This is an incident I have never read about . It did cause some friction between the Federal government and The Confederate government it did not start the war.
OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol 1, Part 1 (Charleston Campaign)
Page 236 OPERATIONS IN CHARLESTON HARBOR, S. C. Chapter I.
Numbers 93.] FORT SUMTER, S. C., April 4, 1861.
(Received A. G. O., April 6.)
Colonel L. THOMAS, Adjutant-General U. S. Army:
COLONEL: I have the honor to send herewith a report of the circumstances attending a firing yesterday afternoon by the batteries on Morris Island at a schooner bearing our flag, bound from Boston to Savan-
nah, which, erroneously mistaking the light-house off this harbor for that of Tybee, and having failed to get a pilot, was entering the harbor.
The remarks made to me by Colonel Lamon, taken in connection with the tenor of newspaper articles, have induced me, as stated in previous communications, to believe that orders would soon be issued for my abandoning this work. When the firing commenced some of my heaviest guns were concealed from their view by planking, and by the time the battery was ready the firing had ceased. I then, action in strict accordance with the spirit and wording of the orders of the War Department, as communicated to me in the letter from the Secretary of War dated February 23, 1861, determined not to commence firing until I had sent to the vessel and investigated the circumstances.
The accompanying report presents them. Invested by a force so superior that a collision would, in all probability, terminate in the destruction of our force before relief could reach us, with only a few days’ provisions on hand, and with a scanty supply of ammunition, as will be seen by a reference to my letter of February 27, in hourly expectation of receiving definite instructions from the War Department, and with orders so explicit and peremptory as those I am acting under, I deeply regret that I did not feel myself at liberty to resent the insult thus offered to the flag of my beloved country.
I think that proper notification should be given to our merchant vessels of the rigid instructions under which the commanders of these batteries are acting; that they should be notified that they must, as soon as a shot is fired ahead of them, at once round to and communicate with the batteries.
The authorities here are certainly blamable for not having constantly vessels off to communicate instructions to those seeking entrance into this harbor.
Captain Talbot is relieved, of course, by order Numbers 7, from duty at this post. I avail myself of this opportunity of stating that he has been zealous, intelligent, and active in the discharge of all his duties here, so far as his health permitted him to attempt their performance. I send him on with these dispatches, to give the department an opportunity, if deemed proper, to modify, in consequence of this unfortunate affair, any order they may have sent to me. I will delay obedience thereto until I have time to receive a telegram after Captain Talbot’s having reported to the War Department.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major, First Artillery, Commanding.
FORT SUMTER, April 3, 1861.
Major ROBERT ANDERSON, First Artillery, U. S. Army,
Commanding Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor:
MAJOR: In obedience to your directions, we visited Cummmings Point and the schooner, bearing the United States flag, which was fired into by the batteries on Morris Island, and respectfully present the following statement concerning the affair:
The commanding officer on Morris Island, Lieutenant Colonel W. G. DeSaussure, stated that a schooner with the United States flag at her peak endeavored to enter the harbor this afternoon about 3 o’clock; that in accordance with his orders to prevent any vessel under that flag from entering the harbor, he had fired three shots across her bows, and this not
causing her to heave to, he had fired at her, and had driven her out of the harbor; that the thought one or two shots had taken effect, and that if he had a boat that could live to get out to her he would send and see if she were disabled, and inform Major Anderson at once, but that he had no proper boat, as the schooner was at anchor in a very rough place; that the revenue cutter had gone out to examine her condition. We ascertained the schooner to be the Rhoda H. Shannon, Joseph Marts, master, of Dorchester, N. J., bound from Boston to Savannah with a charge of ice, having left the former place on March 26. On account of unfavorable weather, the master had obtained but one observation, and that was an imperfect one on yesterday. On his arrival off Charleston Bar, supposing himself to be off Tybee, and seeing a pilot-boat, he directed one of his men to hold the United States flag in the fore rigging as a signal for a pilot. As none came, the flag was taken down in a few minutes, and the master undertook to bring his vessel into the harbor without a pilot. He did not discover that he was not in Savannah Harbor until he had crossed the bar and had advanced some distance in the harbor. As he was passing Morris Island, displaying no flag, a shot was fired from a battery on shore across the bows of the schooner. The master states that he thought they wished him to show his colors, and that he displayed the United States flag at his peak. One or two shots were then fired across the schooner’s bows, but he did not know what to do or what the people on shore wished him to do; that he kept the vessel on her course until they fired at her, and one shot had gone through the mainsail, about two feet above the boom, when he put her about and stood out to sea, anchoring his vessel in the Swash Channel, just inside of the bar; that the batteries kept on firing at his vessel for some time after he had turned to go out to sea.
The master of the schooner stated that before leaving Boston, he had learned how affairs stood in Charleston Harbor, and that Fort Sumter was to be given up in a few days; that they had established a new confederacy down South.
After satisfying ourselves that the vessel was uninjured, and as she was lying in a very rough place, we advised the master to move his vessel-either to stand out to sea and go on to Savannah, or to come into the harbor and anchor.
On our return we stopped at Cummings Point, and stated the facts to Lieutenant-Colonel De Saussure. He said that the vessel would not be molested if she came into the harbor.
The schooner weighed anchor a short time after we left, and stood in towards Morris Island for some distance, but finally turned about and went to sea.
Captain, First Artillery.
FORT SUMTER, S. C., April 4, 1861.
His Excellency Governor PICKENS, Charleston, S. C.:
GOVERNOR: I have the honor respectfully to request that you will be pleased to issue such instructions as will enable Bvt. Captain Talbot, recently promoted, to report himself at Washington City, in compliance with orders he has received.
Lieutenant Snyder is directed to give your excellency a detail of the statement made to him yesterday by the captain of the schooner which was fired upon by the batteries on Morris Island. I regret very much that there were no boats to warn her, or to give her instructions as to the course of conduct she would have to pursue in entering the harbor, and I regret, too, that the firing was continued after she had turned and was attempting to leave the harbor. Believing that the fortunate issue of this affair, without injury or loss of life, was providential, and still hoping that God will so direct the counsels of all in authority that we shall soon be relieved from our unpleasant position,
I have the honor to remain, with sincere regard, your obedient servant,
Major, U. S. Army, Commanding.
FORT SUMTER, S. C., April 4, 1861.
General JOS. G. TOTTEN,
Chief Engineer U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: The permit for my men* to leave did not arrive yesterday, and I have put them at work again until it does arrive.
Yesterday, at about 2 o’clock, the batteries on Morris Island commenced firing at a schooner that was entering the harbor when she was about up with the channel buoy (channel buoy Numbers 3, Coast Survey Chart of 1858), or about one mile from this fort.
The first shots were fired in front of her, and the subsequent ones directly at her. The schooner hoisted the American flag. After receiving a few shots the turned about to run out through the Swash Channel. After a few more shots she lowered the American flag, but stood on her course until nearly or quite out of range of the guns of the batteries, when she came to and anchored. The batteries on Morris Island continued firing at her-at least, one of them did-until she anchored. Major Anderson sent a boat with Captain Seymour and Lieutenant Snyder to ask the reasons for the firing from the commanding officer on Merris Island, and also to obtain permission to board the vessel and ascertain her condition, object of visit, &c.
The main points of the reports of these officers upon their return were, that the officer in command of Morris Island, Colonel Wilmot De Saussure, acted by orders from his Government, one of which was to force a vessel to show her colors by firing across her bows, and another to fire on any vessel attempting to enter with the American flag flying.
The vessel was ascertained to be the Rhoda H. Shannon, from Boston to Savannah, loaded with ice. She was a schooner of 180 tons burden.
Her captain was an ignorant man, and, owing to thick weather and making a mistake in his reckoning, mistook this harbor for the one to which he was bound. He did not know what they wanted him to do.
None of the shots struck his vessel, and only one struck anything about the vessel, and that passed through one of his sails, about two feet above the boom.
I obtained more important information through Lieutenant Snyder of the channel batteries than I possessed before.
In the short time before this letter is to go I can only say that all the
guns on the channel side, commencing with Numbers 4, inclusive, are en barbette, although well protected from our fire, and also from flank fire, by high traverses. From Numbers 4 to Numbers 7, inclusive, 17 guns were seen, apparently very heavy, most of them.
Captain T. Talbot goes to Washington with dispatches. No supplies came from the city yesterday.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. FOSTER,
P. S.-The revenue cutter still lies off the left shoulder angle, and during the firing ran up the Confederate flag and kept it flying.