Posted by: bkivey | 20 July 2016

Ft. Sumter

The last time I was in Charleston was 1986, the year after hurricane Hugo. Downtown was being repaired and rebuilt, and the city was still very much a sleepy Southern town.

That has changed.

Many parts of town have been rebuilt and gentrified, and the area overall is in about the same place Portland was 10 years ago. The city has been ‘discovered’, and large numbers of people are moving in. This is causing some friction between established residents and newcomers. ‘Established residents’ in this case are often people who can trace their family residency back 250 years or more. When two Southerner’s meet, they’ll often ask each other ‘Who’s your people?’ Parts of my family have lived in the area since the 1740’s.

The ‘International’ in the Charleston airport’s name is a bit of  a misnomer, as there are no international passenger flights to or from the airport. They must be referring to operations conducted at the joint Air Force base. The base is one of two home fields for the C-17, and they’ve been quite busy the last fifteen years or so. The airport is small, and dining options are limited. Best to eat elsewhere.

A curious sign:

CHS no concealable weaons sign

So, rifles, swords, and spears are permitted?

Haven’t seen this anywhere else, but it’s a good idea:

CHS service animal area

By the time I retrieved luggage and car, it was 0930, and I couldn’t check in until 1430 (I asked). Breakfast first.

During breakfast I cast about for things to do in a town that’s nearly 350 years old. Perhaps something historical. I found that there were still seats available for the 1200 sailing to Ft. Sumter. $19.50 buys admission to the museum, transportation, and an hour at the fort.

The museum for the Ft. Sumter National Monument is in downtown Charleston on the waterfront. There’s a parking garage across from the museum, so not too far to walk. The museum:

Fort Sumter building front

To the left of the building is a power pole evocative of what the harbor may have looked like in the days of sail:

Charleston harbor power pole

That’s the South Carolina Aquarium in the center.

The museum features numerous displays giving the history of Charleston and events leading up to the Civil War. The displays are almost entirely informational: there are few artifacts. One artifact is the original garrison flag that flew over the fort on 12 April, 1861, the day the fort came under fire from Confederate forces and so started the war.

Ft Sumter original flag

The flag is housed in a case equipped with sliding doors so different parts of the flag are exposed to light and UV damage is mitigated.

The view from the water side of the museum:

Charleston waterfront 1

In the center is the Patriot’s Point museum in Mt. Pleasant, featuring USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore, along with a number of military aircraft and other martial displays. I didn’t have time to visit that museum.

I spent some time chatting with a ranger and learned that upwards of 2 million people visit the fort annually. There’s a fleet of eight boats, and when all eight are in operation over 3000 people can be ferried out daily. Our boat for the trip was The Spirit of the Lowlands and several other ferries were seen during the transit. The Spirit has a capacity of nearly 300 people, and it was mostly full on the day. The boat had three decks, with an observation/seating deck topside under canopy, and two interior decks, one of which had a snack bar.

Interior Spirit of the Lowlands

The interior decks are air conditioned, which is welcome most of the year. I spent most of my time at the bow railing, partly to enjoy the view, but also because I’d spent the night inside an airplane.

There’s an auto transhipment yard next to the museum/aquarium complex, and two auto carriers were tied up when we departed:

Charleston auto ships

I’m sorry. Those are some ugly ships. They certainly maximize volumetric efficiency, but I imagine most crew have a hard time loving those things. The yard isn’t necessarily for import. BMW has been building cars in the state for a while, and Volvo is building a plant.

Looking back at Charleston:

Charleston from the water 1

The ships are moored in the Cooper River, and the Ashley River is on the left. The city proper is middle left. And yes, that’s a tower in the middle of the city with a beacon. No office towers, though.


Ft. Sumter from the dock:

Ft Sumter from dock

As originally built the fort was three stories high rising fifty feet above the water. After the Confederates occupied the fort, it was subject to more-or-less continual shelling for the duration of the war, considerably reducing its structure. There’s not a lot of the original fort left. Despite the reduction of most of the fort to rubble, the Confederates didn’t surrender until the war was nearly over, thus demonstrating the stubbornness Southerners are known for. The less charitable might say pigheadedness, or not knowing when to quit.

There is a story that as Sherman was burning his way from Atlanta to Savannah, frustrated Georgians asked him why he didn’t burn Charleston, ‘because they started it’. In fact, the Confederates finally did surrender Ft. Sumter when they heard Sherman was on his way.

The interior from the parade grounds:

Ft Sumter from parade ground

Ft Sumter parade ground view 2

The black building on the left is Battery Huger, built during the Spanish-American War and fitted with 12″ guns to command the harbor entrance. The fort museum is in this structure. Anti-aircraft guns were emplaced during WW II.

Gun emplacements:

Ft Sumter lower gun emplacement

Ft Sumter gun 1

The interiors were whitewashed to aid in lighting. During their occupation, the Confederates rifled some of the smoothbore cannon to increase their range.

A plaque giving the names of the soldiers stationed at the fort when it was surrendered:

Ft Sumter garrison plaque

At one point a Union shell found the powder room, and the resulting explosion bent the walls back:

Ft Sumter powder room wall

The fort from the top of Battery Huger:

Ft Sumter overview from upper level

The powder room is middle left. My visit was at low tide, and it would seem the Union forces would have little problem attacking across the sand on the left. The sand is spoils from dredging operations, and wasn’t present during the Civil War. Directly across the spoils on the coast is Ft. Wagner, scene of the climactic attack from the movie Glory. The initial attack was repulsed, but the Union eventually captured the fort.

It was 97F when I visited, with the humidity not far behind, but a sea breeze kept things tolerable. Most times of the year you are going to catch a lot of sun, so sunblock isn’t out of the question.

I enjoyed my visit to Ft. Sumter. It was interesting seeing the place where the bloodiest conflict in US history started, and a nice complement to my visit to Gettysburg. The entire experience runs about 3 – 4 hours, so a nice way to spend a half-day.

Post 600

This is the 6ooth post on this blog. Not a tremendous output over 6 1/2 years, but I’ve enjoyed it. A warm Thank You to all who’ve read and especially to those who’ve taken the time to comment.





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