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Cadet George Haynsworth Fires the First Shot

By: Illustrious McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33º  

December 20, 1860, 1:15P.M. the delegates of South Carolina meet at the St. Andrew’s Hall located on Broad Street to vote on the Ordinance of Secession which was unanimously adopted by the delegates of South Carolina. Later on that evening at 6:30 P.M., the delegates meet again at the St. Andrew’s Hall in Charleston to sign their names to the documents. South Carolina was now an independent State.

After the signing by the delegates Govenor Picken then took steps to organize the military forces for any emergency that might arise from the Ordinance of Secession.

At 12:00PM on January 1, 1861 the state of South Carolina called on them to make good of their offer to defend the state. On that faithful day the company of young cadets assembled at their armory on Queen Street to the sound of a drummer calling them into formation under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Charles Edward Chichester who was also a mason and a member of Union Kilwinning Lodge No. 4 in Charleston, S.C..

Lieutenant Chichester was in command of the Cadets at the time due to the absence of Captain P. F. Stevens who was preparing a battery of 24 pounder cannons on Morris Island in case the North tried to supply Fort Sumter with fresh troops and much needed supplies.

After the formation of the Cadets they were marched to the Southern Wharf to join up with the German Riflemen under the leadership of Captain Jacob Small. Both units boarded the steamer “Gen. Clinch” which took them across the harbor to Morris Island.  

As the boat drew nearer to Morris Island the Cadets could make out the early signs of the first battery being constructed under the leadership of Major Clement Stevens. When the boat got within docking distant of the island they saw waiting for them on the shore Captain P. F. Stevens who was standing in the rain and mud ready to greet them when they disembarked from the steamer.   

With the heavy rains and mud some of the 24 pounder guns got stuck in the mud and everyone was called to assist in getting the guns free to place into their assigned position in the batteries to defend Charleston. Throughout the night the men worked together in 2-Hour shifts to get the guns set up into position.

With the guns set up in position the Cadets were made the “gunners” and the other two commands on the island were assigned as their support.

With the completion of the batteries behind the sand dunes for protection a schedule was established for guard posts, drill exercises, relaxation, and sentinels to look for any signs of vessels that might try to sneak by to replenish Fort Sumter.  

The Cadets did not have to wait long, on January 9, 1861 Cadet William Simkins spotted the steamer “Star of the West” from his sentry post sailing towards Morris Island in the early morning light. Major P. F. Stevens was alerted and Cadet Simkins was ordered to take his position on Gun No. 1 to help prepare it for firing at the on coming steamer.  

The Star of the West steamed up the shipping channel that runs parallel to Morris Island. Her course came under the gun sights of the Citadel Battery Gun No. 1, which was Cadet’s George Edward Haynsworth, John Marshall Whilden, William Stewart Simkins, and Theodore Adolphus Quattlebaum as quoted by Dr. A. G. D. Wiles of the Citadel.

Captain P. F. Stevens who was the superintendent of the Citadel gave the command to fire a warning shot from Gun No. 1 at the Star of the West. Cadet George Edward Haynsworth was the Cadet credited for pulling the “lanyard” that fired the historic first shot of the Civil War against an American flag, which was directed over the bow of the steamer to act as a warning shot.  

The Cadets fired approximately 17 shots at The Star of the West with two of the shots hitting the steamer. With no means of protecting itself from the 24-pounder cannons manned by the Cadets the steamer sailed out to sea. On January 9, Fort Sumter did not receive the much needed supplies or fresh troops.

On January 10, 1861 the, “Charleston Mercury,” headlines report the firing of the first shot of the Civil War by the Citadel Cadets stationed on Morris Island.

Firing on the Star of the West

The supplies and troops were sent in a large merchant steamer, the Star of the West. She crossed the bar early on the morning of January 9, 1861, and steamed up Ship channel, which runs for miles parallel with Morris Island, and within range of gulls of large caliber. Her course lay right under the 24-pounder battery commanded by Major Stevens and manned by the cadets. This battery was supported by the Zouave Cadets, Captain Chichester; the German Riflemen, Captain Small, and the Vigilant Rifles, Captain Tupper. When within range a shot was fired across her bow, and not heeding it, the battery fired directly upon her. Fort Moultrie also fired a few shots, and the Star of the West rapidly changed her course and, turning round, steamed out of the range of the guns, having received but little material damage by the fire. Major Anderson acted with great forbearance and judgment, and did not open his batteries. He declared his purpose to be patriotic, and so it undoubtedly was. He wrote to the governor that, influenced by the hope that the firing on the Star of the West was not supported by the authority of the State, he had refrained from opening fire upon the batteries, and declared that unless it was promptly disclaimed he would regard it as an act of war, and after waiting a reasonable time he would fire upon all vessels coming within range of his guns. The governor promptly replied, justifying the action of the batteries in firing upon the vessel, and giving his reasons in full. He pointed out to Major Anderson that his removal to Fort Sumter and the circumstances attending it, and his attitude since were a menace to the State of a purpose of coercion; that the bringing into the harbor of more troops and supplies of war was in open defiance of the State, and an assertion of a purpose to reduce her to abject submission to the government she had discarded; that the vessel had been fairly warned not to continue her course, and that his threat to fire upon the vessels in the harbor was in keeping with the evident purpose of the government of the United States to dispute the right of South Carolina to dissolve connection with the Union. This right was not to be debated or questioned, urged the governor, and the coming of the Star of the West, sent by the order of the President, after being duly informed by commissioners sent to him by the convention of the people of the State to fully inform him of the act of the State in seceding from the Union, and of her claim of rights and privileges in the premises could have no other meaning than that of open and hostile disregard for the asserted independence of South Carolina. To defend that independence and to resent and resist any and every act of coercion are "too plainly a duty," said Governor Pickens, "to allow it to be discussed."

To the governor's letter Major Anderson replied, that he would refer the whole matter to the government at Washington, and defer his purpose to fire upon vessels in the harbor until he could receive his instructions in reply. Thus a truce was secured, and meanwhile active preparations for war were made daily by Major Anderson in Fort Sumter and by Governor Pickens on the islands surrounding it. War seemed inevitable, and the whole State, as one man, was firmly resolved to meet it.

After Cadet Haynsworth graduated from the Citadel he entered the Confederate service. He was assigned to the artillery and became a First Lieutenant under General Joe Johnson with orders to stop General Sherman as he passed through the Carolinas.

News traveled slowly during the Civil War and because of this he was in the last battle fought east of the Mississippi after General Lee had surrender to General Grant. Lieutenant Haynsworth use to say that his gun was the last one fired in battle thus he fired the first shot and the last shot of the Civil War.

After the war was over Lieutenant Haynsworth became a lawyer, married, and had children. Later on he accepted an appointment to become a magistrate.

While a magistrate the locale Sheriff brought before him two feuding groups of young men to be put under a peace bond. When they arrived before him the two groups still had their guns with them. After awhile the two groups started feuding again which resulted in shots being fired between them. In all the commotion of the shooting Magistrate George Edward Haynsworth was mortally wounded.


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