Friday, January 14, 2011

150-Years-Ago -- Statement of Capt. McGowan.

Steamer Star of the West approaching Fort Sumter and being fired upon
by South Carolina guns. (Library of Congress)

Richmond (Va.) Daily Dispatch
Jan. 14, 1861

The following is an official account of the trip:
Steam ship Star of the West.
New York, Jan. 12th, 1861.

M. O. Roberts, Esq--Sir:
   After leaving the wharf on the 5th inst., at 5 P. M., we proceeded down the bay, where we have to and took on board four officers and two hundred soldiers, with their arms, ammunition, &c, and then proceeded to sea, crossing the bar at Sandy Hook at 9 P. M.--Nothing unusual took place during the passage, which was a pleasant one for the season of the year.
   We arrived off Charleston bar at 1.30 A. M. on the 9th inst. but could find no guiding marks for the bar, as the lights were all out. We proceeded with caution, running very slow and sounding until about 4 A. M., being then in 4½ fathoms of water, when we discovered a light through the haze which at that time covered the horizon. Concluding that the lights were on Fort Sumter, after getting the hearings of it, we steered to the S. W. for the main ship channel, where we have to, to await day light our lights having all been put out since 12 o'clock to avoid being seen. As the day began to break we discovered a steamer just in shore of us, which as soon as she saw us, burned one blue light and two red lights as signals, and shortly after steamed over the bar and into the ship channel. The soldiers were now all put below, and no one allowed on the deck except our own crew. As soon as there was light enough to see, we crossed the bar and proceeded on up the channel, (the water bar busy having been taken away.) the steamer ahead of us sending off rockets and calcium lights, until after broad daylight, continuing on her course up, near two miles ahead of us. When we arrived about two miles from Fort Moultrie. Fort Sumter being about the same distance, a masked battery on Morris Island, where there was a red Palmetto flag flying, opened fire upon us — the distance about five eighths of a mile. We had the American flag flying at our flag staff at the time. and soon after the first shot hoisted a large American ensign at the fore. We continued on under the fire of the battery for over ten minutes. several of the shots going clear over-us. One just passed clear of the pilot-house. Another passed between the smoke-stack and walking beams of the engine. Another stuck the ship just shaft the forerunning and stove in the planking, while another come within an ace of carrying away the rudder. At the same time there was a movement of two steamers from near. Fort Moultrie, one of them towing a schooner. I presume an armed schooner., with the intention of cutting us off — Our position now became critical as we had to approach Fort Moultrie to within three-four of a mile, before we could keep away for Fort Sumter. A steamer approaching us with an armed schooner in tow, and the battery on the island flung at 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 around and steered down the channel, the battery, firing upon us until their shot fell short. As it was now strong ebb tide, and the water having fallen some three feet, we proceeded with caution, and crossed the bar safely at $50 A. M, and continued on our course for this port, where we arrived this morning, after a boisterous passage. A steamer from Charleston was about three hours watching our movements.
     In justice to the officers and crew of each department of the ship, I must add, that their behavior, white under the fire of the battery, reflected great credit on them
     Mr. Brewer, the New York pilot, was of very great assistance to me in helping to pilot the ship over Charleston bar, and up and down the channel.

Very respectfully, your ob't. serv't.
J. McGowan, Captain.

No comments: