Charleston, South Carolina
The first engagement of the Civil War took place at Fort Sumter on April 12 and 13, 1861.
After 34 hours of fighting, the Union surrendered the fort to the Confederates. From 1863 to 1865, the Confederates at Fort Sumter withstood a 22 month siege by Union forces. During this time, most of the fort was reduced to brick rubble. Fort Sumter became a national monument in 1948.
Fort Sumter National Monument commemorates defining moments in American history within a military continuum spanning more than a century and a half.
Two seacoast fortifications preserve and interpret these stories.
At Fort Moultrie, the first American naval victory over the British in 1776 galvanized the patriot’s cause for independence.
Less than a century later, America’s most tragic conflict ignited with the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter.
The Fort Sumter experience begins at Liberty Square in downtown Charleston. The site is an open, green space dedicated to all of those who have sacrificed so that we may enjoy liberty today.
Tour the Fort
Ferry boats leave daily from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center, located adjacent to Liberty Square and the South Carolina Aquarium. Historic artifacts, museum exhibits and interpretive programs set the stage for your visit to the fort.
Guardians of Charleston Harbor
Two forts stand at the entrance of Charleston Harbor. Patriots inside a palmetto log fort, later named Fort Moultrie, defeated the Royal Navy in 1776. As Charleston blazed a path towards secession to preserve slavery, construction on a new fort, Fort Sumter, proceeded. The Confederacy fired on the US garrison of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 opening the Civil War, which redefined American freedom.
Fort Moultrie is a unit of Fort Sumter National Monument. The site is located on Sullivan’s Island and is accessible by car.
Learn about 171 years of American seacoast defenses. The first fort on Sullivan’s Island was still incomplete when Commodore Sir Peter Parker and nine warships attacked it on June 28, 1776. After a nine-hour battle, the ships were forced to retire. Charleston was saved from British occupation, and the fort was named in honor of its commander, Colonel. William Moultrie. In 1780 the British finally captured Charleston, abandoning it only on the advent of peace.
After the Revolution, Fort Moultrie was neglected, and by 1791 little of it remained. Then, in 1793, war broke out between England and France. The next year Congress, seeking to safeguard American shores, authorized the first system of nationwide coastal fortifications. A second Fort Moultrie, one of 20 new forts along the Atlantic coast, was completed in 1798. It too suffered from neglect and was finally destroyed by a hurricane in 1804. By 1807 many of the other First System fortifications were in need of extensive repair. Congress responded by authorizing funds for a Second System, which included a third Fort Moultrie. By 1809 a new brick fort stood on Sullivan’s Island.
Between 1809 and 1860 Fort Moultrie changed little. The parapet was altered and the armament modernized, but the big improvement in Charleston’s defenses during this period was the construction of Fort Sumter at the entrance of the harbor. The forts ringing Charleston Harbor – Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, and Castle Pinckney – were meant to complement each other, but ironically received their baptism of fire as opponents. In December 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union, and the Federal garrison abandoned Fort Moultrie for the stronger Sumter. Three and a half months later, Confederate troops shelled Sumter into submission, plunging the nation into civil war. In April 1863, Federal iron-clads and shore batteries began a 20-month bombardment of Sumter and Moultrie, yet Charleston’s defenses held. When the Confederate army evacuated the city in February 1865, Fort Sumter was little more than a pile of rubble and Fort Moultrie lay hidden under the band of sand that protected its walls from Federal shells. The new rifled cannon used during the Civil War had demolished the brick-walled fortifications.
Fort Moultrie was modernized in the 1870s, employing concepts developed during the war. Huge new cannon were installed, and magazines and bombproofs were built of thick concrete, then buried under tons of earth to absorb the explosion of heavy shells. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed Secretary of War William C. Endicott to head a board to review the coastal defenses in light of newly developing weapons technology. The system that emerged, named for Endicott, again modernized the nation’s fortifications. New batteries of concrete and steel were constructed in Fort Moultrie. Larger weapons were emplaced elsewhere on Sullivan’s Island, and the old fort became just a small part of the Fort Moultrie Military Reservation that covered much of the island.
As technology changed, harbor defense became more complex. The world wars brought new threats of submarine and aerial attack and required new means of defense at Moultrie. Yet these armaments also became obsolete as nuclear weapons and guided missiles altered the entire concept of national defense.
Today Fort Moultrie has been restored to portray the major periods of its history. A visitor to the fort moves steadily backwards in time from the World War II Harbor Entrance Control Post to the site of the Palmetto-log fort of 1776.
Fort Moultrie is administered as a unit of Fort Sumter National Monument. Located at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, the fort and visitor center are open daily from 9:00-5:00 except for New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Christmas Days.
Web: Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Fees: Fort Sumter
There is no entrance fee for Fort Sumter. However, the fort is on an island that is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for the concession-operated ferry. Learn more about the ferry boat schedule and ticket prices.
Fees: Fort Moultrie
Fort Moultrie and grounds are a designated US Fee Area. Visitors are required to purchase an entrance pass at the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center upon entering the site. The park is no longer accepting cash for entrance fees. Credit, debit, and contactless payments are the only methods of payment currently accepted. Digital site passes can be purchased online.