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Trip to Fort Sumter

In September we took a vacation to visit my wife’s sister in South Carolina. While there e took the opportunity to see some of the sites with her sister and her husband.

We went to Charleston for a few days and spent the better part of one touring Fort Sumter, the place the American Civil War started on April 12, 1861.

Visiting Sumter is something I’ve always wanted to do. The first thing I noticed is that the fort is a lot smaller than I imagined. Here’s the vital stats from Wikipedia:

Named after General Thomas SumterRevolutionary War hero, Fort Sumter was built after the War of 1812, as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast to protect the harbors. Construction began in 1829,[3] and the structure was still unfinished in 1861, when the Civil War began. Seventy thousand tons of granite were transported from New England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston Harbor, which the site dominates. The fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet (52 to 58 m) long, with walls five feet (1.5 m) thick, standing 50 feet (15.2 m) over the low tide mark. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun emplacements, although it was never filled near its full capacity.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Sumter

While smaller than I thought the fort was a significant fortification that guarded Charleston harbor. In 1861 was it was under gunned and undermanned. As the Confederates took control of the other Union installations around Sumter it became cut off from reinforcement and was forced to surrender.

When the Confederates took over they brought the fort up to snuff by installing 95 guns with a garrison that could man them.

The Union Navy and Marines were charged with maintaining a blockade around all southern ports. Often times, landing parties were tasked with various missions. At least one attempt was made by sailors and marines to seize Fort Sumter from the sea. It was a failure that resulted in many casualties. The little 12lb howitzer in the picture was a big reason why. There is not much a beach to land on at Sumster.

The harbor itself became a haven for blockade runners with quite a few making their way through the Union blockade. The Union Navy was not idle and mounted a siege of the fort for 20 months. A naval landing party of sailors and marines attempted a landing but were easily repulsed.

Confederate arillerymen manning fortifications.

The Confederate version of Fort Sumter never fell from the sea but rather in January, 1865 it fell, because General Sherman in his march to the sea took it from the landward side.

After the Civil War the fort remained in service until 1876. It was in disrepair until 1897 when the impending war with Spain caused the fort to be upgraded. A small army garrison occupied the fort during the WW1. During WW2 a couple of 90mm anti-aircraft guns were installed. In 1948 the fort was handed over to the National Park Service. Not a bad history for a fort that was built in 1829!

We chose to take the ferry that allowed you to disembark at the fort. You get about an hour to tour the fort. The staff, like at all National Parks were very helpful, taking the time to explain the details surrounding the initial Confederate bombardment and the subsequent Union siege of the fort.

Being the Civil War geek that I am, I was fascinated by the size of the 100lb Parrot guns. These guns were designed to sink ships! At the time this meant wooden ships since the Monitor and the Merrimac ironclads were still about a year away in their making.

The Monitor and the Merrimac were the world’s first Ironclads. At the time no navy in the world could match them. Doing the siege of Fort Sumter by the Union Navy many Union Monitors were used their armor being quite useful in fending off Confederate shot and shell.

The top tier of the fort was blown away during the siege by the Union Navy. On the lower tiers you can still still embedded ordnance as well as damage to the brick and mortar that was never repaired.

An insight museum gives further insight and instruction regarding the momentous events of 1861-65 in Charleston and around the fort.

My only regret was you only had an hour to tour the fort and the museum. There’s a great video and other information about planning your visit to Fort Sumter here.

Direct link to Video

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