One hundred and fifty years ago this Tuesday, April 12, the first salvos of the Civil War were launched when Confederate forces began a 34-hour bombardment that ended with the surrender of Fort Sumter.
“The firing upon that fort will inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen,” declared Robert Toombs, Confederate secretary of state, not long before the conflict began.
Despite the lack of fatalities (except for two that a surrender ceremony accident produced), the siege on the Union fort on Charleston Harbor in South Carolina commenced four years of civil strife, launching a conflict that threatened to tear apart a country, a conflict that killed more than 620,000 and severely tested the United States' backbone.
The fort, miraculously, shouldered the onslaught. Though it is in various stages of ruins, with walls that once stood 55 feet above sea level now ranging in height from 9 to 25 feet high, the fort nevertheless today stands as a national monument in commemoration of those who fought and died in the Civil War.
Fort Sumter National Monument actually has three components: the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center on Liberty Square in Charleston; Fort Moultrie, a fort of Revolutionary War fame that fell into Confederate hands when Union soldiers abandoned it on December 26, 1860; and Fort Sumter, situated on a small man-made island near the mouth of Charleston harbor.
Throughout this week Park Service interpreters at the fort will shed some light for visitors on the stresses the Civil War brought to bear on the country. “Fort Sumter provides visitors with the opportunity to understand, reflect upon and deepen their appreciation of our shared history and the relevance of this period to society today,” said Superintendent Tim Stone.
The Visitor Education Center will have daily programs focusing on the civilian home front
at the beginning of the Civil War. From April 9–16 , the visitor center will be open for extended hours from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday, April 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There is no charge to visit the Visitor Education Center.
Despite some initial uncertainty due to the budget impasse in Washington, Park Service officials planned a week-long series of events to commemorate the start of the Civil War. Until Wednesday, Union re-enactors will be on site. From Friday through Sunday, Confederate re-enactors will occupy the fort.
Scheduled highlights include a 30-minute reenactment of the April 12 firing on the fort and a flag ceremony commemorating the fort's official surrender on April 14.
At Fort Moultrie, which is located on Sullivan’s Island directly across the harbor from Fort Sumter, plans called for up to 250 re-enactors to be encamped on the park grounds. They will perform musket firing and heavy artillery drills this week.
During April 9–16 Fort Moultrie will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on April 17 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The normal entrance fee for Fort Moultrie will be suspended for the duration.
To doublecheck the event schedule before heading to Fort Sumter, you might want to call the staff at 843-883-3123.