If you know anything about the American Civil War, you’ll know that Fort Sumter is somewhat of a big deal (okay, a very big deal). It is after all where the first shots of the Civil War began back in April 1861. When it came time to plan my trip there, visiting one of America’s most famous historical attractions was at the top of the list.
Fort Sumter is a sea fort in Charleston and is only accessible by boat. Unlike Fort Moultrie which is closer to land and easier to see, Fort Sumter is much farther out (it’s about a 30 minute ride from the dock). But it wasn’t too far out that local Charleston residents weren’t able to watch the “fireworks” that were taking place on the 12th of April, 1861 and into the next day right from their homes’ piazzas, when Southern forces fired on the fort. To them, it was just a delightful show, never mind the four long years of brutal war and suffering that were yet to come. (If you were asleep for that portion of your history class or aren’t American and don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about, click here.)
Fort Sumter was actually constructed following the War of 1812. The still quite new American nation wanted to better safeguard its harbors on the southern United States coast; Charleston was one of them. For any marauding pirates, British soldiers, or other unsavory characters wanting to get to Charleston to do evil, they would have to get past the rather large fort smack dab in the harbor equipped with scores of cannons ready to fire on anyone.
The thing that struck me the most about visiting there is how lonely and desolate it seemed. Although civilization itself was mere miles away, it must have seemed like being on the other side of the world at times, to just look out and see nothing but water but knowing this was your temporary home.
Just as with countless battles of the Great War (World War I) in which thousands of lives were often lost in one day, all for a tiny bit of land gain, the American Civil War began over a national government not wanting to capitulate to insolent “children” (aka the Confederate Army). Sheer stupidity when you look back at it all.
Between the fact that the fort was never completely finished prior to 1861 and also that it was in ruins following the end of the war four years later, the fort itself isn’t that much to look at. But visiting here is more about experiencing an integral piece of American history. To imagine the deafening noise on the day of April 12, 1861 and how horrendous it must have smelled due to the non-stop shelling. To remember that this five-sided structure became a coveted trophy of the war, that both Union and Confederate forces would stop at nothing to either keep or take it back, a symbol of pride.
No, Fort Sumter isn’t as pretty as the countless beautiful antebellum buildings that line Charleston’s streets but it’s a worthy place all the same. To understand the American Civil War, one must understand what took place here back in April of 1861.
Tips for visiting!
-You can only visit by boat. Tour boats are provided by Fort Sumter Tours, the authorized concessioner of Fort Sumter National Monument. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
-Dress accordingly and be sure to pack sunscreen for both the boat ride and when you’re at the fort itself. When I visited, the boat ride was incredibly windy the entire time.
-Allow enough time to get to the departure point from the historic district as it’s a bit of a walk and you don’t want to miss your boat!