Named after General Thomas Sumter, Fort Sumter was built following the War of 1812. This five-sided brick structure located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina was built as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast to protect the harbors. Construction began in 1829, and was still unfinished on April 12, 1861, when the first shots were fired at the beginning of the American Civil War. The Fort walls were between 170 to 190 feet (52 to 58 m) long, with walls 5 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.
U.S. Major Robert Anderson occupied the unfinished fort in December 1860 following South Carolina’s secession from the Union, initiating a standoff with the state’s militia forces. When President Abraham Lincoln announced plans to resupply the fort, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. After a 34-hour exchange of artillery fire, Anderson and 86 soldiers surrendered the fort on April 13. There were no casualties during the Confederate bombardment; the only Union deaths were the results of an accidental explosion during a planned 100-gun salute. Confederate troops then occupied Fort Sumter for nearly four years, resisting several bombardments by Union forces before abandoning the garrison prior to William T. Sherman’s capture of Charleston in February 1865. After the Civil War, Fort Sumter was restored by the U.S. military and manned during the Spanish-American War (1898), World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45). In 1948 Fort Sumter was decommissioned as a military post and turned over to the National Park Service.
Even though I had recently visited Old Fort Jackson, I was very excited to visit Fort Sumter, the place where the first shots of the American Civil War began. It was quite exhilarating to be able to stand in this historic place and imagine how the men, boys really, took a stand for what they believed in. Seeing the effects of the remnants of the war and the decay of time on parts of the Fort really brought home the Fort place in history. I would highly recommend a visit to Fort Sumter if you are a history buff or simply if you have an half day to explore a piece of history in Charleston, South Carolina.
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