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A Visit to Fort Sumter

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Charleston, SC – Two years ago I tried to visit Fort Sumter, but the conditions on the rivers and harbor prevented the ferries from going out to the Fort on both days I visited (it just so happened to be around 17F and very windy!) The weather and water conditions were much better on this attempt and we departed from Patriot’s Point on time for the short ride out to the Fort.

As the ferry departed Patriot’s Point and passed by downtown Charleston, I noticed something interesting that offered a bit of a glance back in history. Not to far from each other, were a sailing ship moored downtown and a merchant ship tied up at the port in Charleston; in a sense they could be seen as book ends of history, showing where Charleston came from and where it is today. The sight of the sailing ship with the church steeples rising in the background offers a small glimpse of what Charleston must have looked like back in its earlier years. We also passed by Castle (fort) Pinckney on Shute’s Folly Island on the way out to Fort Sumter; it was a Federal installation that was occupied by South Carolina in December 1860.

Sailing ship moored at downtown Charleston with church steeples rising in the background

Sailing ship moored at downtown Charleston with church steeples rising in the background

Merchant ship Baltic Mercur II moored at the Ports in Charleston

Merchant ship Baltic Mercur II moored at the Ports in Charleston

Castle Pinckney on Shute's Folly Island in Charleston Harbor

Castle Pinckney on Shute’s Folly Island in Charleston Harbor

I’m not sure what I expected to see when I first laid eyes on Fort Sumter, but being familiar with Fort Pulsaki I certainly didn’t see what I might have expected to see. Very little is left of the the pre-Civil War fort; between the Confederate shelling of the fort when it was under Federal control and Federal shelling of the fort when it was occupied by the Confederates, most of it was shot away. Today, the man made island the fort sits upon is dominated by Battery Huger, a Spanish-American War era coastal defense battery.  What’s left of Fort Sumter gives you an idea of how bad the damage is. You can clearly see the combination brick and tabby construction and just as you can at Fort Pulaski, you can shells still embedded in the walls. You can stand on top of Battery Huger and look across the harbor where the CSS Hunley sunk to Sullivans Island and Fort Moultrie. Likewise you can look across the harbor to Morris Island where Fort Wagner was; if you’ve watched the movie “Glory,” you’re familiar with one of the battles for Fort Wagner.

This model in the museum shows what Fort Sumter looked like prior to the Civil War

This model in the museum shows what Fort Sumter looked like prior to the Civil War

When you arrive by ferry, you see nothing like the pre-war fort; the fort walls, once 50ft above water level are greatly reduced

When you arrive by ferry, you see nothing like the pre-war fort; the fort walls, once 50ft above water level are greatly reduced

Looking at the Gorge Wall; behind it rises Battery Huger

Looking at the Gorge Wall; behind it rises Battery Huger

As you enter Fort Sumter, you're immediately confronted with Battery Huger, a Spanish-American War era coastal defense battery built inside of the remains of Fort Sumter

As you enter Fort Sumter, you’re immediately confronted with Battery Huger, a Spanish-American War era coastal defense battery built inside of the remains of Fort Sumter

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huge

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huge

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huge

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huge

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huge

Looking down into Fort Sumter from on top of Battery Huger

The remains of a powder magazine that exploded on 11 December 1863 while under Confederate occupation

The remains of a powder magazine that exploded on 11 December 1863 while under Confederate occupation

Remains of the fort walls

Remains of the fort walls

Remains of the fort walls

Remains of the fort walls

Shell still embedded in the fort wall

Shell still embedded in the fort wall

Cannon in the left flank casemate

Cannon in the left flank casemate

Looking out where the gorge and wharf of Fort Sumter would have been

Looking out where the gorge and wharf of Fort Sumter would have been

Looking out toward Morris Island where Fort Wagner was located

Looking out toward Morris Island where Fort Wagner was located

Looking out toward Fort Moultrie and the area where CSS Hunley sank

Looking out toward Fort Moultrie and the area where CSS Hunley sank

Visiting Fort Sumter was a very sobering experience. If you’re thinking about where you are when you visit, you realize that you’re standing where the Civil War began and it makes you think. You think about all that came after that first shot was fired at Fort Sumter and it gives you pause. During the ferry ride back to Patriot’s Point, I didn’t pay much attention to the tour guide descriptions, I was deep in thought about the experience of being where the terrible War Between the States began. It took two years to finally get to Fort Sumter and it was well worth the wait.

 


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