Eyewitness to the Fall of Fort Sumter
The wooden steam sloop Pawnee pounded toward the South Carolina coast through heavy seas and gale-force winds in the early hours of 12 April 1861. The weather and darkness made it difficult to distinguish landmarks, but the warship’s commanding officer, 52-year-old Commander Stephen C. Rowan, recorded his arrival “as near the position assigned me as the badness of the weather would allow me to judge.” Once in position off Charleston Harbor, Rowan ordered his men to quarters and the guns loaded with shell.
The packet steamer Baltic drew near in the storm, bringing with her “Captain” Gustavus Vasa Fox, who was eager to set his brainchild—the relief of Fort Sumter—into motion. (See story, p. 18.)The Pawnee’s captain, however, when told of Fox’s intent to proceed apace with the mission, said his orders required him to await the arrival of the sidewheel steamer Powhatan. (Unbeknownst to either man, the latter had been ordered elsewhere.)