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Civil War History: 10 Sites to Explore

Chrysti Shain Chrysti Shain
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.
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From the place where the first shots were fired to battlefields, cemeteries and a legendary submarine, delve into Civil War history by visiting sites across South Carolina. Here are 10 not-to-miss points of interest and attractions along with tips for planning your trip.

 

Fort Sumter National Historical Park

Aerial view of Fort Sumter with docked ferry, American flag flying
The Civil War began with shots fired on Fort Sumter, now a National Historic Site.

Where: Charleston Harbor, accessible only by boat. Ferries leave Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square in downtown Charleston and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Check website for schedule.

History: When the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, it sparked a war that forever changed the ideal of American freedom. A visitor education center, museum and exhibits offer an overview of the history of Charleston and Fort Sumter. Rangers are available to answer questions. Check out the massive cannons, walk through old passageways and imagine what life was like for the men stationed there 150 years ago.

If you visit: The site, administered by the National Park Service, offers a variety of tours for adults and kids. Bring a water bottle, sunscreen and insect repellent.

 

Fort Moultrie National Historical Park

Fort Moultrie facade, palmetto trees, American flag flying, ocean in the distance
Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island is a series of fortresses erected to protect Charleston.

Where: 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan's Island, near Charleston

History: This oceanfront fort has been guarding Charleston Harbor since the Revolutionary War. Union forces left Fort Moultrie after South Carolina seceded in December 1860 and moved to Fort Sumter. A few months later, Confederates occupying Fort Moultrie joined in the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and the Civil War began. 

If you visit: The site, administered by the Fort Sumter National Monument, offers self-guided tours. Don't miss the "Bench by the Road," placed behind Fort Moultrie by the Toni Morrison Society to mark the waterway that brought almost half of all enslaved Africans to America.

 

H.L. Hunley at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center

Boy and girl sitting in submarine replica using hand crank
Kids love trying out the hand-cranked motor in the life-sized replica of the H.L. Hunley.

Where: Warren Lasch Conservation Center, 1250 Supply Street, North Charleston 

History: On Feb. 17, 1864, the world's first combat submarine, H.L. Hunley, slipped into Charleston Harbor, its Confederate crew hand-cranking the vessel toward Union ships blockading the port. Later that night, it rammed the USS Housatonic with a torpedo, sinking the huge Union ship. The Hunley then vanished and was not seen for more than 130 years when it was discovered and raised from its watery resting place.

If you visit: Visitors to the Conservation Center can see the submarine, along with fascinating artifacts found onboard during excavation. Through exhibits and films, learn about the history of the Hunley and its recovery. Tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays; order tickets online in advance or at the door.

 

Charleston Museum

Civil War exhibits at Charleston Museum
The Civil War exhibit at the Charleston Museum explores the city's siege and the stories of those who lived through it.

Where: 360 Meeting Street, Charleston (across from the main Charleston Visitor Center)

History: Founded in the 1700s, the Charleston Museum features exhibits covering a wide variety of Charleston and Lowcountry history, including a fascinating look at how the city of Charleston survived the Civil War and what life was like for the people who lived through it, both free and enslaved.

If you go: Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at the museum website

 

Magnolia Cemetery

Gravestones, green grass and trees with moss in the background
Hundreds of Confederate soldiers are buried at Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery.

Where: 70 Cunningham Avenue, Charleston

History: Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston is the final resting place of 2,200 Civil War veterans, 14 signers of the Ordinance of Secession, and 84 Confederate soldiers whose remains were moved from the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania. Charleston's oldest public cemetery, Magnolia is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you visit: Pick up a map at the office during business hours.

 

Parris Island Museum

Military exhibits at Parris Island Museum
Learn about the Civil War and other conflicts through exhibits at Parris Island Museum.

Where: Marine Corps Recruit Depot, 283 Blvd. De France, Parris Island

History: The local history documented at Parris Island Museum offers an overview of the Civil War history of the entire Port Royal Sound area. Exhibits highlight the November 1861 battle, Union occupation and the rich African-American wartime experience.

If you visit: Pick up a driving tour map of the base, which includes a stop at the far southern tip of the island where visitors get a view of the site of the naval battle. Note: To pass security at the depot gate, prepare to show your driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Present a copy of your rental agreement if you are driving a rental car. 

 

Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historical Site

Panel images of Civil War soldiers at Battle of Rivers Bridge
The relic room at Rivers Bridge includes interpretive panels about the Battle of Rivers Bridge.

Where: 325 State Park Road, Ehrhardt

History: The Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site marks the first and last major Confederate resistance in South Carolina. Confederates at the swampy Salkehatchie River held off Union Gen. William T. Sherman's advance into South Carolina for two days, Feb. 2-3, 1865. Part of the state park here commemorates the battle and features a trail that circles Confederate earthworks just above the river.

If you visit: Scheduled daily tours and prearranged guided tours are available for a small fee. Visitors may take a self-guided tour by reading the waysides stationed throughout the park at no charge. The relic room at Rivers Bridge includes interpretive panels that tell more about the battle and the loss of life at the Battle of Rivers Bridge. 

 

South Carolina State House

Bronze star affixed to stone building
Find the six bronze stars on the walls of the State House that mark hits by Union cannonballs during the Civil War.

Where: 1101 Gervais Street, Columbia

History: The capital's State House was under construction (begun in 1855) when Union Gen. William T. Sherman's troops arrived. Sherman's artillery caused some damage to the new building. Six bronze stars mark the spots where shells struck the building Feb. 16, 1865.

If you visit: Tours offer a wealth of information and are given Monday-Saturday, year-round except for holidays. The tour office also has a scavenger hunt for kids that gets top reviews.

 

South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum and South Carolina State Museum

Civil War relics and artifacts in display case
A variety of Civil War artifacts are on display at the SC Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum.

Where: 301 Gervais Street, Columbia

History: The SC Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum and SC State Museum both feature Civil War materials and educational exhibits that give insights into this devisive conflict.

If you visit: Map out time to go through both museums, which are housed in a historic mill in Columbia's Vista district.

 

Chrysti Shain
Discover writers share all of the places, activities and adventure that South Carolina has to offer. Read more from some of South Carolina’s locals and discover what’s happening in the Palmetto State.