The Schooner Rhoda H. Shannon Incident

Posted By : manager

Posted : August 19, 2020

By Compatriot Michael Thomas


We all know about the guns of Morris Island firing at the U.S. supply vessel Star of the West January 9, 1861 and then again on Fort Sumter the following April 12th. However, in between those events, they were involved in another action, one seldom mentioned but quite concerning at the time.  

   It began when the 180-ton schooner Rhoda H. Shannon left Boston March 26th bound for Savannah with a shipment of ice. Bad weather during her voyage prevented navigational fixes and the ship’s master, upon seeing Charleston’s harbor the afternoon of April 3rd, mistook the harbor entrance as Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River. His arrival in the “midst of a gale that had been blowing for several days” was another piece of bad luck as the waters were said to be “white with foam”.  Sighting a pilot boat, he sent a man to the bow to wave the U.S. flag as a request for a pilot to come aboard. When one didn’t arrive, the master made a poor decision by deciding to enter the port on his own thus setting off a series of events he soon came to regret.

   As the schooner neared Morris Island, guns from the Confederate emplacements there fired several shots across his bow. Realizing his ship was not flying its colors and thinking that was the cause for the firing, he hastily raised the U.S. flag. To his great surprise, the guns began firing at the ship scoring several near-misses. The befuddled master turned his ship and beat a retreat before anchoring just inside the Charleston bar and trying to understand what was going on.

   Major Robert Anderson, commanding U.S. forces in Fort Sumter, sent the fort’s boat with an officer to Morris Island to obtain an explanation for the firing and to request permission to visit the schooner. Lt. Colonel W.G. DeSaussure, commanding Confederate forces on Morris Island, advised that he was under orders to prevent any ship flying the U.S. flag from entering the harbor. DeSauussure sent a revenue cutter to ascertain damage on the Shannon and Anderson’s boat followed. The master explained his actions and admitted confusion. Both sides accepted his story and were relieved no harm or casualties were incurred in light of the facts.  Lt. Col. DeSaussure gave assurances the vessel “would not be molested” if she sought safety from the weather and anchored in the harbor but the Shannon soon headed to sea and disappeared from sight.  

   Confederate authorities explained the situation quickly to Charleston’s citizens to ease their anxieties and stop rumors that the schooner was attempting a re-supply of Fort Sumter in advance of a fleet of U.S. warships.  It was all just a case of bad weather, bad luck and bad judgement.    







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