Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor
The April 1861 bombardment and surrender of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor (map)—pictured in 1863—had transformed the fort into a household name and a patriotic symbol for both sides in the U.S. Civil War.
For well over a year after the Confederates had taken control of the fort as well as the rest of Charleston, South Carolina, and its defenses saw little of the Northern enemy, other than the distant masts of the federal blockading fleet that lay in wait off the coast. (Read "Civil War Battlefields" in National Geographic magazine.)
But the 1861 battle would prove to be only the first chapter in Fort Sumter’s trial by fire. Along with the rest of the Confederate-held Charleston defenses, the fort became a major target of Union forces attempting to seal off the Atlantic coastline.
After a series of minor attacks in 1862, the full force of federal naval and ground forces were thrown against Fort Sumter in the spring of 1863. Over the next 20 months, the Confederates put up a stubborn defense, which inflicted heavy casualties on Union attackers, while giving up only the most exposed positions.
In the end, Charleston fell only when the last phase of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's famous "March to the Sea" cut the city off from the rest of the dying Confederacy.
Federal forces began moving into the now defenseless city in February 1865 and took possession of Fort Sumter without a fight on February 22.
After all the blood that had been shed to take the fort by force, some came to question the whole Union strategy that had driven the preceding campaigns. In the end, however, there was mostly great relief that no more had to die.
With the fort so badly battered, there was little the occupiers could do with the great pile of rubble that was once Fort Sumter. Still, its capture had great symbolic power, and within weeks Northern photographers flocked to Charleston to capture scenes of the prize.
On April 14, 1865, Union general Robert Anderson, who had commanded the fort during the 1861 attack, returned for a ceremony in which Fort Sumter's original U.S. flag was raised once more over the stronghold. During the fireworks held that evening to close the celebration, word came that President Lincoln had been shot.
The hand-drawn depiction of Charleston Harbor above was created by an unknown soldier early in the opening phase of the federal offensive in the spring of 1863. The view looks north across the mouth of the harbor from a position down the coast on Morris Island (map). The lonely but dominant presence of Fort Sumter looms prominently in the middle distance.
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