Friday, January 15, 2016

Our Tour of Ft. Sumter in Charleston’s Harbor

If you visit the Charleston South Carolina area, it’s important to immerse yourself in a little of the history that permeates this city and its environs.  We’d been to Ft. Sumter before, many years ago, but Laurie’s sister Bonnie and her husband Bill had never been to the area…

Since Fort Sumter is built on an island near the entrance to Charleston’s harbor, the only way to access this National Monument is via either a private boat or a tour boat.  Our first stop was the tour boat terminal...

This is a replica of the 33-Star garrison flag that flew over Fort Sumter in 1861.  It’s sometimes called "the flag that started a war."  I didn’t know this but ever since the Mexican-American War (about 1845) the Army had followed an unofficial tradition of using a "diamond" pattern for the stars on their garrison flags. The Fort Sumter flag is a good example of this practice.

The boarding point for the Fort Sumter tours is in downtown Charleston at Liberty Square, adjacent to the South Carolina Aquarium.  The facility is very nice with extensive displays regarding South Carolina  and Charleston history.

South Carolina was the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation and the eighth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on May 23 1788.  South Carolina was the first state to vote to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860.  After the American Civil War, it was readmitted into the United States on June 25, 1868.

Note: In 1860, there were 402,406 slaves in South Carolina…out of a total population (black and white) of 703,708.  During the Civil War, South Carolina recorded 18,666 military deaths, which was nearly one-third of the white male population of fighting age.

The SpiritLine Cruises, which operates the Fort Sumter tour boats, has a fleet of 4 boats.  In addition to the “Spirit of the Lowcountry” shown above, they have the “General Beauregard”, the “Spirit of Charleston” and the “Spirit of Carolina”.  The Spirit of Lowcountry is 93 feet long.  She may look really old but this boat was built in 1986.

Note: It was interesting to note that this vessel has had 3 other names…and that she has ties with East Tennessee where we live. Her previous names were “River Queen”, “The Star” and the “Star of Knoxville”.

We sat at the stern of the tour boat on the upper deck.  While this late September tour wasn’t packed, there was still a big crowd visiting Fort Sumter.  Despite the fact that visitors must reach the Fort by boat, recent attendance numbers totaled over 850,000 per year…

The tour boats make between 3 and 6 trips to Fort Sumter each day, depending on the time of the year.  No tours operate on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.  For more information, just go to

These views show historic Charleston from the harbor… Charleston was originally named Charles Town…after King Charles II of England.  The city was moved to its current location in 1680.  Many of the homes, churches and other structures date back to the 19th and even the early 18th century.  When you consider that the city is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and its storms, despite flooding and damage over the years, this beautiful waterfront is still relatively intact. 

This is a photo of Fort Sumter taken from the pier where the tour boats dock.  When you consider its importance to our history, at first glance it’s not all that impressive.

Here is a much better photo of the Fort from the water…taken by a professional photographer on a clear day with good lighting.

Fort Sumter was one of a number of many special forts planned by the Federal Government after the War of 1812.  It combined high walls and heavy masonry for maximum structural integrity. Work on the fort started in 1829, but was still incomplete in 1860 when South Carolina seceded from the Union. 

This is a view of some of the cannon positions at Fort Sumter.  The park's collection of cannons at nearby Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter from the period from 1830-1890 represents the best grouping of historic seacoast artillery in the United States.  Fort Sumter alone possesses 40 cannons of various types.  A preservation program, called “Adopt-a-Cannon” raises funds for the preservation of these pieces of history. 

Note: While I think that such fund raising programs are admirable and valuable to our efforts to maintain our National Parks and Monuments, I despair at the lack of funding from our Federal Government. 

The National Parks have almost 300,000,000 million visitors per year and they protect 84,000,000 acres…all on a budget of about $3,000,000,000.  That sounds like a lot doesn’t it?  The National Parks employ about 22,000 full, seasonal and part-time associates, or 1 for every 3,800 acres.  By way of comparison, in order ‘support’ our 435 Representatives and 100 Senators in Congress, the salaries for their staffs total roughly $666,000,000!  Our Congressmen and women employ about 9,500 people… Enough for my soapbox for today!

There are several locations throughout the fort where the shells from the fort’s bombardment are still buried in the walls.

The First Battle of Fort Sumter began on 12 April 1861, when Confederate artillery fired on the Union garrison. These were the first shots of the war, and continued all day, watched by many civilians in a celebratory spirit.  The fort had been cut off from its supply line, and the garrison surrendered the next day.  

After the fort was occupied by the Confederate Army, it remained under their control until February 17, 1865, with the Union Army’s advance on Charleston under the command of General Sherman.  From April of 1863, the fort was under almost daily bombardment and assault by Union forces but it was never captured until the Confederate forces abandoned the ruins.  The Union Army had poured over 7 million pounds of metal shells into the fort in its effort to retake it!  

Keep in mind that the original fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet long, with walls 5 feet thick, standing 50 feet over the low tide mark.  It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns with 3 tiers of gun emplacements, although it was never filled to its full capacity.  To learn more and to get an idea of the destruction and to appreciate that anything is left standing, check on the photos on Wikipedia at

The museum located at Fort Sumter is very interesting and it leads you through the history of the fort and the Union and Confederate actions during the Civil War. 

Some exhibits are shown in the collage above…from left to right starting at the top: South Carolina Confederate Palmetto Guard Battle Flag; A model of Fort Sumter before the destruction; some of the pictorial displays in the museum; a standard rifle and ammunition case; various shot and shells that were used in the various assaults on the fort; the Stars and Stripes Fort Sumter Battle Flag, and; a handbook on rifle care and use along with a regulation hat used by the US Army Heavy Artillery units during the war.

To learn about visiting Fort Sumter, you can check it out on the National Park's website at

On our way back to Charleston on our tour boat, we took a photo of the 8-lane Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge that connects Charleston with Mt. Pleasant South Carolina across the Cooper River.  The bridge has a main span of 1,546 feet and it’s the third longest among cable-stayed bridges in the Western Hemisphere.

Note: Arthur Ravenel Jr. is a retired conservative Republican politician, a former Congressman and Senator, who has been the center of a few controversies.  There was even a move to rename the bridge because of some of his utterances…

As we neared the tour boat’s pier I took this photo of this big cargo ship.  She is the M/V Tosca and she is a Pure Car/Truck Carrier, part of the Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics’ global fleet.  This ship was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and it has the capacity to carry up to 6,500 vehicles.  Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics is based in Oslo Norway.

FYI, the Port of Charleston has 5 public terminals that are owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority. There are additional facilities in the port that are privately owned and operated.  In 2012, the port processed cargo valued at $63,000,000,000!

That’s about it for now.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for the tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Looks like a good day soaking up the history. That bridge always impresses us.

  2. Dear Dave. What a nice day and I always learn something new. I love learning the many facts of what makes this country great.
    Blessings, Catherine