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

Charleston Harbor tour boat and Fort Sumter

Charleston Harbor tour boat and Fort Sumter

TOUR DETAILS AND TICKETS

Fort Sumter is located on an island in Charleston Harbor, and the only way to get onto the island and into the fort is via a concessionaire-operate ferry (private boaters are no longer allowed to land on the island or enter the fort). The boat departs multiple times each day from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square and from the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum located at 40 Patriots Point Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464. Patriots Point is not associated with the National Park Service, but a Park Ranger will be aboard the tour boats leaving from there. Both sites are about the same distance from Fort Sumter—approximately a half-hour boat ride each way—so you won’t save time by choosing one location over the other. I suggest picking the one most convenient to you. Being that National Park Planner covers National Parks, I did not visit Patriots Point and cannot say more about it.

The ferry is operated by Fort Sumter Tours, and you can get the latest schedule and ticket prices on its website. There are typically three departures each day from Liberty Square and two from Patriots Point. The tour takes about 2.5 hours, which includes a required 30-minute early arrival, a 30-minute boat ride each way, and one hour at the fort.

You can purchase tickets online in advance or the day of the tour at the two departure points. A park Ranger told me that if you arrive an hour before a tour, in most cases you can get a ticket, particularly for the morning tours. Worse case scenario is that while you should be able to get a ticket for that day, it may be for a tour much later in the day. If you know your schedule, purchasing tickets online is the best way to go.

The downside to the tour of Fort Sumter—at least for a true Civil War buff—is the time you get to spend at the fort. The standard tour gives you only one hour, which is not enough time to thoroughly see everything (though a hour is plenty of time for the average tourist). A museum dedicated to Fort Sumter is located inside Battery Huger, the black monstrosity in the center of the fort, and you could easily spend an hour there. You do have an option for an extended tour if you depart from Liberty Square. For an extra fee ($5 at the time of this writing), you can depart on the first boat at 9:30 AM and return on the last boat at 4 PM (approximate time the 2:30 PM boat departs Fort Sumter). That’s roughly six hours at the fort, which, unless you plan to start conducting tours yourself, is a ridiculously long time to spend on the island. I can’t possibly imagine why anyone would want to stay that long unless they were conducting some sort of research. Two hours would be the ideal time to spend, but that is just not possible. Between the two options, the standard tour makes more sense. If you really want an extra hour, take the tour again the next day.

For those wondering what Battery Huger is, it is a concrete battery built in 1898 within the walls of the original Fort Sumter. Brick forts such as Fort Sumter could not withstand the newest weaponry, whereas the concrete and rebar batteries could. The modernization was prompted by the Spanish-American war.

Battery Huger

Battery Huger

FORT SUMTER TOUR

A tour of the Fort Sumter is self-guided with park Rangers on hand to answer any questions. As soon as the tour group arrives inside the fort, a guide gives a 5-10 minute lecture on the history of the fort for those interested in listening. Other than that, you are on your own. To help better understand what you are looking at, be sure to pick up a park brochure at the Liberty Square visitor center (not sure what literature you can get if departing from Patriot’s Point). The brochure has information about the different areas of the fort.

With the obvious addition of Battery Huger in 1898, you are not standing in the same fort that stood at the start of the Civil War. However, there are many differences aside from Huger. Only three of the five walls remained after the Civil War—the left flank, left face, and right face—and even these were heavily damaged. The left flank wall that stands today is less than half its original height. The entrance that you come through, called the sally port and now on the left flank wall, was originally located on the gorge wall. The gorge and right flank walls were pretty much obliterated during the war. In 1863, Union troops took up a position and built batteries in the marshes of Morris Island, and with rifled cannon (cannon with grooves cut into the barrel interior to provided better accuracy) shelled Fort Sumter until the end of the war. The gorge and right flank walls were the walls directly facing Morris Island.

Fort Sumter in 1861

Fort Sumter in 1861

Fort Sumter today

Fort Sumter today

Ruins of the Officers' Quarters at the gorge and left flank walls

Ruins of the Officers’ Quarters at the gorge and left flank walls

What stands today stems from renovations begun in 1870. From 1876 to 1897, no soldiers occupied the fort; it served as a lighthouse station. The fort saw heavy deterioration during this time. It wasn’t until the Spanish-American war started in 1898 that renovations on the fort began once again, primarily with the building of Battery Huger. Fort Sumter continued as an active fort until the end of World War II.

Today, the fort stands as it did after excavations done between 1950 and 1959. Twenty Civil War era guns are on display, two of which are known to have been at Fort Sumter during the bombardment, and three others that may have been on site. By the end of the war, nearly all guns at the fort were either damaged or knocked out of position. Most of the cannon on display were brought to the fort in the 1870s. The guns along the right face wall—100-pounder Parrott guns (pound refers to the weight of the projectile that is fired from the cannon)—were brought from Morris Island and could be the same ones used to fire upon Fort Sumter, but this is only speculation. These were actually discovered during the excavations of the fort done in the 1950s. Back in 1890, to strengthen the walls some of the casemates (a fortified structure where guns are fired) were filled with sand and the outdated guns were actually buried in place. Other guns are on display at the parade grounds, which is the large field in front of Battery Huger.

100 Pounder Parrott cannon

100 Pounder Parrott cannon

15-inch Rodman cannon

15-inch Rodman cannon

There are still three cannon balls and one mortar shell embedded in the fort walls. Look for them in the walls directly in front of the cannon display on the parade ground.

Display of cannons on the Fort Sumter parade ground

Display of cannons on the Fort Sumter parade ground

Artillery shell embedded in the wall

Artillery shell embedded in the wall

Cannon ball embedded in the wall

Cannon ball embedded in the wall

As mentioned, there is a museum dedicated to Fort Sumter inside Battery Huger. This museum covers all eras of the fort, from the Civil war to its decommission in 1947. Having to split the one-hour visit between the fort and the museum doesn’t give the die-hard Civil War enthusiast enough time for either, so most likely your visit to the museum will be a quick browsing experience. Plenty of information panels and artifacts are on display, including the flag that flew over Fort Sumter when the original shots were fired. Major Robert Anderson, commander of Union troops at the fort, was allowed to take the flag with him after the Union surrender. When the war was over and Union troops reoccupied the fort, Anderson was on hand to raise this flag once again.

Museum at Fort Sumter

Museum at Fort Sumter

Union flag flown at Fort Sumter

Union flag flown at Fort Sumter

Artifacts at the museum at Fort Sumter

Artifacts at the museum at Fort Sumter

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Last updated on March 24, 2020
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