It’s no surprise that a port city on the front lines of the Civil War would be home to so many historic forts. For war history buffs, Charleston is filled with great places to experience how soldiers went to war all those years ago. Here are a few of our favorite forts:
Fort Sumter National Monument witnessed the start of the Civil War as Confederate troops fired the first shots of the war on Federal troops at Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. Fort Sumter continued to play a key role in Charleston throughout the war.
You can access Fort Sumter via ferry or private boats; it is open year-round (except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas). Also be sure to stop at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is open daily at Liberty Square, 340 Concord St. in downtown Charleston. The center sits on the site of Gadsden’s Wharf, where hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans were brought into the United States. Today the site interprets the causes of the Civil War and the results of that war on the nation.
Situated on Sullivan’s Island, Fort Moultrie is the only unit of the National Park System where the entire 171-year history of American seacoast defense can be traced. Five sections of the fort and two outlying areas represent a different historical period in the life of the three Fort Moultries.
The first fort fell into disrepair and the second was destroyed in a hurricane in 1804. The third fort was build in 1809 and it changed very little until 1860 and the Civil War. Then in the 1870s, Fort Moultrie was modernized with a new cannon, magazines and bombproofs that were made of thick concrete and then buried under tons of earth to absorb the explosion of heavy shells.
Today Fort Moultrie has been restored to portray the major periods of its history. Fort Moultrie is open to visitors daily except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Construction began on what is now the site of Castle Pinckney in the late 1790s. Its purpose was to protect the city from a possible naval attack when war with France seemed imminent. Completed in 1804, Castle Pinckney didn’t see any activity and was essentially destroyed in a hurricane later that year. A replacement was completed by 1810 and garrisoned throughout the War of 1812, but saw no action. Afterward, Castle Pinckney was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
Two decades later, a sea wall was completed and the fort was re-garrisoned during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Again, Castle Pinckney saw little activity and became a military supply storehouse. For about a six-week period, Castle Pinckney was revived as a POW camp and artillery position during the Civil War.
In recent years, the fort has changed hands a few times with the Sons of Confederate Veterans fraternal post taking over management in the late 1960s. Castle Pinckney was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The nonprofit Castle Pinckney Historical Preservation Society formed in 2013.
(Photos courtesy/National Park Service)