In 1861, on this day a cadet of The Citadel stationed at the Morris Island battery 1st Lt. George Edward "Tuck" Haynesworth fired an artillery shell at the Star of the West; the sloop suffered catastrophic damage and sunk in Charleston Harbor.
Star of the WestNeither outgoing President James Buchanan (pictured) nor President-elect Abraham Lincoln had issued a substantive response in the six weeks since South Carolina had seceded and it seemed certain that decisive executive action would be delayed until after the inauguration. But the problem was that a number of Union facilities were now isolated and in growing need of resupply that could not wait until April.
On the previous day, Federal Troops at Fort Pickens had opened fire on Floridians attempting to seize the fort. And now this situation had arisen. In an attempt to dampen tensions, the War Department had hired a civilian steamship to transport military supplies and reinforcements to the garrison of Fort Sumter stategically located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Because of the sinking, the owners subsequently received £250,000 in compensation from the US Government. But the deaths of Captain John McGowan and his crew created a political firestorm that began to engulf President James Buchanan. The only conceivable peaceful outcome would require the immediate sale of Federal facilities to the seceded states in which they were based. From Buchanan's perspective such a "sell out", accompanied by compensation and a formal apology from South Carolina was an unthinkable solution for his successor, but might well be preferable to the immediate outbreak of hostilities.