Fort Sumter Throughout the Ages

Fort Sumter, named after South Carolina's Revolutionary war hero General Thomas Sumter, is one of the most significant sites in American History. It is known for being the site where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. After the Battle of Fort Sumter, the site emerged as an important representation of Southern resistance. The Fort Sumter Flag became a popular patriotic symbol and is still displayed at the fort’s museum today.

1828 to 1860:
Prewar Fort Sumter

1828 > Plans are drawn and approved for the construction of Fort Sumter under the new Third American System of Coastal Defense. The system was adopted upon the urging of President James Madison following the disastrous War of 1812.

Picture of Fort Sumter Before the Civil War
Pre-Civil War Fort Sumter

1829 > Construction begins on Fort Sumter.

1834 > Construction progresses slowly, with all work on Fort Sumter coming to a standstill in 1834 because of an ownership dispute over the construction site.

1841 > (Jan.) Construction crews resume working on Fort Sumter.

1860 > (Dec.) At this stage of its construction, Fort Sumter is an impressive structure that towers nearly 60 feet above the water and boasts five-foot-thick masonry walls and three levels of guns on four of its five sides. Though empty, Fort Sumter is the most recently outfitted fort in the United States, and has the capacity to mount 135 guns and hold a garrison of 650 men. However, the fort is just 90 percent completed, with only about a dozen cannon mounted and ready for use.

Painting of Fort Sumter while fully remodeled before the civil war

By 1861, Fort Sumter was completely rebuilt by the union. Wall thickness was 10-12 feet

1860 > (Dec. 20) South Carolina secedes from the Union, proclaiming its status as "an independent commonwealth" on the eve of the impending Civil War.

1860 > (Dec. 26-27) Major Robert Anderson relocates his troops overnight (from Fort Moultrie) to Fort Sumter, intending to provide a stronger defense that would delay a Rebel attack.

1861 to 1865:
The American Civil War Begins

1861 > (April 12) The first shots of the Civil War ring out, as Confederate troops—under the command of Pierre Beauregard, open fire upon Ft. Sumter.

April 12, 1861 Battle at Fort Sumter

April12,1861 Fort Sumter

Confederates batteries fire for 34 straight hours and the Union colors fall. No Union soldiers die during the actual battle, although a Confederate soldier bleeds to death due to a wound from a misfiring cannon.

1861 > (April 13) Fort Sumter surrenders and is evacuated.

1861 > (Dec. 19) Union forces sink the Stone Fleet— comprised of 16 old whalers loaded with blocks of granite—in the harbor channel to begin their blockade of Charleston. (With Fort Sumter in the Confederate hands, the port of Charleston is a hole in the Federal naval blockade of the Atlantic coast. The fort would need to be regained to close the port.)

1862 > (June 16) Confederates forces rebuff a Union attack at James Island during the Battle of Seccessionville.

1862 > (June 21) The Battle of Simmons Bluff takes place, ending in a victory for the Union.

1863 > (Jan. 31) The Confederate ironclads known as Palmetto and Chicora attack a blockading Federal fleet.

American Civil War picture of attack on Fort Sumter

April 7, 1863. Weehawken firing on Fort Sumter. Line engraving appeared in "The Soldier in Our Civil War", made from a sketch by W.T. Crane.

1863 > (April 7) The Union dispatches a fleet of nine ironclad Monitor warships to attack Ft. Sumter. The fort is hardly damaged, but five of the attaching ships are disabled, and one—the USS Keokuk—sinks the next morning.

1863 > (July 18) The 54th Massachusetts, an all black unit, leads the Union assault upon Battery Wagner on Morris Island. (This is the battle portrayed in the film Glory!)

1863 > (Aug. 17) A huge Federal bombardment begins, leaving the fort's brick walls in ruins. But the garrison refused to surrender and continued to repair and fortify the walls of the fort.

Photo of Ft. Sumter right after American Civil War

1865. Fort Sumter photo from a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, by George N. Barnard.

1864 > (Feb.) Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops arrive from Savannah, Ga. and force the evacuation of Fort Sumter. By the time the Civil War ends Fort Sumter is in ruins.

