Fort Sumter is, of course, best known for its role in the Civil War, but in a strange way, it actually represents a collision of American wars. The fort is named for a Revolutionary War hero, General Thomas Sumter. It was built in reaction to the War of 1812, when “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” encouraged the United States to fortify its East Coast. At that time no one dreamed that the fort would be used to protect and defend Americans from Americans.
Your visit to Fort Sumter begins with a 30-minute ferry ride. You can catch the ferry in Mount Pleasant at Patriots Point or near the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center on the Liberty Square waterfront. Exhibits at the Education Center set the scene for your trip, laying out the events leading up to the bombardment at Fort Sumter that began the War Between the States.
Today Fort Sumter is run by the National Park Service, which means that your tour starts with an informative and entertaining ranger talk. Your ranger will give you an overview of the fort’s remains, the history of the fort, and the events of April 1861, leading up to the beginning of the Civil War. Want to see what it's like?
From there you are free to explore the fort on your own. Cannons and bricks beckon little ones to climb on them, so be on your guard – it’s not allowed and because it’s so old, climbing really isn’t safe.
On site, another museum at the fort does a great job of telling its story. Displays take you through the engineering and strategy behind the fort’s construction and assist your imagination in placing you in the fort on that fateful April night. When you walk out of the darkened museum into the daylight, the fort’s remains take on a new dimension. Suddenly you can see the harbor filled with ships, smell the charred wood and hear the blur of the bombardment.
Spirit Line Cruises offers the only commercial transportation to Fort Sumter. The ferry ride costs $17 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for kids 6-11, and is free for kids 5 and younger. Click here for more information about Fort Sumter National Monument and to view their seasonal schedule.
It’s worth noting that the ferry ride itself is a wonderful experience. Recorded narration helps you understand your view of Charleston’s shore, and you’ll want to keep you eyes peeled. Every time I’ve visited Fort Sumter some friendly dolphins have decided to race our ferry to the fort.