To most Americans, the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War begins on April 12, the date 150 years ago when Confederate artillery opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C. Although this is the story we were taught in school, in fact, more than three months earlier, a 55-year-old New Jersey sea captain drew the first rebellious Southern fire.
With the advent of the New Year of 1861, lame-duck president James Buchanan was under pressure to relieve Fort Sumter, its federal garrison cut off from resupply and reinforcement by South Carolina, which had seceded from the Union only days earlier. Fearful that the beleaguered garrison might not hold out until president-elect Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, Buchanan secretly dispatched the steamer Star of the West, commanded by Capt. John McGowan of Elizabeth to accomplish the task.
At sunrise on Jan. 9, 1861, the Star of the West, carrying 200 troops below decks, steamed into the mouth of Charleston Harbor heading for the federal fort…. read on!