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AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

DISCOVERING FORT SUMTER

I have not been to Charleston since before the pandemic so Sarah, my good friend and partner in travel adventures, and I recently decided that we would return for one of our girls’ trips. Since I last visited the area, downtown Charleston has got busier and much more expensive, so we decided to stay in Mount Pleasant. Another advantage to this was that it is conveniently located close to where the tours depart to visit the famous Fort Sumter which I had never been to. Keen to embrace new things, we enthusiastically booked our boat ride out to this island fortification located in Charleston Harbor.

Of course, most people know that Confederate forces fired the first shots of the Civil War upon the Federal troops in occupation at Fort Sumter at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. I discovered that it was originally constructed commencing in 1829 as a coastal garrison, after the War of 1812 against the British. Thankfully, the land of my birth has got over this defeat as more than 200 years have passed! The War of 1812 highlighted the USA’s lack of good coastal defenses and Fort Sumter was part of nearly 50 forts built as part of a program implemented by Congress in 1817. The fort is named after Revolutionary War general and South Carolina native Thomas Sumter, and was designed to allow it to control access to the vital Charleston Harbor. While the island itself is only 2.4 acres in size, the fort was built to accommodate a garrison of 650 soldiers. I must admit that the thought of being stuck out there for months on end does not appeal much, but then neither does an early-1800s military career.

We discovered during our tour that construction of Fort Sumter first began in 1829 but in the 1830s there was a territorial dispute over ownership, so building was halted until 1841. When the plans for Fort Sumter were approved in 1828, its designers envisioned “a pentagonal, three-tiered, masonry fort with truncated angles to be built on the shallow shoal extending from James Island.” They had their work cut out for them: Not only did the sandbar get totally submerged at high tide, but it also tended to shift around in the current. Before the fort could go up, more than 109,000 tons of rock had to be deposited at the site to create a stable artificial island. This was incredibly expensive and time consuming and by 1859, funding was running out and progress slowed.

Although Fort Sumter’s outer fortifications were complete by 1860, the fort’s interior and armaments were not finished by the start of the Civil War. In December of that year U.S. Major Robert Anderson occupied the fort following South Carolina’s secession from the Union. When President Abraham Lincoln announced plans to resupply the fort, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard bombarded Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, kicking off the Battle of Fort Sumter. After a 34-hour exchange of artillery fire, Anderson and 86 soldiers surrendered the fort on April 13. Confederate troops then occupied Fort Sumter for nearly four years, resisting several bombardments by Union forces before abandoning the garrison prior to William T. Sherman’s capture of Charleston in February 1865. I did not realize that there were no casualties during the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War. The only Union deaths came during the evacuation: one soldier was killed and another mortally wounded in an accidental explosion during a planned 100-gun salute.

After the Civil War, Fort Sumter fell mostly into ruins, ultimately serving as a lighthouse station until 1897. There was some renewed interest in 1898 when the Spanish-American War was kicking off, resulting in construction of an artillery battery at the turn of that century. A small garrison manned the guns at Fort Sumter during World War I, and again in World War II when it was fitted with 90-mm anti-aircraft guns. In 1948, it was transferred from the Department of Defense to the National Park Service, and in 1966 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was an interesting day out and one that I highly recommend. There is more information at www.history.com and www.nps.gov.

I will leave you with a thought-provoking quote from the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, about the Civil War: “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.