Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Bombardment That Began the War

Where do you begin a visit to Charleston, SC?  Tim and I decided to start at Fort Sumter where the hostilities of the Civil War began.

The War of 1812 revealed how vulnerable the United States eastern seaboard was to enemy attack.  Although the major ports of Boston, New York and Baltimore had forts in place, more were needed.  To that end, Congress appropriated in 1816 over $800,000 to build a system of additional forts along the coast.  Fort Sumter was one of those fortifications.

Today anyone who wants to visit the fort must purchase ferry tickets from the authorized concessionaire, Fort Sumter Tours.

Clockwise, from upper right:
A container ship passes underneath the Arthur Ravenel Bridge,
a cruise ship, a sailing boat and the USS Yorktown

The thirty-minute ride to the island at the mouth of Charleston's harbor gave us a ringside seat to view the cruise and cargo ship activity of the Port of Charleston.  Of interest to us are the plans to deepen the harbor to 52 feet which would give Charleston the East Coast's deepest shipping channel.  The proposal was authorized last December by the passage of the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act; whether those plans move forward under Trump's presidency remains to be seen.

On a personal note, I was thrilled to see the USS Yorktown.  My great-uncle, Dr. Raymond Gard, served as the surgeon aboard this aircraft carrier during World War II.  His name is still on the door of the ship's surgery.

Once the ferry arrived at Fort Sumter, Tim and I along with the rest of the passengers gathered around the park ranger to hear the history of the fort.

I didn't know the island was man-made.  In 1829 and for the next 11 years, slaves from Charleston and nearby plantations piled 200 to 500-pound rocks upon a sandbar; then sank pilings down to the bedrock.

Once that was done, the laborers began the work of building the masonry walls, two tiers of gun ports and the barracks using bricks whose combined weight caused the whole works to sink.  

All had to be shored up before the fort could become operational. 

The question of who owned the island fortress as well as other federal military installations throughout the South was called into question with the secession of South Carolina from the Union on December 20, 1860.

Soon after President Abraham Lincoln assumed office in March 1861, he announced plans to send a fleet to resupply the Union troops garrisoned at Fort Sumter, an order that lit the matchstick tempers of Southerns, especially the people of South Carolina, who interpreted this as an act of aggression.

Major Robert Anderson

Despite his past as a former slave holder, Major Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter, was nevertheless loyal to the Union.  When Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Anderson to surrender the fort, he refused. 

General Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard

Consequently at 4:30 a.m. on April 12th, Confederate General Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard ordered his artillery to fire upon the fort, bombarding the island with over 3,000 shells over the next three and a half days.  

One of the artillery shells embedded in the wall

Overwhelmed and with no reinforcements in sight, Anderson had no choice but to surrender the fort to his former West Point student Beauregard.  The war had began!

The bombardment of April 12, 1861 is well-known, but that was not the only battle for the fort's control.  

With Fort Sumter firmly in Confederate hands, the port of Charleston was a loophole in the Union's blockade of the South.  Blockade runners dodged the U.S. Navy to bring needed war supplies into the city and sailed out with the cotton needed to pay for it all.  

Beginning on April 7, 1863 and for the next 20 months, Confederate-held Fort Sumter withstood Federal siege and bombardment until it no longer resembled a fort at all.

Finally, on April 14, 1865, with Charleston in Union hands, the exact same United States flag that was lowered when Major Anderson surrendered in 1861 was once again raised above Sumter's battered ramparts.  The war was over.

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