Fort Sumter is a national monument in Charleston Harbor where the Civil War began. South Carolina had seceded from the Union, yet Union forces still occupied strategic Fort Sumter at the entrance of Charleston Harbor. The South demanded that Fort Sumter be vacated and, when the North refused it, began a two-day bombardment beginning April 12, 1861, resulting in the surrender of Fort Sumter.
With the North’s withdrawal, the South held the fort until it was finally evacuated on February 17, 1865. During that time, the Fort experienced one of the largest sieges in modern warfare—46,000 shells, estimated at over 7 million pounds of metal, were fired at the fort. During this time, most of the walls were shattered and reduced to rubble.
The Army attempted to put Fort Sumter back together with improvements and additions. It served as a lighthouse station for 21 years, and during that time, the fort was back in disrepair. With the impending Spanish-American War, activity began again at Fort Sumter, including the construction of Battery Huger and installation of two long-range rifles. The fort was not used as a military establishment again until World War II. Afterwards, it became a tourist attraction and a national monument maintained by the National Park Service.
You get a feel for the history by taking a tour of the fort with a guide. A brochure will guide you through the different areas if you’d like to go on your own. At each of the sights, there are markers with lengthy descriptions. Fort Sumter today looks considerably different than it did when it was built. Not only are the walls and many of the rooms "a pile of rocks," as my friend described, but the battery’s size makes it the focus of the tour; and the battery wasn’t built until 1898.
The fort itself is large, and you will see such things as the barracks, cannons, casemates (gunrooms), brick walls, and various ruins. I was most struck by the huge flags flying. They include the U.S. flag, with 50 stars, 33 stars (1861), 33 stars (1865), First National Flag of the Confederacy (1861), South Carolina State Flag, and Second National Flag of the Confederacy (1863). Sadly, I found those to be the most interesting part of this tour.
There is a lot of information to absorb on this tour, so I recommend reading a little about the fort before going, although I’m not sure that would make the tour anymore interesting if you are not into forts, like I discovered while I was there! To get there, you take a 30-minute ferryboat ride where you can see the skyline of Charleston and part of the Battery. The ride itself is worth the price of admission, which is adults $12, seniors $11, $6 for ages 6-11, and free for 5 and under. The tour takes a little over 2 hours, start to finish. Call 843/881-7337 or visit Fort Sumter online.