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Summer Day Trip: Fort Sumter

The Fort Sumter Visitor Center at Liberty Square in Charleston
The Fort Sumter Visitor Center at Liberty Square in Charleston
photo by author

During this summer travel season of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, one might think it would be appropriate to visit the place where it all started: Fort Sumter.

Unlike most battlefield sites, which are on land, Fort Sumter National Monument is on an island in Charleston Harbor and is accessible only by ferry or private boat. Therefore, the logistics require a little more planning.

The National Park Service has built a Visitor Center at Liberty Square in downtown Charleston. This doubles as the ferry terminal. The center contains several good exhibits on the roots of the conflict. The exhibits were put together by the Charleston Museum. For those using GPS, the address of the center is 340 Concord St, Charleston, SC. There is a parking garage next door.

The ferry to Fort Sumter takes about 30 minutes. The fare for adults is $17, click here for further details on fares and scheduling and to order tickets online. Note that the ferry is NOT operated by the National Park Service but a private concessioner. On board, you will find a snack bar with hot dogs, drinks, etc. There is limited open-air seating on the top deck (if you can get a seat) and enclosed seating in the snack bar. On the way to the Fort, there is a recorded soundtrack outlining how the war started and the importance of Fort Sumter. Ferries leave Liberty Square at 9:30 A.M., 12:00 P.M. and 2:30 P.M.Ferries are also available from Patriot’s Point in Mt. Pleasant.

Once you arrive at the Fort, you have an hour to explore. Shortly after arrival, there was an introductory talk by an intern with the Student Conservation Association. I found this to be informative and a good scene setter and would recommend it. After the talk, you are free to wander the fort.

In Battery Huger, an addition that was constructed during the Spanish-American War, you will find a small museum and bookstore as well as rest rooms. Most items in the bookstore can also be obtained in the Liberty Square bookstore. Save the lugging and get your souvenirs at Liberty Square AFTER your trip to the Fort!

The return trip to Charleston takes about 30 minutes and a recorded soundtrack points out several landmarks such as Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney and Fort Johnson. All in all, a trip to Fort Sumter takes a little over 2 hours and is well worth the effort to see where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. From Columbia, Liberty Square is a little over 2 hours.

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