While most come to Sullivan’s Island to enjoy the beaches or eat at famous Poe’s Tavern, there’s another side to this beach resort town that is easily discovered with a visit to the west end of the island, and Fort Moultrie. Part of Fort Sumter National Monument, Sullivan’s Island is actually closer to Fort Sumter than both of the ferry ports, Patriot’s Point and Liberty Square; they depart from the downtown Charleston area while the fort is between James and Sullivan’s Islands, both forts standing guard at the mouth of the Charleston harbor to the Atlantic.
The first palmetto-log fort on Sullivan's Island wasn’t finished when it was attacked by the British in 1776. The June 28th battle ended in British retreat, although they returned in 1780, capturing Charleston and keeping it until the end of the war. The fort was named after its commander in that initial battle, Colonel William Moultrie.
After the Revolution, Fort Moultrie was all but abandoned, and by 1791 there was little left of it. When war broke out between England and France in 1793 Congress authorized the first system of coastal fortifications and a 2nd Fort Moultrie was completed in 1798. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1804, a third (brick) Fort Moultrie was built.
In my opinion the most interesting thing about the series of forts ringing Charleston Harbor (Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, and Pinckney), is that they were meant to be a collaborative effort at keeping the enemy at bay, but actually ended up being on center stage pitted against one another in the Union/Confederate conflict as the site of the first shots of the Civil War. SC seceded from the Union, and the Federal garrison abandoned Fort Moultrie for Fort Sumter, deeming the former too weak and hard to defend. (More on that in my post Celebrate your wedding anniversary at Fort Sumter!)
In April 1863, the Union began a 20-month bombardment of Sumter and Moultrie. The defenses held, although both forts were basically a pile of rubble at the point when the Confederate army evacuated the city in February 1865. Moultrie was rebuilt and modernized in the 1870s and again in 1885, but eventually larger weapons were placed further east on the island and the fort became just a small piece of the Fort Moultrie Military Reservation.
A visit to today's restored Fort starts at the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center, where visitors can view educational exhibits and get a copy of the Junior Ranger program booklet. After watching the orientation film we headed across the street, entering the fort through the Sally Port entrance.
A full exploration of the fort can take a few hours as it is certainly larger than it seems, partially underground, and a comprehensive visit will also include a trip around the forts walls. Additionally visitors can take the “Cannon Walk” with artillery pieces that date from the Civil War to Battery Jasper, part of the coastal defense system.
We ducked over to the ocean, getting our feet wet on a strip of sand that lay between concrete rubble (to protect against erosion) and the water. That tiny taste of the ocean was enough to plant a seed of impatience in us all on this hot day, leading us to abandon the fort in search of swimming and sandcastles… but not before being sworn in as Junior Park Rangers, that is.
Open 9am to 5pm daily (except on certain holidays), there is an admission fee to visit the Fort: please see the National Park Service website for more information.