Colonel John Luther Branch, my great-grandfather, was a native of Abbeville, SC. He commanded a company of SC military Citadel cadets that fired the first shot of the War of Secession on the SS “Star of the West”.
Here is what was written in the History of the South Carolina Military Academy by John Peyre Thomas:
“On the night of December 31, Lt. Col. Jno. L. Branch of the first Regiment of Rifles, South Carolina Militia, received orders to take three of his companies to Morris Island. On the afternoon of January 1, 1861, he reached that point. Being the Senior Officer, he assumed command of all the forces on the Island, and remained in command until the arrival, a few weeks subsequent, of Col. J.J. Pettigrew.Col. Branch found Major P.F. Stevens and his command engaged in constructing what was, after the 9th of January, called the Star of the West Battery, as it was from that point, and with the 24-pounders manned by the cadets, that the United States ship ‘Star of the West’ was driven off while attempting to relieve Fort Sumter.
Thus it stands – for all that it implies – that the Citadel Cadets, under the command of Col. Branch, as commanding officer of the post and of Maj. Stevens, as immediately in charge of the guns, fired the first shot of the War of Secession. Col. Branch and Maj. Stevens, thus connected with the first hostile incident of a great war, were both graduates of the South Carolina Military Academy. And it was the Governor of South Carolina who had ordered them to the front, at the culmination of the crisis which had been brought upon the state”.
After the War, Colonel Branch moved to Union Springs where he died and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. On his tombstone is the inscription: “The first shot of the Civil War was fired on the U. S. Ship ‘Star of the West’ by order of Col. Branch in command of the Confederate Forces on Morris Island, Charleston Harbor January 9, 1861.”