Fort Sumter: The First Battle of The American Civil War

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of this website. This post may contain affiliate links. (Disclaimer here)

Fort Sumter stands as a symbol of America’s enduring spirit. Our son, Jack, is a tremendous student of US history. He watches countless YouTube programs on the history of America including the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWII, and more. Fort Sumter was a must-visit location during our Christmas to New Year 2023 adventure in Charleston, South Carolina.

View of the fort from the ferry.
Ft. Sumter from the Ferry

Fort Sumter’s history begins with a vital lesson. The British captured Washington in the War of 1812. This shock woke America and showed a clear need: protect our coasts!

Ft. Sumter National Historical Park Sign board.
Ft. Sumter National Historical Park Sign

Fort Sumter in SC was the answer. It was built to guard Charleston Harbor. Here, American resilience took the form of granite and determination. It stands as a testament to the nation’s resolve to defend its shores and preserve its freedom.

The Rise of Fort Sumter: A Monument Emerges from the Sea Floor

Fort Sumter courtyard.
Ft. Sumter Courtyard

In 1829, a remarkable engineering feat began. Engineers chose a sandbar in Charleston Harbor as the foundation. Using over 70 tons of granite imported from the North, workers (often slaves) raised an island from the sea floor.

Fort Sumter’s walls soared between 170 and 190 feet, standing 5 feet thick. These mighty barriers rose 50 feet above the high tide. Today that high water mark is illustrated with a red line around the flagpole.

This monumental fortress was never fully completed. The 5 sided exterior of the fort was completed, but the full interior meant to house 650 men and 135 guns was never fully finished.

Its unfinished state speaks to the ambitious spirit of its creators and the turbulent times that followed.

Your Gateway to Fort Sumter: Fort Sumter Tours

Even while in Charleston, Reaching Fort Sumter is an adventure in itself. On the 30-minute journey, a live narrator shares some of the history with guests. We found this a helpful way to get better acquainted with the fort’s history before arriving. As a bonus, we heard from the guide we needed to listen to the US Park Service Ranger’s overview when we arrived!

Flag on display at Ft. Sumter
Flag on display at Ft. Sumter

Fort Sumter Tours, the sole provider of ferry trips to Fort Sumter National Historic Site, operates from two convenient locations:

  • Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant, SC (we accessed this terminal because it was close to the Mt. Pleasant KOA where we stayed)
  • Liberty Square in Charleston, SC

Reservations are required to secure your seat on the ferry, so planning is essential. Luckily, Sara was able to reserve our trip a few days before our departure. Visitors can plan once they see the future weather.

We found the cost a little steep.

  • $37 for adults
  • $33 for seniors 62+ or active military members
  • $23 for kids aged 4 to 11
  • Free for little adventurers aged 3 and under

But it’s more than a ferry ride; it’s the first step in walking through history.

View from Fort Sumter.
View from Ft. Sumter Battery

Timing Your Journey: The Fort Sumter Tour Experience

The Fort Sumter tour is a compact adventure and rich in history. Here’s what to expect:

  • The Ferry Ride: Set sail for about 30 minutes. This serene trip offers stunning views and a sense of anticipation.
  • US National Park Ranger Talk: Upon arrival, a 10 to 15-minute talk by a ranger awaits. This insightful briefing brings the fort’s past to life.
  • Exploration Time: Then, you have 45 to 50 minutes to roam freely. Walk the grounds where history unfolded.
  • Return Voyage: Finally, a 30-minute ferry ride takes you back to the terminal.

Allocate 2.5 to 3 hours for the entire experience. It’s a brief journey, but one packed with memories that will last a lifetime.

Pro Tip: The ferry has two decks. One is open and the other enclosed and air-conditioned. We chose the air-conditioned deck because it was chilly and very windy in December when we visited.

Exploring the Fort

The Spark of the American Civil War

Fort Sumter is not just a fort; it’s where the Civil War ignited. Two pivotal battles here changed the nation’s course.

