Star of the West
The Star of the West began its Civil War journey in early 1861, when the ocean steamer was hired by the Union to provide relief for Fort Sumter, under siege in Charleston Harbor. While the ship steamed up the main ship channel near Morris Island, less than two miles from the fort, Confederate batteries opened fire. The Star of the West was struck several times, but no significant damage was caused; still, historians consider these the first shots of the Civil War. The Star eventually steamed out of range of the guns, the men on board wondering why the guns of Fort Sumter had not fired in its defense. John McGowan, the ship’s captain, decided that continuing the mission was too dangerous, and headed back to New York. The failure of the relief mission and the attack on the Star of the West caused a furor in the North. The anger finally subsided as President James Buchanan decided to leave the secession crisis to incoming president Abraham Lincoln, who took office in March 1861. Even so, the Star of the West fiasco was a defining moment in the early days of hostilities between North and South.
The Star of the West met its final fate in March 1863, during the Yazoo Pass Expedition. In April 1861, Confederate forces led by Colonel Earl Van Dorn captured the Star of the West on the Texas Gulf coast, and it was later used to transport precious metals and paper money to Vicksburg. Though renamed the C.S.S. St. Philip by the Confederates, the old name persisted until its end. Confederate forces near Fort Pemberton at Greenwood attempted to slow the Union forces by burning bales of cotton on both banks of the Coldwater River in late February.
On March 10, 1863, the Union naval forces reached the point where the Tallahatchie River joins the Yalobusha to form the Yazoo River. By this time, the Star of the West had been turned into a sunken hulk by the Confederates, blocking the channel near the fort’s earthworks. Over 250 holes were drilled into the Star of the West’s hull to scuttle it, preventing downstream passage by the Union flotilla. After several days of taking intense fire and incurring heavy casualties, the Federals retreated from the fort, and by April 5, they had fallen back to the Mississippi River.