Wednesday, January 9, 1861
In the early morning hours, the merchant class steamer Star of the West arrived to reinforce and resupply Major Anderson at Fort Sumter. She had actually arrived on the scene before dawn, but due to the warning sent from Southern sympathizers in Washington (like the former Secretary of the Interior), Charleston had made sure no guiding lights could be seen. The only light in the harbor was from Sumter itself.
Then came the dawn. It was a beautiful clear sky – perfect for sailing. It was also beautiful weather for being spotted. And that’s just what happened. The watch-ship the Clinch signaled to the Star asking her to identify herself. There came no reply.
The Star had to maneuverer between Sumter and Moultrie, well in range of the battery on Morris Island. The rebel artillery crew took notice of her and prepared for action. Aiming to place a warning shot well in front of the Star, the gunner sighted his piece.
As the US steamer raised a large American flag as a signal to Sumter in hopes that the Fort would come to her defense, a well-aimed shot flew across her bow. A second shot was fired from the battery. And more. All of the shots missed the boat, though a ricochet would hit the fore-chains.
Major Anderson was under orders not to start a fight. He knew (thanks to the newspapers) of the secret mission to send the Star of the West to resupply him, but knew nothing of the troops on board.
The rebels at Fort Moultrie joined in, firing two shots at the Star, neither coming close to hitting her. Anderson readied a few guns to fire upon Moultrie (the Morris Island battery was out of range). Just as the Major was about to give the signal to fire and perhaps start the War, The Star of the West turned around and headed out to sea.
Anderson, though not supplied, had avoided war. There was thought of retaliation, but instead he sent a message to Governor Pickens asking him to disavow the attack. If he did not, it would officially be an act of war.
Pickens’s reply was not what Anderson wanted to hear. The Governor would not disavow the action: “This act is perfectly justified by me.” Anderson had threatened to close the harbor by firing upon every ship that entered. Pickens practically dared him to do it.
Both, however, were bluffing. Anderson knew he could hardly hold the fort if attacked and Pickens knew that he could hardly take the fort with the resources he had at this time. The war would have to wait.1
That waiting was made easier by both Pickens and Anderson agreeing to send representatives to Washington to await further orders. Pickens sent his Attorney General, Isaac Hayne, while Anderson sent Lieutenant Norman Hall. This temporarily diffused the situation with an unofficial truce.2
Secession, however, would not have to wait. Not in Mississippi, anyway. The Secession Convention had this day voted 84 to 15 in favor of leaving the Union. A large “Bonnie Blue Flag” was unveiled to much rejoicing in the streets. A second state had left the Union. Certainly more would be soon to follow.