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Known as the guardian of Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter has stood sentry outside the city for more than two centuries. This regal national monument is especially known for its role in the Civil War.

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The fort was built after the British invasion of Washington D.C. in 1814, during what is now known as the War of 1812. Its main purpose was to protect Charleston, and the rest of the US, from foreign invasion by sea. Construction began in 1829; the fort was still incomplete during the Civil War. Named after General Thomas Sumter, one of the heroes of the American Revolution, the fort stands on an artificial island that was originally a sandbar. It is a five-sided brick structure meant to hold up to 650 soldiers and 135 guns. 

Fort Sumter is known for being the location of the battle that officially began the Civil War. On April 12, 1861, the South Carolina Militia fired on the Union soldiers manning the fort. Both North and South considered these shots the first shots of the war. Facing bombardment and a shortage of supplies, Union soldiers surrendered the fort a day later. The Union attempted to retake the fort in September of 1863, but they ultimately failed, and the fort remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war. 


After the Civil War, Fort Sumter was left in ruins; it was partially restored by the Army afterwards. From 1876 to 1897, the fort served as a lighthouse station, but its reconstruction continued when the Spanish-American War began, though it was never again used in a battle. In 1948, it became a national monument. 

Now, Fort Sumter is part of the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park. The fort can be accessed by a 30-minute ferry ride from Patriots Point or the Fort Sumter Visitor Center, located in Charleston’s Liberty Square. The Visitor Center explores various themes and stories of the Civil War. Its exhibits attempt to explain the origins of conflict between the North and South and specific battles of the war. The visitor center also explores the history of Fort Sumter after the Civil War; in addition, it contains a store selling items relating to the history of the fort.

At the fort itself, rangers offer ten to fifteen-minute guided tours to visitors; afterwards, visitors can explore the island on their own for another 45 minutes. The National Park rangers give short overviews of the history of Fort Sumter and the island, in case visitors did not get a chance to stop by the visitor center. Many artifacts from the Civil War are still on the island, including a US flag, old cannons, and more. The island is also a great place to admire views of the Charleston skyline. 

Fort Sumter is free to enter, but there is a fee for the ferry that ranges from about $18 for children to $30 for adults. However, a visit to such an important, historic monument is well worth the price – the ferry ride is also a great opportunity to see the harbor.