I am embarrassed to say that I have never seen “before and after” photographs of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. Being a student of history, I have been learning about the Civil War for the majority of my life. Before I could read, I spent my afternoons in my grandfather’s den looking at large books chronicling the Civil War through photographs. This is the first war to be photographed. (My grandfather considered himself somewhat of a Civil War / President Lincoln expert. My father often talks about Thanksgivings spent in Gettysburg.) I would think that these books would show the “before” photographs of Fort Sumter, but given the reaction that I had to visiting Fort Sumter and looking at the photographs that are on display in the visitor’s center/museum at the fort, I really don’t think they were included in these books.
“Please pose for a picture,” said a rather enthusiastic young man. “Is this necessary,” I asked. “Well, no,” he said, “it’s just something fun to do.” “Nah. I’m good,” I said. “You’re going to charge me for it at the end of the tour.” I boarded the ferry that leaves three times a day (9:30 AM, 12:00 PM, and 2:30 PM) from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston, through Charleston Harbor to the island where Fort Sumter is built. While on the ferry, I listened to the narrated history of Charleston Harbor and other historical points of interest.
We had an hour to wander around the island; the fort, the visitor’s center/museum, and the gift shop. As per usual, I skip the tour; my ADD doesn’t have time for such things. I’m pretty unimpressed looking at the rubble and bare brick. It wasn’t until I reached the “before” photograph of the fort that I was impressed. I immediately thought, “Oh shit. The Confederates really destroyed this place.”
Fort Sumter, named after South Carolina Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Sumter, was one of a series of east coast forts built by the United States after the War of 1812. Even though construction started in 1829, the fort was about ninety percent finished by the time Maj. Robert Anderson and his men moved in at Christmas 1860. The fort was constructed with four sides, 170 to 190 feet long that could hold three tiers of guns, and five-foot-thick brick walls. It was designed to house 135 guns and 650 men. Four months before the confederate bombardment, the fort housed 15 mounted guns and 85 men. After defending the fort for 34 hours, Maj. Anderson and his men left for New York and the American flag that flew over the fort was replaced by the flag of the Palmetto Guard. Both of these flags are displayed in the fort visitor’s center/museum.
Visitors are left on the island for an hour. After 45 minutes of wondering around, I found myself sitting by the main gate thinking about a conversation I had the previous night at a local brewery with a gentleman from Nevada (I will call him Nevada from now on) who was in the area on a business trip. He mentioned he visited Fort Sumter and it took him 45 minutes walking around. It was his first day in the area and he was curious as to what else there was to do. If he rented a car, like I did, he would be able to drive to Magnolia Plantation, a restored plantation dating back to 1676, and Drayton Hall, a preserved plantation dating back to 1738. He could also drive the two hours or so down to Savannah, Georgia, like I did.
I explained to Nevada that on the way down to Savannah, I stopped at Fort Pulaski, which is another fort that was part of the series of forts used to protect the eastern coastline from foreign invaders. Very much still intact, except for some damage to the south and southeast walls, this fort is on Cockspur Island and surrounded by salt marsh. This fort was taken over by Confederate troops when Georgia seceded from the Union in January 1861. Confederate commander Col. Charles H. Olmstead surrendered the fort in February 1862 after a 30 hours bombardment by the Union troops. The defending Confederate troops were sent up to Governor’s Island in New York. Fort Pulaski remained under Federal control for the remainder of the war. It is here where one of the only known photographs of Union troops, Company G 48th New York State Volunteers to be exact, are playing the new national sport of baseball. Troops and prisoners played this game to pass the time between battles.
When I shared this information with Nevada, his face lit up. Another level of knowledge was brought to the table. Not only was the United States in the midst of a civil war over states’ rights, but we were in the midst of the creation of our national sport. Troops from the North, Southerners thought a game where grown men chase each other after hitting a ball was not appropriate, not only brought their guns and ammunition, they brought their bats and mitts. Nevada, was silent as I went on to explain how the Civil War basically helped spread baseball, which follows rules that originated in New York. “This is something you just don’t think about when learning about wars,” Nevada said. “I probably would have paid more attention during history class if the connection to baseball was made.”
For more pictures from The Adventures of Dana’s Hat: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjGLPThP
For more information on Fort Sumter: http://www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm
For information on Charleston, South Carolina: http://www.charlestoncvb.com/
For more information on Fort Pulaski: http://www.nps.gov/fopu/index.htm
For information on Savannah, Georgia: http://www.visitsavannah.com/