Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park | TOURING FORT MOULTRIE

Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie

A fee is required to enter Fort Moultrie. Purchase tickets at the Visitor Center across the street from the fort.


Fort Moultrie is open for self-guided tours, but the best way to see fort is on a 45-minute Ranger-led tour. There is no additional fee for the tour beyond the normal entrance fee for the fort. Tours are typically held each day at 11 AM and 2 PM, but all depends on staff availability. If a tour is paramount to your visit, call the park at (843) 883-3123 to see if and when tours are being held that day. If you want to spend more time at particular places in the fort, you can always do so after the tour. Other than having to be out by closing time at 5 PM, you can spend as much time inside the fort as you would like.

Ranger tour of Fort Moultrie

Ranger tour of Fort Moultrie

There have been three Fort Moultries, with the first two being made of wood and earth. The original fort was built in 1776, but after the American Revolution it was neglected and most of the structure rotted away or was severely damaged by hurricanes. When war broke out between England and France in 1793, the U. S. decided to strengthen its coastal defenses and a replacement fort was built (completed in 1798). This fort was eventually destroyed by a hurricane in 1804. The current fort, made of brick, was built between 1807 and 1809.

The experience of touring the fort today is much different than it would be had the National Park Service just recently acquired the property. Back in 1960 when the NPS took over Fort Moultrie from South Carolina, the idea was to create at park based on what tourists would most likely appreciate. As a result, the fort is divided into sections, each outfitted with the guns of the different time periods when the fort saw military use. If the fort property was acquired today, the National Park Service would be more concerned with historical conservation than tourist appeal. Fort Moultrie most likely would have been preserved as it was in 1948, or reverted back to its appearance in the early 1800s. Whatever the decision, it surely would not have been divided into different sections based on time periods.

On the rightmost side of the fort are guns used from the early 1800s up until the Civil War. Very little change in weaponry or in the fort’s appearance took place during this time period. The only threat to the fort was during the War of 1812. The British blockaded Charleston harbor, but never sailed into it, and therefore never came within the range of the guns. Most of the guns were smoothbore 12-, 18-, and 24-pounder cannons (pounder indicates the weight of the cannonball that could be fired). The larger guns had a range of about a mile.

Pre-Civil War era cannons

Pre-Civil War era cannons

Pre-Civil War era cannons

Pre-Civil War era cannons

The second section is outfitted with Civil War artillery. Not long after South Carolina seceded from the Union, federal troops abandoned Fort Moultrie and occupied Fort Sumter, which was easier to defend. Being a coastal defense fort, guns were set up to fire towards the water, not to defend from a rear, land-based assault, which is from where the South Carolina militia would certainly have attacked.

Civil War era cannons

Civil War era cannon

The third section is represented by post-Civil War weapons, from 1873 up to 1897. During this time the fort saw no action. This was the era of the massive Rodman smoothbore cannons. These guns weighed 50,000 pounds and fired a 434-pound cannon ball up to 4.5 miles. The guns were mounted on carriages that gave them a wide angle of coverage over the harbor. A 15-man crew could fire one shot every four minutes.

Rodman gun

Rodman gun

On the left side of the fort is Battery McCorkle and Battery Bingham, which saw service from 1898 to 1939. The batteries were built as part of the Endicott Coastal Defense plan, which was named for Secretary of War William Endicott. Endicott headed the commission to modernize coastal defenses that was convened in 1885 at the request of President Grover Cleveland. Construction on new batteries and the modernization of existing forts began shortly thereafter, resulting in the batteries at Fort Moultrie and other batteries along the Charleston coast such as Battery Jasper, which can be seen from Fort Moultrie and is open to the public for a self-guided tour.

Battery McCorkle and Bingham

Battery McCorkle and Bingham

The weapons on display are an Armstrong 4.7-inch gun and a 15-pounder Rapid-fire gun. By this time, mines were used to protect the entrance to harbors. The main purpose of the guns was to protect the mine fields from enemy mine-sweepers. The range was about 6 miles for both guns.

4.7 Inch Armstrong gun at Battery Bingham

4.7 Inch Armstrong gun at Battery Bingham

15-Pounder Rapid-Fire gun at Battery McCorkle

15-Pounder Rapid-Fire gun at Battery McCorkle

The leftmost section of the fort is from the World War II era, complete with an underground command bunker that visitors can tour. The section is easily identified by the concrete tower built in 1944. It served as the Navy’s Harbor Entrance Control Post and the Army’s Harbor Defense Command Post. The Navy used flags and lights to signal to ships entering the harbor.

Harbor Entrance Control Post

Harbor Entrance Control Post

The most interesting part of the fort is the visit to the underground command bunker located below the Control Post tower. If you’ve ever seen a World War II movie, most likely you’ve watched scenes of officers in such bunkers, with shaking walls and dust falling from the ceiling as the bombs impact the land above. That’s the atmosphere you get at this underground museum. The different rooms are decorated with period furnishings, right down to the posters that hang from the walls and the magazines that lie on the tables.

Communications room

Communications room

Office

Office

Meeting room

Meeting room

A visit to Fort Moultrie is not complete until you see the fort from the outside. Information panels mark the locations of the earlier forts.

Outside the walls of Fort Moultrie

Outside the walls of Fort Moultrie

Information panel on the second Fort Moultrie

Information panel on the second Fort Moultrie

I personally found Fort Moultrie to be more interesting than Fort Sumter. I like that you can spend as much time as you like at the fort, versus only having an hour at Fort Sumter before you must return to the boat (unless you take the extended tour that gives you six hours on the island, which is way too long). I do like the inclusion of the different guns based on time period, though it’s not exactly conservation. The fort will appeal to a wider variety of military enthusiasts for this reason alone.

Passages throughout Fort Moultrie

Passages throughout Fort Moultrie

A Ranger-led tour takes about 45 minutes. I actually spent more time, about an hour, touring the fort on my own after the guided tour. And remember, there is still Battery Jasper to visit, which is a short walk from Fort Moultrie. I suggest planning at least two hours to cover the entire territory, including walking the paths outside of Fort Moultrie.

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Last updated on June 22, 2020
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