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Fort Sumter
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Fort Sumter

by mccownJanuary 28, 2014
This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Explore Charleston

Charleston Harbor
Ferry leaves from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square (340 Concord St., downtown Charleston)
AND Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum (40 Patriots Point Rd., Mount Pleasant, SC)
Adults $18, Adult Seniors (62 years & up) $16, Children ages 4-11 yrs $11, Children 3 yrs & under FREE
Click here for ferry times.

For the history buffs out there (like me!), you’ll probably recognize Fort Sumter as where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. You won’t learn until you visit, though, the first shots were sent TO Fort Sumter, not from it.  Let me back up…

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First, you have to take a ferry to the middle of the Charleston Harbor to visit Fort Sumter. You can catch a ferry from two places, but I’d suggest going to the downtown option, right next door to the Aquarium.  After you purchase tickets, you can spend a few minutes walking through the Fort Sumter Museum, which shares a bit of the history of South Carolina, the Lowcountry, and the importance that Fort Sumter and this area had leading up to the Civil War. Get there early to purchase your tickets because boarding starts 15 minutes before departure and you’ll want some time in the museum beforehand.

Entrance to the Fort Sumter Museum

Back of the Museum, boarding the boat.

The 4.9-mile ferry ride takes appx 35 mins

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To give you an idea of timing, we arrived at the Museum around 2pm, purchased our tickets and visited the museum. We boarded at 2:15pm and set off at 2:30 pm. We landed at Fort Sumter at 3:10pm and had until 4:10 pm to explore the fort. We arrived back at the museum around 4:45 pm.

On the boat over to the fort

On the boat over to the fort

As a quick rundown, Fort Sumter was built beginning in 1829, taking many years to build (mainly because it sits on a manmade island that was once just a small sandbar). Still only about 90% completed in 1860, its purpose was to protect the Charleston Harbor from foreign invasion coming in from the Atlantic Ocean… not fire from inside the harbor!

After plenty of tension between the North & South states leading up to 1860, the election of President Lincoln with not a single electoral vote from the South heated it up even more. Finally, in Dec. 1860, state leaders met in Charleston and unanimously voted to succeed from the US. What would eventually become 11 Southern states formed the Confederate States of America.  Fast forward a few months into 1861 and SC had seized many federal government properties.  Lincoln sent Sgt. Robert Anderson and his men down to Charleston to keep an eye on things and Anderson made his home in Fort Sumter. The city of Charleston was outraged, and it didn’t take long before its men gathered at Fort Johnson on James Island (a stone’s throw from Fort Sumter) and Fort Moultrie in Mt. Pleasant (on the other side of Fort Sumter) and literally surrounded Anderson and his few men with gunfire.  After fighting for 34 hours, Anderson and his men surrendered and not one man died in the first battle of the Civil War.

And so, Fort Sumter gained national attention.

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What was then a 50 ft. high fort is now much less imposing. The bricks that are still there are original, but only ruins are left of the fort. It’s worth a trip to the island just to see the view of the city from its prime spot on the harbor. And, of course, to see history come alive as you imagine men sleeping between the walls and fighting for their lives and their country there.

BOTTOM LINE: History buffs and non-history buffs will love this tour of one of Charleston’s most historic landmarks.  History buffs for the fort itself; the non-history fans will probably like the harbor ‘cruise’ more.

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