Fort Sumter National Monument – Charleston, South Carolina

categories: USA Travel

Fort Sumter National Monument - Charleston, South Carolina

For history buffs who visit Charleston, South Carolina one of the must-see sites is Fort Sumner which lies in the mouth of the harbor. This tiny brick fort on an island not much larger than the fort itself proved to be the spark that started the Civil War.

The History

South Carolina and a group of six other states in the deep South seceded from the Union when the divided election of 1860 led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. While Lincoln did not consider himself an abolitionist (in favor of the immediate abolition of slavery) the platform of his party did call to limit slavery to the existing states and to ban it from the territories. By the time Lincoln was sworn in as president in March of 1861 seven of the 15 slaves, states had left the union. No one was quite sure if the U.S. would let them go or if a war was inevitable. The general consensus is that Lincoln wanted the South to fire the first shot of the war, if there was to be war. Some say this was to minimize the number of slave states that left the Union and some because Congress would not declare war otherwise.

Fort Sumter National Monument - Charleston, South Carolina

Fort Sumter was built after the war of 1812 to protect the Charleston Harbor. Having a British fleet sail into the Chesapeake Bay and set fire to Washington D.C. Had made an impact on the young country. But by the time the Civil War broke out the fort was not fully manned. It was intended to have 135 cannons and 650 men, but only had 60 cannons and 85 men and that was only after the Union soldiers at the nearby and indefensible Fort Moultrie rowed over to Sumter in the middle of the night led by Major Robert Anderson. Local residents were incensed by this action and the surrender of the fort was demanded.

The supplies at the fort were running low so the new president had to decide whether to send fresh supplies. Lincoln decided to send supplies and additional troops before the supplies would run out on April 15th. But the Confederates opened fire on April 12th led by General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had been Anderson’s student at West Point. Union soldiers were forced to surrender when fires started by the cannonade threatened to ignite the magazine where ammunition was kept.

Fort Sumter National Monument - Charleston, South Carolina

With as bloody as the conflict of the American Civil War was, it is ironic that only one person died during the shelling and that was a Confederate artilleryman who was killed when one of his own cannons exploded. In addition, a Union gunner was also killed when his gun exploded during the 47th shot of a 100 shot salute… after the fort had surrendered.

After the shots were fired at Fort Sumter four more states joined the confederacy (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) but that left 4 slave states still in the Union (Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky). More than 700,000 would die before the end of the Civil War, more than all other U.S. wars combined.

Fort Sumter National Monument - Charleston, South Carolina

Visiting Fort Sumter

To get to Fort Sumter take a ferry from either the Aquarium Wharf in downtown Charleston or the Patriots Point Maritime Museum in Mt. Pleasant. Entrance to the fort itself is free, but you can only get there via the ferry and that costs $18 for adults and $11 for children over 3. The Aquarium Wharf is about a mile from the Historic Charleston City Market. Allow 2 hours and fifteen minutes total for the trip.

On the boat ride out to Fort Sumter, they tell the story of the fateful battle in 1861. On the way out to the Fort look for dolphins swimming beside the ferry as they are commonly seen in the bay.

Inside the fort Park Rangers again give a talk about the history of the fort and the start of the Civil War for those who skipped the small museum at Aquarium Wharf and fell asleep on the ride out to the fort.

Fort Sumter was not decommissioned immediately after the Civil War so it has undergone significant change since that era. The current fort is not as impressive as the Civil War version which was twice the height. There is also a fort inside the fort a concrete blockhouse-style installation was built in 1898 prompted by the Spanish-American War.

Listen to my podcast episode Travel to Charleston, South Carolina – Amateur Traveler #430 for more information about going to South Carolina.

This post was originally published at On My Feet or in My Mind Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter National Monument – Charleston, South Carolina

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by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

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