Relive the Start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston Harbor

By:Marie McAden


In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, we’re turning the spotlight on South Carolina’s six national park sites.

Among them is Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, where the American Civil War began more than 150 years ago. On April 12, 1861, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his Rebel batteries to open fire on the Union garrison located in the middle of Charleston Harbor. After enduring 34 hours of punishing enemy fire, the Fort Sumter commander surrendered. The bombardment played a major role in triggering the start of the Civil War.

Significance of Park: One of a series of coastal fortifications built by the United States after the War of 1812, Fort Sumter was still unfinished when Maj. Robert Anderson moved his 85-man garrison from Fort Moultrie to the island fort six days after South Carolina seceded from the Federal Union.

Beauregard demanded Anderson surrender Fort Sumter. When the Union commander refused, the Confederates unleashed a barrage of artillery fire from several batteries around the harbor. During the 34-hour cannonade, an estimated 3,000 shots were launched. Cannon fire broke through the fortress’s five-foot-thick brick walls, leaving the quarters burned, the main gates destroyed and the magazines surrounded by flames. Miraculously, no one on either side was killed during the engagement.

Things to Do: The only way to visit the national monument is by private boat or with Fort Sumter Tours. Before you take the 30-minute ride to the island, check out the exhibit at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Charleston. It will provide you with an overview of the events that led up to the American Civil War and details about the battle.

At the monument, a National Park Ranger will give you a brief history of Fort Sumter and describe the pandemonium that ensued inside the fortress during the bombardment. You can learn more about the remains of the fort, including the cannons and artillery, in the museum.

During your one-hour visit, you’ll have plenty of time to walk around the well-preserved ruins and browse the museum shop.

If You Have More Time: Drive out to Sullivan’s Island and visit Fort Moultrie, where Anderson and his men were stationed before moving to Fort Sumter. At the national monument you can watch a short film on the history of the fort, look at the exhibits in the museum and take a self-guided tour of the monument grounds.

Special Events: Events are held throughout the year at both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie national monuments and the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in Charleston. For a calendar of events, click here.

The Details: Located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter National Monument is only accessible by a concession-operated ferry or private boat. To buy tickets for a tour, call (843) 722-2628 or click here. The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.

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