Learning From History
The waves crashed elegantly against the boat’s graceful curves as the ship’s engine roared to life skipping us across the river. The smell of salt water tickled our noses and stimulated our senses. We were aboard the Charleston Explorer on a journey to Morris Island to see a re-enactment commemorating the first shots fired in the Civil War 150 years ago. The boat’s engine rumbled to a stop as it collided with the sandy beach on Morris Island. In the distance, upon a grassy hill full of winter weeds, we saw Citadel Military College cadets standing proudly beneath their flag with muskets in hand and cannons by their side aimed and ready. It seemed as if we had stepped back in time.
First, we toured the period camp where the Citadel Military College cadets and re-enactors had spent the previous night on the island in solitude with temperatures of 20 degrees. A period camp is a camp set up to look exactly like the time period that is being replicated. The winds had ravaged the camp and sand was piled on the edges of their tents. We saw a fire pit at one end of the camp where the cadets would have kept warm and cooked their meal before heading to bed that night.
When asked about his stay on the island Brandon Yelton said "It was an interesting night."
Everything seemed so real that we wondered if the cadets might have heard the cries of men from a 150 years in the past while sleeping.
After we walked through the period camp and everyone was settled the re-enactors prepared to stage a reenactment of the first shots in the Civil War. Originally, Citadel cadets and militia that were stationed on Morris Island fired shots at The Star of the West. The Star of the West was a merchant ship that stowed over two hundred and thirteen Union soldiers beneath its deck, as well as ammunition and necessities for Union troops stationed at Fort Sumter. As the ship stealthily crept into Charleston Harbor at 1:50 am on January 9, 1861, the Confederate soldiers fired seven shots upon the Star of the West. The first two shots missed. However, the next two hit the hull of the ship and the last three shots were fired upon the back of the ship as it retreated to its escort ship waiting farther out.
Steve Smith, a Civil War re-enactor and military expert, said “History is not black and white, but shades of gray.”
While we had mixed feelings about attending an event that commemorated such a difficult time in our nation’s history, we learned from the Citadel cadets and Civil War experts that it is important to reflect upon all of our nation’s history both the positive and negative. This helps us to learn from our past mistakes and understand our history better thus, helping to make our country stronger.
Check out our video report from the Citadel re-enactment commemorating the first shots fired in the Civil War!