Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter is located on a small island in the harbor of Charleston, SC. In April of 1861 there were Federal troops garrisoned at the fort. Confederate artillery batteries at various locations surrounding Charleston harbor began firing at the fort on April 12, 1861. These were the first shots of the American Civil War.
The Construction of the Fort
The War of 1812 exposed the vulnerability of the coastal defenses of the United States. Following that war, Congress appropriated funds for the construction of defensive fortifications along the coast. Fort Sumter was one of the projects included in the program known as the Third System.
In 1829 construction began on a 2.4 acre man-made island in the middle of Charleston harbor. The fort’s five feet thick and fifty feet high walls formed a pentagon. The fort was named after Revolutionary War hero General Thomas Sumter. General Sumter earned the nickname “Carolina Gamecock” as a result of his brave service with the South Carolina militia in military action against the British.
In early 1861 the walls of the fort were in place, but much of the interior was still under construction.
The Advent of the Civil War
South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. At that time there was a Union garrison at Fort Moultrie. This fort was located on Sullivans Island, a barrier island near Charleston that was vulnerable to Confederate troops invading from land over a waterway.
Fort Moultrie was commanded by Union Major Robert Anderson. The Confederate forces were commanded by General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had been a student of Major Anderson at West Point. Major Anderson moved his Union troops from Fort Moultrie to the more easily defended Fort Sumter on December 26, 1860.
On January 9, 1861, the Union ship Star of the West entered the harbor in an attempt to deliver troops and supplies to Fort Sumter. Confederate batteries fired upon it and the ship was forced to withdraw.
On April 11 Confederate emissaries were rowed out to Fort Sumter to offer safe passage for Anderson and his men if he agreed to surrender the fort.
Anderson’s reply was: “It is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and my obligation to my Government, prevent my compliance.”
The Battles for Sumter
The Confederate barrage began at 4:30 the next morning and lasted for over 30 hours. On the afternoon of April 14th, Major Anderson surrendered the fort and he and his men were transported out of South Carolina on ships. No one had been killed during the artillery battle.
In July 1863, Union forces occupied Morris Island, another barrier island near Charleston. These Union artillery units began a cannon bombardment against the Confederate forces then occupying Fort Sumter. On September 8th Union soldiers, sailors and marines were dispatched to invade Sumter by boat, but this turned into a catastrophe for the Union forces.
The continuing cannon assault upon Sumter was devastatingly effective, but the Confederates refused to surrender. When the Union Army under General William T. Sherman swept through South Carolina in early 1865, the Confederates evacuated Charleston and Fort Sumter. Union forces would finally reclaim the fort on February 22, 1865.
Fort Sumter became part of the National Park Service in 1948. Commercial tours of the fort are conducted by boats departing from Charleston.
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