1865 > (April 14) Federal photographers under the supervision of Mathew Brady arrive to record the flag-raising ceremony at Ft. Sumter, marking the anniversary of Maj. Anderson's surrender to Confederate forces.

1866 to 1950:
Fort Sumter, an Important National Monument

1866 to 1877 > With substantial damage and a lack of weaponry, Fort Sumter is no longer useful as a military installation.

Post-Civil War Photo of Fort Sumter lighthouse

Early 1870s. Photo of lower-tier casements on right flank after U.S. Army began repairing Ft. Sumter to make it serviceable.

1878 to 1887 > Fort Sumter is utilized as an unmanned lighthouse station.

1898 > The Spanish-American War creates renewed interest in the fort for military use, resulting in the construction of a huge concrete blockhouse-style installation. The installation—named "Battery Huger" in honor of Revolutionary War General Isaac Huger, never sees combat.

1914 to 1918 > During World War I, a small garrison manned the two twelve-inch rifles at Battery Huger.

1939-1945 > During World War II, two 90-mm antiaircraft guns are installed; however, the fort remains unused except as a tourist destination.

1948 > Fort Sumter becomes a U.S. National Monument and is administered by the U.S. National Park Service.

Present Day:
Fort Sumter Open to the Public

Ft. Sumter American Civil War Monument

July 5, 2006 Fort Sumter

Today > Fort Sumter National Monument is located on 200 acres in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. It includes historic Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor; the Liberty Square Visitor Education Center in Charleston, located at 340 Concord Street; and Fort Moultrie, located on Sullivan's Island.

Fort Sumter National Monument has one of the best collections of Civil War era seacoast artillery in existence today. Fort Sumter, which is open to the public except on major holidays, receives approximately 230,000 visitors per year.

Presently, Fort Sumter can only be reached by boat (or by webcam). Because it is part of the National Park System, owned by the people of the United States, Fort Sumter can be accessed by private boat as well as official tours. People have even been known to reach Fort Sumter by kayak. Public tours are offered by Spirit Line Cruises. Tour boats depart for Fort Sumter from two locations: either the Nation Park Service Visitor Education Center next to the SC Aquarium or Patriots Point Naval Museum in Mount Pleasant.

To see live views of Fort Sumter via webcam, click on "Home" in the navigation at the top of this page.


1860 drawing before the attack on Fort Sumter

1860 Fort Sumter

Diagram shows cut away of Fort Sumter pre-American civil war

Circa 1861. Artist Rendering of Fort Sumter

Picture of Fort Sumter from Harper's Weekly

Jan 26,1861. "Fort Sumter, Seen from the Rear, at Low Water." Harper's Weekly.

Civil war soldiers and guns inside Fort Sumter before the Civil War

Feb 16, 1861 .  Detail from drawing titled "A Ten-Inch Columbiad Mounted as a Mortar at Fort Sumter." Appearing in the Harper's Weekly.

Like the view from our webcam, Charleston residents watch the attack on Fort Sumter

April 12, 1861.  This scene depicts Charlestonians watching the bombing of Fort Sumter from downtown Charleston rooftops.

Civil War Battle at Fort Sumter

April 12-13,1861 Fort Sumter

Civil War Photo of Fort Sumter During Confederate Control

April 14, 1861. Photograph of  Fort Sumter, S.C., flying the Confederate flag.

Post Civil War photo at Fort Sumter of federal soldiers in uniform with flags

April 14,1865. Photograph taken from a Fort Sumter parapet during a formal Federal squadron ceremony with flags, honoring Major Robert Anderson's surrender of 1861.

Historic document from 1891 commemorates Fort Sumter

1891.  Drawing of Fort Sumter as it appeared on a certificate created for Berkeley Canning & Manufacturing Company  printed by E. W. Perry & Company.

Fort Sumter color picture photo from early 1900s

Early 1900s. Fort Sumter featured on penny post card.

Picture of Fort Sumter in 1950, just after becoming a National Historic Monument

1950 Fort Sumter

Civil War Monument Fort Sumter areal view

1999 - 2001 Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter view from the Charleston Harbor

2005 Fort Sumter