Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter with our tour boat at the dock
Fred and I enjoy visiting National Parks and Monuments in our travels.
Fort Sumter in Charleston South Carolina has been on our must see list for a number of years now.
The historic fort sits atop a 2.4 acre man made island in the mouth of Charleston Harbor so can only be reached by boat. We started our tour at the Liberty Square Visitor Center where tour boats dock to take you out to the fort. The Visitor Center has a museum like atmosphere that provides a history of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor.

We learned that construction of Fort Sumter was begun in 1829 as part of the Third System, a 50 fort coastal security strategy demanded by Congress after the War of 1812 revealed weaknesses in the country's defenses.
Fort Sumter was still not completed in December of 1860 when Major Robert Anderson abandoned nearby Fort Moultrie (considered indefensible) and stealthily took possession of the fort with a complement of 85 men.
South Carolina had voted unanimously to secede from the Federal Union 6 days earlier.
The South Carolina Declaration had been prompted by the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the Federal Union in November of that same year.
The day after Major Anderson's occupation of Fort Sumter South Carolina Volunteer forces strengthened their occupation of the other 3 forts in Charleston and began to fortify the rest of the harbor.
Tension escalated in January when a merchant ship attempting to resupply Fort Sumter was turned away.
By March of 1861 the Confederate States had been formed, Jefferson Davis had been elected president and most of the other forts in those states had been seized by the Confederate volunteers.
The standoff between inflexible opposing forces in this Southern city became a symbol for the countries division. Lincoln took office in April of 1861 with a declaration that the country would not be divided.
One month later his order to resupply Fort Sumter pushed the confederate Army to demand the surrender of Fort Sumter. When Major Anderson did not comply Fort Sumter was shelled for 34 hours destroying the forts defenses, ammunition and living quarters. Major Anderson negotiated a truce and abandoned Fort Sumter to the Confederate Army. The Civil War started with this battle that injured only 5 Federal soldiers and killed no one.  Unfortunately that cannot be said of the wars other engagements.
Fort Sumter remained under Confederate control aiding ships providing supplies from Europe to enter the major port city and ships loaded with cotton to leave. It was not until 1865 that Federal troops captured Charleston and recovered Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter during the Civil War years.
Our boat arrived and we enjoyed a 30 minute ride to the island. The tour boats are large with a choice of indoor or outdoor seating. We enjoyed great views of the cable stayed bridge that takes Route 17 across the Cooper River, Fort Moultrie, The USS Yorktown and dolphins swimming and feeding in the wake of the boats passing by. A ranger on board the tour boat gave us a brief description of what we would be seeing at the fort. We were free to explore on our own for an hour so quickly walked up the ramp and entered the gate on the forts left flank.

Fort Sumter's massive walls are 5 feet thick
When the Civil War ended this left flank was part of the fort that was recognizable. Most of the rest had been decimated by bombardment during the war and was nothing but piles of debris falling into the water. The Army did  reconstruct the fort as a military site and it was used as a defense during the Spanish American War, WWI and WWII.  In 1948 Fort Sumter was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service and was declared a National Monument.  There are  11 100-pounder Parrot guns placed in the gun embrasures of the forts right face. The casements of the second level have been bricked over and are unarmed.  You can see divots and projectiles from mortar fire embedded in the walls of the left face casement. The walls today are only half of their original 5 story height. We could only imagine how impressive that original fort had been.

We walked the path through the 5 foot thick walls and entered the parade ground. There are 2 memorials on the parade ground a Confederate defenders plaque and the Union Garrison Monument. The Union Monument lists the names of all who served during the battle. We found the name of Abner Doubleday, a career Army Officer and also a home town hero on that roster. Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa, NY near where we raised our family and lived for 30 years. He is also widely recognized as being the inventor of the game of Baseball. We learned that Captain Abner Doubleday fired the first shot from Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

From the parade ground you can climb to the top of the battlements to get a view of the harbor.

Battle scarred wall of Fort Sumter's left flank
My favorite part of the tour was learning about Fort Sumter's American flag.  In December of 1861 when Major Anderson and his Federal troops took possession of Fort Sumter they flew an American flag over the fort.  April 14th of that same year they surrendered Fort Sumter to the Confederacy. That American flag was carried by Major Anderson on the ship that took his garrison to New York when they left Charleston. On April 14th 1865, exactly 4 years after the surrender, Major Anderson returned to Fort Sumter with that same flag.  It was smoke stained and torn by bullets and mortar fragments but provided a poignant symbol of the end of a conflict that tore the nation apart when it was once again raised over the fort.  That original flag is currently in the Visitor Center at Liberty Square. It is kept in a controlled environment to keep it from deteriorating any further. You can see a view a small portion of the flag and a replica hangs near by.


  1. Very interesting, Bonnie! We are currently south of Campelsville, Kentucky, which is also full of Civil War history. So great to see your post on where it all started. Very interesting about Doubleday.

    1. Thanks Jim and Diana. You are in the middle of some great Civil War history in Kentucky. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is on my must see list.