Day 2 of our family winter vacation was about Fort Sumter and digging a bit deeper into the causes of the Civil War.
As many of you remember, it was at Fort Sumter in April 1861 that the first shot of the Civil War was fired (or so we all thought—more on that later).
As is the case with most National Parks, in my experience at least, the rangers are extremely knowledgeable and really enrich the visit. This one was no exception and, in particular, they did a fantastic job of engaging the kids…there are now National Park trading cards for them to collect at locations all over the country.
Sumter was a man-made island, placed strategically in the middle of the entrance to Charleston harbor, designed to protect the city and the port from would-be foreign invaders such as British, French, etc. However, after South Carolina became the first state to secede in December 1860, it became an irritating reminder of the Federal presence on South Carolina soil.
The stand-off ensued after South Carolina demanded that the Federal garrison be removed. The Feds refusal prompted a siege and while supplies were running low, Lincoln sent a supply ship in January to help the troops. The “Star of the West” arrived in Charleston in early January, 1861, but never made it to the Fort because it was fired upon by cadets from the Citadel (which we found out later) and had to turn back.
The bombardment lasted for 36 hours and remarkably, there were no casualties…until the time shen Anderson agreed to surrender and, because his troops had fought so valiantly, they were given the right to fire a 100 gun salute. After the 43rd shot, a Private Downey was killed when his cannon shot prematurely.
His was the first of the 750,000 fatalities of the war.
The 30 minute boat ride to and from was relaxing and we had the bonus of seeing some dolphins in the harbor as well.
Needless to say, the kids loved the boat ride probably more than the Ranger talk, but they definitely got something out of it…and we had a chance to show them, on the following day, how different perspectives impact a view.
So, on Day 3, 2e visited the Citadel, aka the Military College of South Carolina, which was established before the Civil War and while I didn’t re-enact the Lords of Discipline for them, we did get a chance to walk the grounds.
As we did, we came upon a stone monument that celebrates the “Best Drilled Cadet” of each class, listing his name and year. (It was all men. You may recall that it wasn’t until 1996 that the Citadel became co-ed. Now, 7% of the class are women. Interestingly enough, the top TWO graduates in 2012 were women- a first.)
What was fascinating was that the award for the best cadet is called the “Star of the West,” after the Union ship that attempted to resupply Fort Sumter, but not for that reason.
It is because, as the inscription says (click on photo to enlarge it), it was on Jan. 9, 1861 that the first shot in the “War Between the States” was fired when Citadel cadets and the monument was erected to commemorate this “great event in American history” when the defense of the South became real and for those who have fought and died with honor in defense of their ideals.
The tall statue in one of the main squares downtown is to John Calhoun…who had a wealth of experience in government, including most notably being Vice President—all before 1850.
Still, what Charleston has, besides history, is charm…a ton of it. It is mega-relaxing with a ton of waterways, kind people, and some absolutely stunning architecture and views.