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Where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
On December 20, 1860, after decades of sectional conflict, the people of South Carolina responded to the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, by voting unanimously in convention to secede from the Union. Within six weeks five other States -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana -- followed South Carolina's example. Early in February 1861 they met in Montgomery, Ala., adopted a constitution, set up a provisional government -- the Confederate States of America -- and elected Jefferson Davis their president. By March 2, when Texas officially joined the Confederacy, nearly all of the Federal forts and navy yards in the seven States had been seized by the new government. Fort Sumter was one of the few that remained in Federal hands.
With Fort Sumter in Confederate hands, the port of Charleston became an irritating loophole in the Federal naval blockade of the Atlantic coast. In two months of 1863, 21 Confederate vessels cleared Charleston Harbor and 15 entered. Into Charleston came needed war supplies; out went cotton in payment. To close the port -- and also capture the city -- it was necesary first to seize Fort Sumter, now repaired and armed with some 95 guns. After an earlier Army attempt had failed on James Island, the job fell to the U.S Navy, and Rear Adm. Samuel F. Du Pont was ordered to take the fort.
When the Civil War ended, Fort Sumter presented a very desolate appearance. Only on the left flank, left face and right face could any of the original scarp wall be seen. The right flank wall and the gorge wall, which had taken the brunt of the federal bombardments were now irregular mounds of earth, sand and debris forming steep slopes down to the water's edge. The fort bore little resemblance to the impressive work that had stood there at the time of the Confederate bombardment in 1861.
For those who wish to inspect the fort at their own pace, this text, keyed to the diagram below, describes a short tour of both ruins and exhibits. By comparing the diagram and the painting of the fort as it appeared of the eve of the Civil War, you will gain a better understanding of how the Fort Sumter you see today compares to the Fort Sumter of 1861.