Fort Sumter National Monument Fort Sumter National Monument
Massive Charleston Harbor, 4th largest in the country, is the protected bay formed by the Ansley and Cooper Rivers. Some 3.5 miles from the Battery, Fort Sumter rises on a man-made shoal, built on ship's ballast from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Once an imposing palisaded fort with 55 foot walls, today's structure is somewhat less imposing than the Third System fort that towered over the entrance to the harbor at the start of The Civil War.
The ride to the fort begins at the Aquarium Wharf, near Liberty Square aboard Spirit Lines Cruises, a national park consessionaire since 1961. After purchasing tickets we took time to visit the National Park Service Museum in the same building as the ticket office. The excellent exhibit traces the roots of the Civil War back to the earliest days of America, showing how sectional beliefs including slavery contributed to the war.
During the winter the number of trips to Fort Sumter decreases, but from March 1 until the end of November there are three trips per day (9:30 am, 12:00 noon and 2:30 pm). Additional boats leave from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant (also run by Spirit Cruise Lines). Our ship, the General Beauregard, named for Confederate General P. G. T. Beuaregard, who commanded the troops ringing Charleston Harbor that fired on Fort Sumter to begin The Civil War, travels to the fort past Castle Pinckney and, in the distance, Fort Moultrie. Once docked at Fort Sumter one of the ship's mates announces the time to return to the boat (so somebody needs to wear a watch) and the people head for the fort across a gangway, then a small jetty of land.
On the right the entrance sign to Fort Sumter makes a good photo as you disembark from the ship, then continue inside the fort where a National Park Service Ranger gave an overview of the events leading up to the Battle of Fort Sumter in front of the oldest remaining section of the fort, the officers quarters. Ranger David Armstrong led our talk and demonstrated a strong knowledge of the fort, the battle of Fort Sumter and the siege of Charleston, longest of the Civil War. When discussing the single death that occurred (actually during a salute to the flag after the battle had ended), he pointed out that a second man injured during the salute to the flag died later from his wounds and agreed when a young man from Farmville, VA pointed out that the Rebels lost a mule.
At this point the people spread out to visit the fort. Looming in the back of Fort Sumter are the black walls of Battery Issac Huger, a Spanish-American War addition to the fort. This structure contains the fort's gift shop and musuem and is the only portion of the fort that is air conditioned, which can be important on those hot summer days in Charleston. Behind Battery Huger is a small, man-made grassy area with five flags. They represent the present United States flag and two United States flags introduced during the Civil War. A single Confederate flag, the "Stainless Banner" and the POW/MIA flag round out the five.
Steps descend to the casemates (a fortified chamber normally behind the palisade or scarpe) of the fort. In Fort Sumter's case, each casemate contains one or two cannon
Bathrooms are available, but food is not. A single water fountain is located in the fort.