The Battle of Fort Sumter


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The first time I visited Charleston, SC was years before I became interested in the Civil War.  At that time, Fort Sumter was simply an anomalous structure hovering on the horizon of Charleston Harbor.  I remember wondering what it was and then quickly dismissing the thought because I had the beauty of historic Charleston at my feet.  Perish the thought in hindsight!    

The next time I was in Charleston, Fort Sumter was at the top of my list.  I purchased a ticket from Fort Sumter Tours, the authorized concessioner of Fort Sumter National Monument.  While waiting for my tour time, I browsed the exhibits and gift shop. 

A short while later, the boat departed and began cruising towards the mouth of Charleston Harbor.  The journey took half an hour, but the time flew because the excursion was narrated.  I stood at the bow excited to watch Fort Sumter get closer.  It was sunny and warm that day, the antithesis of the dark and dreary morning of April 12, 1861.   

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This is a National Park Service map

The afternoon before, on April 11th, Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard sent an envoy to demand that Union commanding officer, Major Robert Anderson, and his garrison of 85 men evacuate the fort.  Anderson refused, “…it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor and my obligations to my Government prevent my compliance.”  And with those words began a course of action that initiated the American Civil War.

In the early morning hours of April 12th, Beauregard made one last attempt to urge Anderson to abandon the fort.  Again, Anderson refused prompting the Confederates to take action.  At 4:30AM, the Confederates fired a single shell from Fort Johnson commencing the Civil War’s first battle. 

The opening shot was followed by more cannon fire from Cummings Point and Fort Moultrie.  In a matter of moments, the dark sky lit up as the Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter on all sides with an endless deluge of cannon and gun fire.  The cacophony was deafening while the ground rumbled.  As the smoke rose, the smell was suffocating, and the clouds finally burst open inviting the rain to gush down. 

The Union responded at daylight firing a shot at Cummings Point at 7:00AM, but it missed its mark.  Inside Fort Sumter, Major Anderson knew he was out-numbered and low on sustenance.  He also had a limited supply of ammunition and in particular, a limited supply of gunpowder cartridges.  Of the 60 guns available, only 6 were active due to the Union’s disadvantages and Anderson’s desire to avoid casualties from manning cannons that were located in open areas.        

The Confederate cannonade persisted into April 13th eventually penetrating Fort Sumter’s five-foot-thick brick walls.  The Confederates also took advantage of Heated shot aiming for the wooden buildings within the fort.  The situation inside Fort Sumter became dire as the rain subsided and buildings began burning.  Meanwhile, the main ammunition magazine where 300 barrels of gunpowder were stocked was at risk from the advancing fire. 

The Union’s predicament was bleak making its surrender imminent.  With no other option, Anderson surrendered that afternoon 34 hours after the first shot was fired.  He and his garrison evacuated the fort the following day.  There were no casualties of battle.  The Union did lose one man at the fort when Anderson insisted on a 100 gun salute.  Some cartridges exploded killing Union Private Daniel Hough ending the salute at 50 shots.        

Today, Fort Sumter is a shell of what it was 155 years ago.  In the middle of the fort is a black concrete structure known as Battery Huger.  Completed in 1899, it was part of the United States’ coastal defense during the Spanish-American War, though it never saw any action.  To me, Battery Huger is an eyesore that doesn’t fit with the beauty of the ruins.  Of course, I realize it’s not supposed to considering it was added on later for the purpose of defense not aesthetics.  😉 

Aside from this, Fort Sumter is a beautiful fort.  Cannons line the fortress on all levels while the fragile ruins provide the visual scars of battle.  It is a self-guided tour, but National Park Service Rangers are available to answer questions and provide commentary.  You get one hour at the fort.  The first time I was there, there wasn’t enough time to walk around the fort, take pictures, browse the museum, and shop at the gift shop.  I felt rushed!  The second time, however, the timing was perfect.  🙂

The person who took this pic clearly did not know that I am a shoe blogger! 😉 I wore low wedges with this outfit…probably not the best footwear for a fort adventure, but I survived. 🙂 This is the Fort Sumter Visitor Center where I bought my ticket and caught the tour boat.

