I held onto the ticket as I watched the staff photographer snap a picture of the family in front of us. After our turn in front of the camera, we wound through the stanchions that separated the line of people on the dock. The Spirit of Charleston bobbed in the water to the left and behind us, the USS Yorktown blocked our view of the Charleston Harbor. The irony of a modern battleship docked in the same harbor that was a war zone 156 years prior was not lost on me. Every stage of history has its wars, and we were about to set foot on the very place where one began…
Soon, we boarded the Spirit of Charleston for the 30 minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter. While we relaxed and enjoyed the view of Charleston Harbor, we listened to automated recordings of the area’s history over the loudspeaker. There were also two local guides on board who were available to answer questions, if need be. As the ferry glided across the water, one of the first things we learned from our guides was about the local rivers. As we left Patriot’s Point, we were sailing on the Cooper River; which would lead us to Fort Sumter and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. If you’re looking at a map, the Cooper River would be located on the right side of Downtown Charleston and the Ashley River would be on the left side of Downtown. Both rivers were named after the same man – Anthony Ashley Cooper.
After the War of 1812, the US began building coastal fortifications to protect the nation against foreign naval powers. The construction of Fort Sumter began in 1829 and though the first shots of the Civil War were fired there on April 12, 1961, the fort itself was not completed when the war began. Even unfinished, the fort was still an impressive structure. Because the Confederacy fired their first shot here, the fort was considered sacred ground for the South.
As we approached the island, most folks gathered at the front of the ferry to get a good view of approaching the fort. Fort Sumter was a three tier structure rising more than 50 feet above the water with walls five feet thick. Today, only one of the three tiers remains. If you want a glimpse into how tall the fort was in person, just look up at the flagpole; towards the top you will see a black mark. That’s how tall the original walls of Fort Sumter were!
When we disembarked and entered the fort, a guide inside gave a short talk about the construction of Fort Sumter. The island Fort Sumter sits on was man-made. Why? Because the engineers who were building the coastal fortifications figured if you could put a fort somewhere in this area, the harbor would be impenetrable. Fort Sumter was destined to be the defense of Charleston. Therefore, a sandbar covered in a thin layer of water was chosen as the spot and construction began. Five hundred blocks of granite were sent from Maine and were thrown into the harbor to make a pile of rocks. Altogether, that’s 70,000 tons of granite. Cover it with sand and mud, and you’re ready to build a fort. This guide asked, “Who do think built the fort?” The most popular answer was slaves from the surrounding plantations, but our guide went on to tell us that though slaves played a part in the construction, the government went to Europe and hired masons. The masons would go on to use 6-7 million bricks to build the fort. The bricks were made on thirteen plantations in the Charleston area. But after all that work, they had a problem. The island began to sink with the weight of that many bricks on top of it. Because of this, it took twenty years to build 90% of the island.
Before the guide let us explore the fort for ourselves, he recommended one thing everyone had to see before leaving. On the left side of the fort (when you walk in) were shells embedded in the wall from the war. These are over 150 years old! Great place for a photo, right?
Brief Photo Tour…
Looking at one of the shells in the side of Left Face…been there for over 150 years!
A view of the Parade Ground, now called the Battery Huger.
Looking off the Right Face into the water.
A cannon pointing off the Right Flank towards Morris Island.
Looking back on the city of Charleston.
Know Before You Go…
1 Parking at Patriots Point is $5.00 per car.
2 One ticket is issued for all the people in your party going on the tour. Entire party must be together to board the ferry.
3 Restrooms are available at Patriots Point and at Fort Sumter.
4 Ferry to the fort is 30 minutes.
5 Time spent at the fort before returning to Patriots Point is one hour.
Definitely! There are so many places, battlefields and monuments you can see in the US, but to visit the place where the Civil War began is a major highlight to anyone who loves US history. Fort Sumter is a must see for Civil War history! And…there’s much more to tell about Fort Sumter. Yet, you can only cram so much into one post. Take this as a general overview of the monument and know that when you visit, your own adventure and learning experiences awaits!
If there is one thing we can handle more of, it’s pictures! So be sure to browse my photo album —> here, and be sure to “like” my Facebook page for more updates on my travels!