Sunday, April 03, 2011

150 Years Ago: The Rhoda H. Shannon

With rumors flying around Charleston that the Federal government was soon going to make an attempt to reinforce and resupply Fort Sumter, the Rhoda H. Shannon blundered onto the scene on Wednesday, April 3, 1861, and almost started a war.

Captain Joseph Marts, the captain of the Rhoda H. Shannon, a private schooner out of Boston, had 180 tons of ice to deliver to Savannah.  He thought he had reached his destination; the Charleston lighthouse guided him into what he thought was Tybee Roads, off the coast of Savannah. 

As the schooner went past what Captain Marts thought was Tybee Island, but was actually Morris Island, a shot streaked across his bow.  Thinking this was a warning to show his colors, Marts did exactly the wrong thing to do in Charleston harbor in April of 1861:  he hoisted the Stars and Stripes.  Thinking this was the attempt to reinforce Fort Sumter, the guns at Morris Island opened fire on the ship.  Marts, not knowing what this was all about, lowered his colors and continued on until a shot ripped through his mainsail.  With that, he turned and headed back the way he had come.

At Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson's drums called his men to quarters and the guns were readied.  At least five of his officers urged him to open fire on the Confederate battery.  Anderson hesitated until the Rhoda H. Shannon was gone.  Inquiries were made with the Confederate authorities on shore and the schooner, which was now anchored just inside the bar of the harbor.  Finally, the situation was resolved and the ship continued on its way.  The war had been averted yet another day.

Also on this date, and also in South Carolina, the state convention met and approved the Confederate Constitution 114 to 16.

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