Before the Civil War, Charleston was the most important seaport on the Atlantic Ocean in the south. Living in a wealthy economy, dependent upon cotton, rice and slavery, South Carolina was the first state to seceded from the union after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president because they saw him as a threat to state’s rights. Within a few short months, Charlestonians would fire the first shots of a long destructive war that would change their way of life forever.
Federal forts had been constructed in the Charleston area to protect the city from invasion after the War Of 1812. Granite, mostly from New England, was used to build an island on a shoal in the harbor to construct a fort. It was named Fort Sumter. In December of 1860 the fort was still not finished. Major Anderson, in charge of Fort Moultrie, had orders to move his men to Fort Sumter if the situation in Charleston got too hostile. The major and his two companies, consisting of 85 officers and men, moved across the water to the safer fort the day after Christmas, 1860, because they were in eminent danger of attack.
The unfinished Fort Sumter was designed to hold 135 cannon. Only 15 had been mounted. The barracks were still in the construction stage. His men worked day and night to prepare for an attack. Other southern states seceded from the Union and, as the Confederacy took form, they viewed the situation at Fort Sumter as a hostile military maneuver by a foreign government.
On April 12, 1861, the new Confederate army, under General P G T Beauregard, commenced firing on Fort Sumter. Three days later, a fire broke out in the barracks near the powder room so Major Anderson had to surrender.
Today, two tour boats are allowed to land at Fort Sumter, one from Patriots Point in Mount Pleansant and the other from Liberty Square, next to the Aquarium in downtown Charleston. Parking in downtown Charleston is very expensive and free at Patriots Point. The fort was almost demolished during the war. Barracks were built on the parade ground inside the fort during WW II and are painted black.
While we were there a park ranger gave a really good talk about the Civil War and its effects on the south. He said, England, the south’s best customer for cotton and rice found a supply source elsewhere causing a break up of the plantation system with only a minor market after the war. Many of the former slaves stayed where they were and eventually owned their own homes as sharecroppers.
As part of the tour of the harbor, Ft Johnson, Castle Pinkney, the battery on the shore of Charleston, Ft Moultrie and much, much more were brought to our attention.