Monday, May 27, 2013

Celebrate your wedding anniversary at Fort Sumter!

We had scheduled a vacation weekend months in advance, because we knew that if we waited something would come up as it always does. Together with some friends of ours we found a beach house in McClellanville, put down the deposit and started planning. My mom was in town until the very morning of our departure, and as she drove off towards Kentucky we headed southeast towards Charleston, to Fort Sumter National Monument.

The Fort is located on an island about three miles from Charleston, between Sullivan and James Islands in Charleston Harbor. Famous as the location where the first shot of the Civil War was fired, it is named for General Thomas Sumter of the Revolutionary War. Construction started in 1829 but was still unfinished when six days after the state of SC declared its secession from the Union U.S. Army Major Anderson abandoned the indefensible Fort Moultrie and relocated to Fort Sumter. Intended to house 650 men and 135 guns, at that point it only had a handful of operational cannons.

Ferries to the island run from two separate points, one from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center just next to the Aquarium in downtown Charleston, and the second from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. Depending on the time of year, between 3 to six shuttles take visitors out to the Fort; for a schedule and rates click here.

South Carolina and the Confederacy saw the occupation of Fort Sumter as an act of war, and after requests that the Fort be evacuated were repeatedly ignored and attempts to resupply rejected, on April 11, 1861, Brigadier General Beauregard sent three aides to demand the surrender of the fort. Major Anderson declined, and so on April 12, 1861 at 4:30 am, Confederate batteries opened fire, marking the beginning of the Civil War.

The bombardment continued for 34 hours. At first Fort Sumter didn’t even return fire, because they lacked fuses, and then when the cannons did begin to fire, it was at a slow pace. A fire started inside the fort, and ultimately the Union surrendered on April 13 after which the troops were evacuated to New York City. Interesting fact, it was during the official "100 gun salute" of surrender when the only casualty of the bombardment occurred, when a cannon prematurely fired - the salute was shortened to 50 shots.

A 30 minute boat ride takes you to the fort, and upon disembarking visitors are greeted by Park Service employees that also provide a history lesson for those interested. With a gift shop and museum on site in addition to the various cannons and of course the fort itself, there is plenty to explore during the one hour before the ferry takes you back. We helped Lauris complete a junior ranger program to earn a cool badge, I suggest taking advantage of this wonderful program anytime you visit a National Park.

Union efforts to retake Charleston Harbor began on April 7, 1863, but the first attack was unsuccessful, the USS Keokuk sinking off the southern tip of Morris Island. The Confederate army was rebuilding the fort, and was able to hold off another attack on September 8-9, 1863. Finally on February 17, 1865 General Sherman’s advance through South Carolina forced the Confederates to evacuate Charleston, and Fort Sumter was abandoned. The Federal government formally took possession of Fort Sumter on February 22, 1865 with a flag raising ceremony.

The Fort Sumter (Union) battle flag and the Palmetto Guard flag
The end of the war found the fort in ruins. The U.S. Army re-leveled the damaged walls to a lower height, resulting in the low profile visitors see today. From 1876 to 1897 it was used as a lighthouse station, but the start of the Spanish-American War prompted renewed military interest and a new massive concrete blockhouse-style installation was built in 1898 inside the original walls. The rebuilt fort never saw any action, however over 750,000 visitors step foot on the island each year.

Then and now: Fort Sumter 1861 photograph source here
After the visit we spent some additional time in the museum back in Charleston before continuing on to McClellanville. You can imagine the chaos that ensued; 5 energetic boys exploring the house while the adults tried to get dinner on the table! Eventually everything settled down, and Roberts and I were able to toast to our fourth wedding anniversary - what better way to celebrate than with a visit to Fort Sumter?


  1. I have always wanted to visit Fort Sumter. It's great that you boys got a history lesson :)
    Happy anniversary!

  2. Planning to go to Savannah and Charleston this September and also planning to go to Fort Sumter. And this is what gets me...can you actually do everything you want to in the fort in just one hour?

    1. One hour worked well for us because of the children. Check out the ferry schedule (and remember there are ferries also leaving from Patriot's Point), you might want to take the first ferry out and the last ferry in - giving you up anywhere from 3-5 hours in the Fort.

    2. You mean you do not have to leave on the ferry you arrived on, you can leave on the next one? As the website did not say you can do that.

    3. I would call to verify, but I believe you can stay in the fort all day - as long as you don't miss the last ferry out! (And it would be wise to buy tickets ahead of time, to make sure you have a seat on that last ferry)


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