Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fort Sumter National Monument

There's a bazillion forts in South Carolina and there's a TON of history here in this state. There are historical markers all over the surrounding area where we are staying. Even the Revolutionary War Trail is here..Fort Sumter is one of most well known forts, having been the first to be fired on on April 21, 1861, the shots signaling the start of the Civil War. Actually, the first shot was a 10" mortar shot fired OVER the fort as a signal for the Confederates to open fire on the Union held fort. For 34 hours, the fort was bombarded with artillery shells and mortar. It was pretty much reduced to rubble, but has been repaired and reconstructed to some degree. There were actually two more tiers on top of this one originally.

There's a great story here, and Dennis Birr was the ranger who gave us the talk as we came into the fort. He was an enthusiastic and funny guy who made history come to life, and who actually got Sparky's 100% undivided attention as he spoke. (That guy was GOOD to be able to do that, let me tell you! says Eldo.) He would make a great teacher and Sparky would have done a whole lot better in history class if she had had teachers like him! He made the key players in Fort Sumter's history come alive, and he had the crowd chuckling over his stories....He made it INTERESTING, which is more than Sparky could say for most of her history education.

Fort Sumter was a manmade fort--70,000 tons of granite were brought in from New England to build up a sandbar at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The fort is a pentagon shaped structure, walls five feet thick standing 50 feet tall over low tide. It could hold over 600 men and 135 guns, but was never filled to capacity, which caused the Confederates to successfully take it over in 1861 after bombarding it for 34 hours. It would take the Union another four years to get it back.

The soldiers at Fort Sumter numbered 127 men, 13 of them musicians. They had their own band at the fort! At first the enlisted men had their families there, and it sounded like a rather relaxed state of affairs. Major Robert Anderson, in charge, had moved the soldiers there from another fort in the area, Fort Moultrie and hadn't gotten permission from Washington. The fort wasn't complete yet, and not all the guns were in place. The soldiers had inadequate supplies and men and artillery for any kind of prolonged battle. The confederates tried more than once by sending messengers to the fort to get Anderson to leave, and he refused. The fort was short on everything! Abraham Lincoln tried to get reinforcement, food and supplies to the fort before hostilities began, but the efforts were unsuccessful and came too late. Once the bombardment started, it was all over soon, with casualties AFTER the battle and that was during a 100 gun salute...A canon misfired and a Confederate soldier bled to death. On the 47th shot, a Union soldier took a hit and died, and another was mortally wounded. They shortened the salute to 50 shots after that. Major Anderson left with his men, escorted to his ship, went back to New York where he was feted with a parade! Guess he was a hero for holding out and not giving up the fort, but it could have been a lot worse for him and his men...
ferry to the fort

This was a very reasonably priced tour, and we paid 15.00 a person for the senior rate to ride a 30 minute NICE ferry boat ride over to the island where the fort is located, and then you have about an hour on the island before heading back. On the way, Sparky even saw a pod of dolphins in the distance!
After hearing Dennis's story, walking around and reading the signs all about the fort, you really felt like a part of that moment in history....seeing the shells stuck in the walls....
Seeing the BIG guns.....
Walking the halls.....
We really enjoyed our tour today of Fort Sumter and highly recommend it! Sparks Notes: You DON'T buy them at the Visitor's Center in downtown Charleston--ask Sparky how she knows that! You DO buy them at the park service's Fort Sumter visitor center which is right next to the Charleston Aquarium. Preferable parking is at the parking garage right across the street from the Fort Sumter visitor center at the wharf, NOT at the downtown visitor's center, unless you desire a nice 20 minute walk to the boat dock or want to dally along the way to check out that part of town. The historic district is not too far from there.
On our way back walking to our car...we got a glimpse of Charleston, just a little bit...the beautiful old homes and churches....This is the oldest African American Methodist Episcopal Church, dated 1818, also having the oldest continuous congregation south of Baltimore as well.

We'd love to come back for a historical tour of the town, but that will have to be for our next visit to the area...You just can't do everything you want to do when you are on a budget! We're saving our money for the SavannahTall Ships Challenge....see you on the wharf!


  1. We had a great park ranger speak to us at Fort Sumter, too. Like Sparky, we were enthralled by what he had to say. Second the recommendation to take the boat trip out to the fort (the only way to see it in person).

  2. We LOVE a good ranger who enjoys their job and has that *people personality* with a sparkle in their eye and a smile on their face.

    Karen and Steve
    (Our Blog) RVing: Small House... BIG Backyard

  3. not sure how we missed Fort Sumter but we did...

  4. Sounds like you learned a LOT of history there. Not sure if the teacher's were boring of if we are now just older and more interested in "old things" than we were when we were young. :-)