Military History in Charleston

Charleston is a city rich in military history. From Revolution to the Civil War, the city has seen the soldiers and felt the bombs. Here are some of the things you can see if you are a military, war, or history buff.


Military History in Charleston

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on January 21, 2005

Charleston has a rich history in every aspect, but perhaps it is most significant as a center of military history. From the earliest days as a colony (Charleston was one of the original three walled cities in North America, along with St. Augustine and Quebec City) to current cadets being trained at the Citadel, every major American conflict has been impacted by Charleston.

Almost everyone knows that Ft. Sumter, sitting in Charleston's harbor, was where the first shots of the civil war were fired, but do you also know of Charleston's importance in the American Revolution? In 1780, Charleston fell to the British Army. Almost 5,000 men were taken prisoner. Until WWI, this was the largest surrender of American troops to a foreign army. It was also the worst loss of the Revolution, and many people thought the war was a lost cause after that.

Military history is something that many people in Charleston are very proud of. Don't miss Ft. Sumter. It is one of the most important sites in American history. If you have your own car, try to see the Hunley. That is something incredible. Make sure to visit Marion Square and White Point Garden (the Battery) to see important sites. For a look at modern military history, Visit Patriot's Point to see ships and aircraft that were important in the 20th century, and Ft. Moultrie to see what a fort was like in the 20th century.

${QuickSuggestions} The good thing about Charleston is that you can see many things for free just by walking around. If you want to see the Hunley, but don't want to drive to see it, visit the Charleston Museum. There is a slightly larger (but mostly accurate) reproduction of the submarine so you can get an idea of the size and construction.

Look into getting a national park pass if you want to visit Ft. Sumter and Ft. Moultrie - it will save you some money. If you are planning on Visiting Ft. Sumter and Patriots Point, you can save some money on parking. The Ft. Sumter boats also leave from Patriots Point, and they have lots of free parking. It will save you a few dollars at the least!

If you are interested in the American Revolution, try to be there from May 13 to 15, 2005. It is the 225th anniversary of the fall of Charleston and they are having a huge ceremony. Visit for more information.

${BestWay} Most of the stuff is located downtown in the historic district. Try walking from Marion Square to White Point Garden via Meeting Street to see some important buildings. And stop to read the plaques! They will give you a lot of information. Ft. Sumter is only accessible by boat, so you don't have to worry about driving! You can really only get to Ft. Moultrie, Patriots Point and the Hunley if you have a car. You could probably take a taxi, but unless you are dying to see one of them, it probably isn't worth it.

H.L. Hunley Submarine

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on January 21, 2005

On the morning of August 12, 1863, a train rolled into town carrying a strange cargo. Coming from Mobile, Ala, following reports of her success, the H.L. Hunley had finally arrived in Charleston. She was an unusual ship, fashioned out of a locomotive engine, that would hopefully provide resistance to the ever increasing Union blockade that was choking the economy of the city.

Charleston had already seen a ship similar to the Hunley. The David was a semi-submersible ship that had been designed and built by Dr. St. Julien Ravenel. The David had been semi-successful, but had failed to actually sink a Union ship. The Hunley was different. She could go all the way under, providing the stealth that would be needed for such a dangerous mission. General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (what a name!), the commander of Confederate forces in Charleston, wanted to try it out.

Unfortunately for the crew, the Hunley was a death-trap. Twice the Hunley sank in the harbor, killing 32 men, including Horace Hunley, before the ship was successful. But it did succeed. On the night of Feb 17th, 1864, lookouts watching from Sullivan's Island saw the Housatonic, the largest ship in the Union Navy, burst into flames. In three minutes, the ship was at the bottom of the Charleston Harbor. The Hunley had been successful. She surfaces, flashed her blue light to the shore, signaling her success. The men on shore stoked the fires and waited for her return. She never came back.

It 1995, the Hunley was finally found by author and shipwreck enthusiast Clive Cussler. The Hunley was brought up from the sea-floor. In 2003, in the last burial of the civil war, the soldiers were finally laid to rest. The Hunley now resides in a state of the art conservation facility, open to the public so that everyone can appreciate this incredible piece of history.

