Fort Sumter: Charleston’s most historic landmark

Liz Youngs

Just before sunrise on April 12, 1861, a shell exploded above Fort Sumter, a nearly completed Union garrison located right in the middle of Charleston Harbor.  

It was the first shot fired in the American Civil War. 

Named after General Thomas Sumter, Revolutionary War hero, Fort Sumter was built after the War of 1812, as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast to protect the harbors. This strategic location was crucial to defending the great southern city of Charleston.  Construction began in 1829, and the structure was still unfinished in 1861 when the Civil War began.

Thus, the Battle of Fort Sumter was the first battle of the American Civil War. The intense 33-hour Confederate artillery bombardment of Major Robert Anderson's small Union garrison in the unfinished fort in the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina, had been preceded by months of siege-like conditions.  On April 13, Major Anderson surrendered the fort.

Fort Sumter Tours is the only local company providing direct access to the historic island.   

Passengers can take the tour from two locations.  A short ferry ride from downtown Charleston or Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, passengers cruise through  Charleston Harbor for some great photo opportunities.  

The fleet of boats includes the Spirit of Carolina, Spirit of the Lowcountry, Spirit of Charleston and General Beauregard.  Tickets are $14 for kids under 11 and $22 for adults.  Seniors and Military tickets are $20.

Once at the fort, a Park Ranger greets passengers as they disembark onto Fort Sumter to walk in the footsteps of history.  

Several significant artifacts from Fort Sumter remain, including a cannon that was actually used during the war and the flag that was flown over the fort. 

There is no guided tour, which allows for everyone to walk at their leisure around the island. Those passengers taking the first tour of the day can take part in the flag raising ceremony.  What a wonderful experience to raise the American flag on the site where history rang out over 150 years ago.

While on the tour, passengers can learn many different facts about the fort and the soldiers that bravely defended it.  There is one story of Sergeant Peter Hart raising a shell-torn flag during the bombardment, among many others. There is a museum on site providing historical context for this significant landmark.

Fort Sumter played a pivotal role in shaping the history of this nation.  A visit to Charleston's Fort Sumter National Monument provides a window into some of our bravest American heroes and a chance to honor those that fought for freedom.