed in the sand hills of Morris Island sent a ball whistling across the bow of a steamer named “Star of the West.”
The “Star of the West” wore a huge US ensign on her foretruck when he steamed up the Main Ship Channel . . . Her ‘tween decks were crowded with US soldiers. Otherwise, she was out of character as a ship employed on a vital military mission.
The “Star of the West” was a passenger liner, diverted from her run between New York and New Orleans for this business of bringing reinforcements to Maj. Robert Anderson in Fort Sumter.
That is why Gen. Winfield Scott, the aging general-in-chief at Washington had picked her for this task. Gen. Scott had an idea the “Star of the West” could do what a warship could not do – steam into Charleston Harbor without arousing the suspicions of South Carolinians.
Army headquarters had ordered strict security thrown about the “Star’s” mission, but somebody had leaked the news. The politicians had it first, and then the newspapers. Long before the “Star of the West” arrived off Charleston Bar, it was gossip on the streets of Charleston that the Yankees had decided to send reinforcements to Fort Sumter.
The newly-erected battery which Citadel cadets had just built near the northern end [of Morris Island] was alerted. [At first light] the “Star” steamed boldly across the bar, flushing the South Carolina guardship “Gen. Clinch” before her [which signaled] the alarm with flares and rockets.
With daylight coming on, Lt. Charles J. Woods, commander of the troops aboard the [Star”], took pains to make the ship look like a peaceful merchantman. A swish and a splash announced the arrival of a shot across the bow . . . [shortly afterward a] shot struck the side of the “Star” below the feet of the leadsman. To reach Sumter, the “Star” would have to pass within a thousand yards of [the Fort Moultrie gunners].
A gun was fired from Moultrie. Lt. Woods looked at Sumter hoping for a sign of recognition or assistance . . . but no gunfire came from Sumter’s walls. Another shot from Moultrie. Another.
Woods decided not to take the chance. [The Star’s] Capt. McGowan, shaken by the encounter with the battery in the dunes, ordered the wheel to put over [and steam northward].”
(Steamer Fails to Aid Sumter, Arthur M. Wilcox, The Civil War at Charleston, A.W. Wilcox & Warren Ripley, 1966, excerpts pp. 10-11)