We intended to visit Fort Sumter yesterday, but yesterday turned out to be a good day for doing nothing. So we took care of that, and went to see the Fort today. It sits on a man-made island about 3 miles from Charleston so the only way to get there is by boat. We took a ferry over there, accompanied by a few dolphins and some hopeful seagulls. On the way we passed "Castle Pinckney" on Shute's Folly Island. This little fortification was never an important structure, but it was used for various purposes, including a Civil War prison.Fort Sumter sits in the mouth of the bay, and there was a small tidal bore coming in on the southwest side of the island while we were there. The fort itself is not very big and the island it sits on is so small that the fort covers almost all of it. Not unreasonable, considering that the island was created solely to support the fort.
This fort saw two very different sieges during the Civil war. The first one, the one everyone in the North knows about, is the one that signaled the start of the Civil War. That lasted one day, nobody died, and possession of the fort switched from Union to Confederacy. The second siege lasted years, lots of people died, and the fort became the property of the Union again. Southern sympathies show up around here sometimes; at the entrance is a big plaque stating “In reverential memory of the Confederate Garrison of Fort Sumter who during four years of continuous siege and constant assaults . . . defended this harbor without knowing defeat or sustaining surrender.” (Technically that's true; they didn't surrendered the fort but Sherman's march forced them to abandon it.) Inside the fort is a nice but much less emotional plaque - “In memory of the garrison defending Fort Sumter during the bombardment”, and it lists Major Anderson’s troops. There are, indeed, two sides to every story.
The fort used to be 50 feet tall but a lot was demolished by pounding cannonshot during that second siege. The fort had been built with the strongest side facing the sea; they never considered that the lightly-armed wall facing land would be attacked. Most of the first story of exterior walls still stand, along with remnants of some interior walls.
Most of the archways hold a big 42 pounder cannon, banded (heating and tightening bands of iron around the barrel) and rifled (cutting spiral grooves in the bore) to improve accuracy and range. Their range ended up being 3,800 yards.There are several types of cannon here, including two 15 inch Rodman cannon, the largest used in the Civil War. These suckers weigh 50,000 pounds and had a range of 5,579 yards.
And on the top of each one is a tiny little vent hole, like a blowhole on a whale, where a fuse would have been put to ignite the charge.Embedded in the old brick walls are some Union artillery shells, fired against the Confederate army during that second siege. This one has a top on it, which means it was a canister shot. If this had worked as intended, it would have burst open and scattered iron ball projectiles, like a big, horrible shotgun blast.
During the Spanish-American war a big concrete blockhouse was built inside the fort. It sits longways in the open center section and at it's ends, it gets pretty close to the original brick walls.
There is a good museum at the fort with a lot of interesting information. They have several kinds of cannon shot, including this grapeshot, which, like the canister shot, would break apart and project these iron balls around. These things were wicked.For some jobs, like knocking down the fort's 5 foot thick walls, they needed even more power, like this 15 inch solid shot, weighing over 400 pounds. 400 pounds for one shot - what kind of force did it take to fire those? And how would you load it?
The flag is missing about a third of its length; the missing part is indicated by a red and white overlay to show the original size. And the part that remains is really threadbare. This flag had a second life as a successful fund-raiser for the Northern Cause. It would be auctioned off at a fund-raising event, the buyer would return it to Anderson, and it would be auctioned off again in the next town.
We could only stay on the island about an hour, and half of that was spent listening to the interesting history talk. Then it was time to get back on the ferry. On the way back we passed the USS Yorktown at Patriot Point. The next time we are in Charleston, we'll schedule a visit to that.