Charleston, SC – Two years ago I tried to visit Fort Sumter, but the conditions on the rivers and harbor prevented the ferries from going out to the Fort on both days I visited (it just so happened to be around 17F and very windy!) The weather and water conditions were much better on this attempt and we departed from Patriot’s Point on time for the short ride out to the Fort.
As the ferry departed Patriot’s Point and passed by downtown Charleston, I noticed something interesting that offered a bit of a glance back in history. Not to far from each other, were a sailing ship moored downtown and a merchant ship tied up at the port in Charleston; in a sense they could be seen as book ends of history, showing where Charleston came from and where it is today. The sight of the sailing ship with the church steeples rising in the background offers a small glimpse of what Charleston must have looked like back in its earlier years. We also passed by Castle (fort) Pinckney on Shute’s Folly Island on the way out to Fort Sumter; it was a Federal installation that was occupied by South Carolina in December 1860.
I’m not sure what I expected to see when I first laid eyes on Fort Sumter, but being familiar with Fort Pulsaki I certainly didn’t see what I might have expected to see. Very little is left of the the pre-Civil War fort; between the Confederate shelling of the fort when it was under Federal control and Federal shelling of the fort when it was occupied by the Confederates, most of it was shot away. Today, the man made island the fort sits upon is dominated by Battery Huger, a Spanish-American War era coastal defense battery. What’s left of Fort Sumter gives you an idea of how bad the damage is. You can clearly see the combination brick and tabby construction and just as you can at Fort Pulaski, you can shells still embedded in the walls. You can stand on top of Battery Huger and look across the harbor where the CSS Hunley sunk to Sullivans Island and Fort Moultrie. Likewise you can look across the harbor to Morris Island where Fort Wagner was; if you’ve watched the movie “Glory,” you’re familiar with one of the battles for Fort Wagner.
Visiting Fort Sumter was a very sobering experience. If you’re thinking about where you are when you visit, you realize that you’re standing where the Civil War began and it makes you think. You think about all that came after that first shot was fired at Fort Sumter and it gives you pause. During the ferry ride back to Patriot’s Point, I didn’t pay much attention to the tour guide descriptions, I was deep in thought about the experience of being where the terrible War Between the States began. It took two years to finally get to Fort Sumter and it was well worth the wait.