This is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. There are so many wonderful artifacts they found in the ship. At the site itself, you can see the ship and learn about its history through a number of exhibits that include video and pictures. For info on pricing, hours, and directions, visit the Friends of the Hunley Website. Getting to the site is a bit of a hassle, but I assure you that it is worth it. You will truly appreciate the struggle of the men who died with this important ship.

Archealogical Discovery: The Hunley
Charleston Harbor
Charleston, South Carolina

Fort Moultrie

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on February 7, 2005

Fort Moultrie was thrown up in a matter of 6 months and named Ft. Sullivan in 1776. Incomplete, and made with spongy, abundant palmetto logs, the fort proved its might as it withstood British bombardment for 9 hours on June 28. The British were unable to defeat the defenders, and Charleston was saved from occupation.

One of Carolina's best known stories came out of that battle. The commanding officer, William Moultrie, in a moment of patriotism and extreme bravery, jumped onto the battlements, hoisting the flag that had just been shot down. Standing in full cannon fire, he waved the flag, inspiring the defenders to keep up their fight. The flag he designed (solid blue, with a white crescent moon) was used as the state flag, with the addition of the palmetto tree, whose spongy logs had withstood the might of the British cannons.

Although Ft. Moultrie is less famous than Ft. Sumter, it is much older - and probably more important. Although it does not have the glamour of its famous brother, Ft. Moultrie should not be neglected. Moultrie was updated and used until the 1940s, so it is no longer in the condition it was in the 1700s or 1800s. This is a good place to see layers of history, though, as each addition has preserved some of the older fort.

Ft. Moultrie has a good museum attached to it that shows how it has been used through the years. There is also a 20-minute movie with the price of admission, and despite the fact that I felt like I was watching an educational movie from the 1950s, it did have a lot of good information. I particularly enjoyed wandering through the subterranean tunnels that crisscross the fort. You can also see some of the rooms set up like they would have been in the ‘30s and’ 40s, such as the radio room and a small planning room. One thing I would have liked to see is a reproduction of the famous Palmetto fort, but there wasn't one on the site.

I would recommend Moultrie to anyone who has an interest in the American Revolution or post-Civil War military history. If you visit Patriots Point, this will be a good addition to your day. Admission is cheap, too. Adults are $3, those 16 and under are free, and a family pass is $5.

Fort Moultrie National Monument
1214 Middle St
Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, 29482
+1 843 883 3123

The Laffey and Ingham at Patriot's Point

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on February 18, 2005

Welcome to Part Two of my Patriot's Point guide!

My advice is to first visit the two ships on the end of the pier, the Laffey and the Ingham, because they are not as cool as the Submarine, and you get some perspective to how small it really is after visiting the other two. You basically get to walk through the entire ships. I think they left very little out. You can peek into everything from the super-cramped sleeping spaces to the munitions bays to the control centers of the ships.

The Laffey is a WWII-era destroyer that saw action on D-Day and at the Liberation of the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and other battles. In April of 1945, she was hit by a massive airstrike that almost sunk her. Thirty-two sailors died in the battle, and they are honored on the ship.

My favorite thing about the ship was seeing the communications center (probably because my grandfather was one of those guys) and the galley. It was like a tiny little diner. I could just see the guys running in and out of there.

Next door is the Ingham, a ship from the Coast Guard fleet. This boat is a lot nicer than its neighbor. The living spaces are much bigger, and everything was generally fancier (there was a silver tea service in the officers' dining area). I thought that meant that it was newer, but it is also WWII-era. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it is Coast Guard--I don't know. This ship was certianly roomier, and I liked it a lot. In the dining hall of this ship ("it looks like the Varsity!") there is a neat display on uniforms.

Both ships also have small, but interesting displays on the men and women whose lives were impacted by ships. They use a lot of pictures to tell their stories, which I found fascinating. They do a wonderful job of making the ships go from museums to places where people actually worked and lived.

Just a heads up--keep in mind that some of the rooms have mannequins in them, dressed and posed like the men who used the ship. They kinda jump out at you. Just expect them, because I almost wet my pants about 19 times.

After leaving the ships, head over to the Submarine and climb aboard!

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
40 Patriots Point Road
Charleston, South Carolina, 29464-4377

The Clamagore at Patriot's Point

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on February 18, 2005

Of all the exhibits at Patriot's Point, the submarine Clamagore was my favorite. For some reason, I have always been endlessly fascinated by submarines. They just seem so risky and dark and secretive, and that just appeals to me. Needless to say, I was very excited to get to go into one.

If you are coming from the two boats at the end of the dock, you will arrive at the exit to the ship before the entrance. You may be tempted to go in that way, since the tours of the other ships are somewhat fluid and you can go in whatever direction you want. DON'T!! If you run into another group coming the other way, they will become your best friends for life, as you will get stuck and have to live in the submarine for the rest your days.

The Clamagore was built in 1945 and decommissioned in 1975, being outdated by the new nuclear submarines. This was my favorite part of the museum because it was so neat. The ship is tiny on the inside. To get through the doors, you have to contort yourself to about 3 feet tall. There were many occasions on which both of my shoulders were touching the walls at the same time (and I'm not very big!).

When I read that 80 men shared this sub at one time, I was literally speechless. It seems inconceivable that more than 10 people could have ever fit at one time. I don't know how they did it. Even with bunks on top of the torpedoes (really!) and toilets in every nook and cranny that existed, it didn't make any sense. I don't know if they pick people for submarine duty based on size, but they should. Are you listening, U.S. Navy? I'm only 5’6", and I nearly banged my head 40,000 times.

If you are tall or broad, be ye warned! It will be a trial to make it through. If you are claustrophobic, don't even go near it. I'm not, and I nearly had a panic attack.

I will never have a desire to go on a submarine in my life again. Ever. But you should, because it is so cool. I promise you will enjoy it.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
40 Patriots Point Road
Charleston, South Carolina, 29464-4377

An Introduction to Patriot's Point

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on February 20, 2005

Patriot's Point is the most effective ad I have ever seen to convince me not to join the U.S. Navy. Please don't imagine that I am putting down sailors in any way; to the contrary, I now know that they can put up with some of the most harrowing living quarters to be found anywhere in the world! If you are a member of the U.S. Navy, bless you! You are a lot braver than I am.

Patriot's Point, located just across the lovely Cooper River Bridge from Charleston, is an amazing museum of semi-modern warfare, naval and maritime history. They have an impressive collection of boats, including the aircraft carrier Yorktown, for which they are famous (you can see it all looming over the river just about anywhere), the submarine Clamagore, the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham , and the Destroyer Laffey. They also have a huge collection of various airplanes and helicopters from different eras.

While most people will go to see the ships, there is also a really neat display that recreates a Vietnam base camp. My father served in Vietnam, so I found this to be really interesting. They have weapons, an ammunition bunker, a swift boat, and other things that would have been seen at your average base camp. Keep walking past the gift shop to see the camp.

One thing to keep in mind is that Patriot's Point is quite large. There are many things to see (and many steep, scary staircases to climb!). If you aren't up for a lot of walking, climbing, and cramming yourself into tight spaces, you may want to steer clear of most of the exhibits. If you are up for it, wear comfy shoes and expect to leave exhausted!

I called this a children's activity because I think this is the kind of place that kids would love. There is so much that is hands-on, and it is easy to learn and have fun when you are seeing the real thing. Kids will especially like the submarine and the hangars located on the Yorktown that have a bunch of different airplanes and helicopters. There were a lot of children when I went, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Patriot's Point is open daily from 9am to 5pm, with the ships closing at 6:30pm. Tickets are $14 for adults and kids over 12, $12 for seniors and active-duty Military (with ID), $7 for kids 6-11, and free for kids under 6. Tickets include all the exhibits.

You can also catch boats to Ft. Sumter that leave from the dock at Patriot's Point. And parking is free!

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
40 Patriots Point Road
Charleston, South Carolina, 29464-4377

The USS Yorktown at Patriot's Point

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on February 28, 2005

The Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown is the centerpiece of Patriot's Point. You can see her from any point on the Cooper River side of the Charleston Harbor looming over the river. I went on a cruise that left from Charleston a few years ago, and I remember seeing the cruise ship and thinking it was the biggest non-building thing I had ever seen. Leaving the dock, we went by the Yorktown and it put my cruise ship to shame!

