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What is the Fort Sumter National Monument?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

The coastal fort in Charleston, South Carolina known as Fort Sumter has its place in the history books for being the site where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. After the War of 1812, Fort Sumter was built as a part of a series of coastal fortifications in the Southeast United States. It was built from granite brought in from New England at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Today it is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument and is maintained by the National Park Service; it was dubbed a national monument in 1948.

Fort Sumter played a crucial role in Civil War history. The first battles of the war took place there, and the Union-controlled fort eventually fell to the Confederate Army. On 12 April, 1861, the Confederate forces opened fire on the fort and continued the assault for almost a day and a half. When all was said and done, the Union Army surrendered the fort. No Union soldiers were killed in battle, and only one Confederate soldier died in the siege.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Union Army launched a campaign to re-take the fort shortly thereafter, but their efforts were unsuccessful and several Union soldiers were killed due to poor planning and reconnaissance. The Union Army underestimated the size of the Confederate forces at the fort, and their assault was poorly organized and executed. The Confederate Army never surrendered the fort, but they eventually abandoned it after acquiring firepower and other useful resources from the fort. The Union Army re-took the fort, nearly two years after their first efforts to re-take the fort the first time.

The structure itself is made of five sides, with walls five feet (1.5 meters) thick and 50 feet (15.24 meters) high. Designed to house 650 men, Fort Sumter was never filled to capacity, and its armaments, which included 135 guns, were never fully manned. After the war, Fort Sumter was in ruins, and the U.S. Army worked for a time to restore the fort to usable condition. It was re-fitted with new guns and the walls were repaired and shortened, and other repairs were made to fortify the aging fort. It saw brief use during World War I and World War II, during which anti-aircraft artillery was installed. Otherwise, the site was no more than a tourist destination, and in 1948, it became a national monument and is accessible to tourists by a short ferry ride.

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