Large canons in Courtyard at Ft. Sumter.
Large canons at Ft. Sumter

Prelude to the First Battle

In December 1860, a decisive moment arrived. South Carolina seceded from the Union. The Federal garrison, once at Fort Moultrie, moved to Fort Sumter. Despite its isolation, the Union sought its stronger walls and defensible position.

On April 12, 1861, 3 months of tensions (from the Conferdate supply blockade) erupted into warfare. Confederates began a fierce bombardment.

READ NEXT  Kaka Baptista East Indian Museum in Mumbai

For 34 hours, Fort Sumter withstood the onslaught. But, the Union troops, outnumbered and outgunned, eventually surrendered. As they departed, they lowered the American flag, marking a somber moment in history.

This event was more than a battle; it was the beginning of a conflict that would redefine the nation.

Sign at Ft. Sumter
Sign at Ft. Sumter

The Union’s Bold Reclamation Effort

In September 1863, the Union launched a determined assault to reclaim Fort Sumter. This second battle saw a fierce bombardment by Army and Naval forces. The onslaught left the fort nearly demolished, yet the Confederates clung to control.

The Confederates demonstrated resilience, fortifying the battered structure with earth and palmetto logs. Despite the Union’s might, the Confederates held Fort Sumter until 1865.

It was only when General Sherman marched through the South, leaving a trail of destruction, that their grip finally loosened. This chapter in Fort Sumter’s history is a testament to the fierce tenacity displayed by both sides.

A New Chapter: Fort Sumter in World War II and Beyond

World War II Defense Role

As the world plunged into another conflict, Fort Sumter found a new purpose. It served as a key point for torpedo boats and anti-aircraft defense.

Yet, despite its preparedness, no shots were fired from the fort in World War II. No enemy U-boats dared challenge its presence. This period marked a quieter, yet vigilant chapter in the fort’s storied history.

Transition to Peaceful Vigilance

After the war, Fort Sumter transitioned from a military bastion to a symbol of peace and history. In 1948, it was designated as the Fort Sumter National Historic Monument. This new role ensures that its tales of bravery and strategy are preserved and shared.

READ NEXT  St. John's Co-Cathedral in WHS Valletta, Malta

Nearby, Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island serves as a visitor education center. It complements Fort Sumter’s narrative, offering deeper insights into the battles and the significance of these forts. Together, they stand not just as reminders of conflict but as beacons of learning and reflection.

Wrapping it Up: Tour Fort Sumter and Step Into the Start of America’s Civil War

Our visit was not just a tour; it was a time travel adventure. Each corner of the fort, each cannon, and each wall holds a story that contributed to the nation’s fabric. Our family’s experience, especially Jack’s fascination with American history, made our visit deeply personal and immensely educational.

Fort Sumter is not just a destination; it’s a journey through America’s heart. It’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to connect with the nation’s past and understand the struggles and triumphs that define it. So, as you plan your trip, remember that you’re not just touring a fort. You’re stepping into a chapter of American history that continues to influence the world today.

Remember to plan, reserve your spot on the ferry, and give yourself over to the experience. Let Fort Sumter reveal its stories, its scars, and its enduring strength. Visit, explore, and come away with a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices made for freedom and unity.

Bio: Mike & Sarah

Mike and Sara from Our Campfire Unplugged.
Mike and Sara from Our Campfire Unplugged

We are Mike and Sara who along with our kids and dog are exploring the US while camping in our fifth wheel! Our journey began during the COVID pandemic. The camping lifestyle provided us with an easy way to explore the great outdoors!! Follow Mike and Sara from Our Campfire Unplugged on Facebook and YouTube.

Other Posts You Might Like

Pinterest images of Fort Sumter from the ferry, granite courtyard walls and canon balls exhibit.
Pinterest images of View from Fort Sumter and small canon for display.

Leave a Comment