Towering above all the other boats, it seems impossible to not be immediately drawn into her gravitational pull. I urge you, however, to save this ship for last. After seeing the other boats, you will truly get an appreciation for the sheer size of the Yorktown.

The ship is laid out with six self-guided tour routes: Living and working spaces, Engine Room, Flight deck and bridge, Naval history exhibits, Wardtoom, the ship's brig, and officer in-port quarters. I did not go on the tour that takes you through the engine room (big motors totally freak me out), but I can only imagine that it is massive. Apart from those tours, there is also the huge hangar bay that has many examples of historic aircraft.

You enter the ship through the hangar bay, which is the main interior deck of the ship. At the entrance, there is an information desk in case you get lost, a snack bar with some tables if your feet are killing you (there is a plane named the Furtle Turtle hanging above it!), and the starts to all of the tours. You can take them in order if you want, but it doesn't seem to really matter. In fact, my only complaint about the tours is that they aren't laid out very well. I know that we somehow veered into another tour route at least twice, but I still think we saw almost everything.

There were a lot of things that were interesting, but I really enjoyed seeing the brig (jail). Watch out in this area because they have sneakily put in mannequins to freak you out. I also particularly enjoyed the flight deck on the top of the ship. It was so windy up there. I can't even imagine trying to take off in a plane on the open sea. It must be the scariest thing in the world. This tour (no. 3) also has an interior escalator on it! I was pretty shocked to turn the corner and see it.

The most memorable moment was when my roommate and I were looking at the officer’s quarters. She looked over at me and said, "Wow! These rooms are really nice!" I realized that our standards had dropped considerably since stepping on that first ship.

USS Yorktown at Patriots Point
Charleston Harbor
Charleston, South Carolina

Fort Sumter

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Taylor Shelby on March 11, 2005

Fort Sumter is one of the most important sites in American History, and the National Park Service has treated it as such. In 1861, after the secession of South Carolina, Union forces evacuated the surrounding forts and batteries and braced themselves inside Fort Sumter, waiting for the day to come when the increasingly hostile Confederate states would cause a problem. The were right to worry.

In April 1861, President Lincoln sent a letter to the military commander in Charleston telling them that he was sending a ship to resupply his troops, who were down to their last rations. The day before the ship was scheduled to arrive, Confederate troops opened fire on the fort from all surrounding points. After a day and a half of merciless pounding from the Confederates, the battered, ill-supplied Union troops surrendered. The Confederate army managed to hold onto the Fort until 1865, when the city finally had to be evacuated. When the Union army took Ft. Sumter back, they found that it was little more than a pile of rubble.

Today, you can visit Ft. Sumter and see this important and endlessly fascinating site. Boats depart on multiple trips from both sides of the Cooper River. After taking an informative and pleasant boat trip, on which a recording tells you a little about the history of the important Charleston harbor and points out some of the other sites you pass on the way to the fort, you are given about an hour and a half at the fort.

The fort itself is in various states of disrepair. You can really see the pounding it took from the Union gunboats. There are many different cannons still at the site, so you get a good sense of the weaponry the soldiers were fighting with. There is also an excellent museum at the site that contains, among other things, the original flag that flew over the fort.

If you decide to take the boat from the Aquarium Wharf, there is a parking garage very close where I recommend parking. That departure point has a small museum about Charleston on the eve of the war and also has a neat little gift shop where you can stock up on unusual Civil War-related trinkets and books. Make sure to strike up a conversation with the volunteers who are working--they always have something interesting to say!

If you decided to leave from the Patriot's Point docks, you won't get to see the museum, but you will get free parking! That should certainly save you a few bucks.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $6 for children 6-11. Kids under 6 are free. For more info, visit the Ft. Sumter website.

"Charleston: Where the Civil War Began and Someday it Will End!"

Fort Sumter National Monument
1214 Middle St
Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, 29482
+1 843 883 3123

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