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Fort Sumter – still so far away! Union Major Robert Anderson and his garrison were actually stationed at Fort Moultrie, but six days after South Carolina seceded, he stealthily moved his men to Fort Sumter because it was more defensible.

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Construction on Fort Sumter began in 1829 after the War of 1812. During that war, the British seized and burned our nation’s capital. After the war, the US Government realized our coastlines were at risk from sea invasions and began the Third System of America’s seacoast defense. Other forts in this Third System include Fort Monroe in Norfolk, VA and Fort Pulaski in Savannah, GA among many others.

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Fort Sumter is a man-made island (tons of granite and rock rubble) built on a sandbar by The Army Corp of Engineers. It is pentagon shaped with brick walls that were approximately 50 feet above water and 5-feet thick. Construction of Fort Sumter ceased when SC seceded in December of 1860. By then it was about 90% complete. It was supposed to hold 135 guns, but when the Civil War started, there were only 15 guns mounted. Union Major Anderson added 45 more guns for a total of 60 guns. The living quarters could house 650 officers and enlisted men.

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Battery Huger – this concrete construction takes up the entire middle section of Fort Sumter. Construction began in 1898 just as the Spanish-American War was heating up, but no shots were ever fired.

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Battery Huger had two long-range 12-inch rifles. There was also a “disappearing rifle” that would recoil and disappear after firing. These were eventually removed around 1943 when Fort Sumter began transitioning to a national monument.

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Cannons and ruins – my favorite part about Fort Sumter.

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Flags of the Fort: The main US flag rises high above the ground. Surrounding it are five flags on shorter flagpoles that flew over Fort Sumter (starting at far left): 1) The US flag with 33 stars. It is the Union’s flag during the Battle of Fort Sumter. 2) “Stars and Bars” – first official flag of the Confederacy 3) South Carolina’s state flag representing South Carolina’s military history. For example, South Carolina soldiers wore blue and on their caps was a silver crescent. 4) “Second National,” the second official Confederate flag, replaced the “Stars and Bars” in 1863. 5) The US flag with 35 stars as Kansas and West Virginia were admitted to the Union during the Civil War.

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Across the way is Sullivan’s Island (Fort Moultrie) and its lighthouse.

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Fort Sumter

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Across the way is Morris Island. Union Captain, Abner Doubleday (did he really invent baseball?! 😉 ), fired the Union’s first shot from Fort Sumter at 7AM on April 12th in response to the Confederate bombardment. He aimed for the Ironclad Battery at Cummings Point on this island and missed. Later, in 1863, the Union took control of this island and used captured Confederate officers as human shields to deter the Confederates from attacking from Fort Sumter. The South called these men the “Immortal Six Hundred.”

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This is a 12-lb mountain howitzer that was part of the Confederate arsenal.

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Fort Sumter ruins

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Fort Sumter ruins


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Fort Sumter ruins – can you see the Union artillery shells embedded in the brick? They are bullet shaped shells fired from a rifled cannon. The Union bombarded Fort Sumter for 22 months between 1863 – 1865.

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Fort Sumter ruins and another cannon.

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Fort Sumter ruins

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Fort Sumter cannons

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Fort Sumter ruins and another cannon.

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The Stars and Stripes that flew over Fort Sumter during the battle from April 12 – April 13, 1861. It is 10-ft by 20 ft.

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Stars and Stripes – After the Confederates destroyed the flagstaff, Union soldiers re-raised the flag on a wooden pole. The tiny holes where the nails penetrated is still visible on the top left side.

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After the surrender of Fort Sumter by Union Major Anderson, Confederates raised this flag over Fort Sumter. It is the flag of the Palmetto Guard. Then, later that day, the “Stars and Bars” was also raised at the fort.