Updated: May 21, 2015

Fort Sumter - First Shots of the Civil War

Most kids who have studied American history know that the official start of the Civil War is usually marked by the bombardment of Fort Sumter by the Confederate Army. Fort Sumter (often mispelled as Fort Sumpter) is located in Charleston Harbor, in South Carolina. The fort occupies a strategic point, allowing for control over access to the harbor from the Atlantic Ocean. Today, it is strictly a historical site and part of the National Park Service, which offer tours of Fort Sumter to eager tourist history buffs. But the tour is worthwhile for non-history buffs as well, if for nothing else that the terrific water views offered of the Charleston waterfront and famed mansions. Below, we will take a look at details about the Fort Sumter tours - where to catch the boat, what you see, how much it costs, etc.



Ft. Sumter Background - Intro to the Civil War

The South seceded from the Union on Dec. 21, 1860. The Fort was seized by forces of the Union Army (led by Major Robert Anderson) on Dec. 26. Hostilities erupted when the south decided to stop reinforcement ships from arriving. Jefferson Davis ordered that the fort be taken, and when Union forces refused to surrender, General P.T. Beauregard began bombarding the fort just after 4AM on the morning of April 12th, 1861. Beauregard watched the bombardment from the porch of a mansion along E. Battery Street, overlooking Charleston Harbor. However, the fort was well defended and fortified, so there were no casualties during the actual bombardment. The Northern troops capitulated after 34 hours of exploding cannonballs, and the first deaths of the Civil War actually occurred during the ceremonial 100 gun salute as the flag was lowered, when a cannon fired prematurely, killing two Union soldiers. The South would retain control of the fort until Feb. of 1865, when it would finally fall back into Union hands after 2 years of nearly continuous pounding by nearly 50,000 shells.

Ft. Sumter Map - Map of Fort Sumpter in Charleston Harbor

Here is a copy of the National Park Service map of the Charleston Harbor area, showing the location of Fort Sumter. The fort itself is a five sided structure, shaped like a baseball homeplate.

Fort Sumter Tours

Since Fort Sumpter sits in the middle of the harbor, it is accessible only by boat. While the National Park Service overseas the fort (their official website is www.NPS.gov/fosu), the actual Fort Sumter tours are run by FortSumterTours.com. You catch the boat to Fort Sumter at the South Carolina Aquarium, located at Calhoun and Concord streets (Liberty Square), along the harbor. Tickets for the tour cost $14 for adults, $8 for children 6-11 (kids 5 and under free), and $12.50 for seniors. The tours last just over 2 hours, including 1 hour spent on the island of Fort Sumter. You can also catch the same tours across the harbor at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. You can check their website for exact tour times during your visit, but during most of the year there are 3 daily tours, at 9:30AM, 12PM, and 2:30PM. (Dec-Feb there are only 2 daily tours leaving from Liberty Square, 11AM and 12:30PM). Patriots Point offers 2 or 3 tours in between those times in the summer, and just one 1:30PM tour in the winter months. You can tour the fort on your own if you have a private boat - the park is open most of the year from 10AM - 4 or 5PM. The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center is by the Aquarium, open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m with lots of information about the history and significance of the fort. Be sure to get a good seat on the boat to enjoy the views of Charleston Harbor as you sail to and from the fort -- Charleston is famous for its elegant waterfront mansions, and the view from the water is terrific. Keep in mind that heat and humidity can be pretty severe in the summer months -- getting some time out in the harbor breezes can be a nice way to cool off a bit. It takes about 30 minutes each way as you make your away across the water out to the fort - enjoy!