ImageThe start of the American Civil War was the spark that lit a fuse that some would argue has never been truly extinguished to this day. The first, tentative shots fired by Confederate forces at the Union stronghold of Fort Sumter marked the start of the bloodiest conflagration on American soil to this day; one not finally ended until Robert E. Lee’s surrender almost exactly four years later at Appomattox, In April of 1865.

ImageFort Sumter was a massive, triangular shaped bastion that sat at the entrance to Charleston, one of the great beacons of the nascent Confederacy of Jefferson Davis. It’s Union garrison had to be turned out and, in the first days of the war, that is exactly what happened.

ImageThe fort was occupied by Confederate troops when it surrendered on the afternoon of April 14th, 1861. The Union forces had held out against a ferocious bombardment for three days and nights.

Incredibly, the only fatality had been a mule.

ImageNow it was the turn of the increasingly strong Union forces to blockade Charleston.  The main obstacle to their ambitions was, quite naturally, Fort Sumter. At this stage, it was a three story structure, jutting out into the river mouth like a boxer’s jaw.

ImageThe attempts to subdue the fort lasted almost until the end of the war; it is a story of epic, selfless courage and gallantry displayed by the fighting men of both sides. By the end of that ghastly conflict, only the lowest level was left more or less intact. It was never rebuilt back to its original specification.

ImageToday, Fort Sumter is a historical national park. I was lucky enough to be there on April 14th, 2011; almost a hundred and fifty years to the day after the first shots were fired here. The photos in this essay all date from then.

Silent cannon sit by stone ramparts, their faces still scarred and pitted by an avalanche of shell fire. The battlements where men fell and died by the score are now carpeted in lush, whispering grass that waves in the breeze like battle standards of old.

ImageThe curious and the reverent disembark from lethargic tourist boats that chug back and forth from the waterfront of Charleston itself. They troop dutifully along the ramparts and look to the land, just as Anderson and Beauregard did in their time. Here, where the past meets the present and the air is thick with silent screams and rallying cries, I wonder how much they really see…..

ImageIs it just another box to tick, another step on the tourist trail? Or do those stout, implacable walls, seared by decades of scorching summers, still echo with the voices of the past?

All I can say is that the experience moved me tremendously. Seeing is believing. All things considered, Fort Sumter is a pretty engrossing.


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