Fort Sumter on Memorial Day

Fort Sumter1 was built after the war of 1812 as one of a series of coastal port defenses and named after a Revolutionary war hero, General Thomas Sumter. But it entered history as the site of the first shot of the Civil War.

It is built on a constructed island formed of 70,000 tons of granite shipped from New York and Vermont. The newly created island was allowed to settle for several years before the brickwork began.

Some day I will summarize the causes of the Civil War and the events leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter, but the brief list is:

  • Abraham Lincoln elected president.
  • South Carolina secedes.
  • Charleston forts Moultrie, Sumter, Pinckney and Johnson manned by Union First Artillery under command of Major Robert Anderson.
  • About December 27, 1860 Anderson moved troops into Fort Sumter and abandoned the other three.
  • Confederate forces under command of P.T.G. Beauregard occupied the forts and built additional shore batteries around the harbor, then began a basic siege of Fort Sumter.
  • Lincoln mounted a relief expedition to resupply Fort Sumter, but it was turned back by the Confederate shore batteries.
  • On April 11, Beauregard demanded surrender by Anderson, and when ignored a single shot was fired at 4:30 am signaling the beginning the attack.2

For the next day, night and day Sumter was bombarded by the shore batteries. Anderson did not return fire for several hours, and when he did only 9 or 10 of the casemate guns were functional. Fire started in the fort, and 34 hours after the first shot, terms for evacuation of Fort Sumter were agreed, and Anderson lowered the garrison flag and he and his troops boarded a ship for New York. No one on either side was killed but 5 Union soldiers were injured.

Throughout the war several attempts were made to retake the fort with no success and significant losses. For 20 months the Federals bombarded the fort with no surrender. Although the fort was now a pile of rubble, the 3,500 tons of metal fired actually made the bunkers stronger.

On February 17, 1865, when Sherman started north from Savannah, the Confederates evacuated the fort. The following April Anderson returned and again raised the garrison flag over Fort Sumter.

Following confederate bombardment and fire

After the War

Over the decade following the war, the rubble was cleared and modifications undertaken to make the fort again serviceable. Only the first level would be retained. In the lead-up to the Spanish-American war steel reinforced concrete Battery Huger (the black structure in the above picture) was built inside the fort, but it saw no service. It was manned through World War I, and maintained unused by the Army for the next 20 years. After WWII the fort was transferred to the National Park Service.

Visiting Fort Sumter

The fort can only be visited by ferry concession with the National Park Service. This makes it one of the most expensive parks to see since the ferry operator does not honor the 50% discount Federal passport. Further, you only have 1 hour before boarding the return boat — not nearly enough time to take it all in.

Still, it was worth it to me since it is a chronological “book-end” to my Civil War tours.

  1. The fort was named to honor the Revolutionary war general, Thomas Sumter. Camp Sumter (Andersonville) in Georgia was named for Sumter County where it is located. The county was named for Thomas Sumter. []
  2. The first shot to actually hit the fort was fired by Edmund Ruffin III, a Virginia planter,flaming states rights advocate and slaveholder. He committed suicide after the Union victory rather than live under “Yankee Rule.” He had to try twice since the gun failed to fire the first time! []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *