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What is Fort Sumter?

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  • Written By: Jason C. Chavis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2016
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The site of the first shots in the American Civil War, Fort Sumter is a coastal military post positioned in the Atlantic harbor of Charleston, South Carolina in the United States. It was constructed during the wave of fortification building known as the Third System that took place after the conclusion of the War of 1812. Fort Sumter combined the period's best techniques for military bases: the Montalembert system of heavy cannons placed within thick walls overseeing numerous low-lying masonry walls used in the Vauban system. The fortress is best known for the Battle of Fort Sumter, which took place over two days beginning on 12 April 1861. As one of the most famous American Civil War forts, it still stands today as a museum and historic site.

Construction on the fort began in 1827 and continued for decades. Building upon the sand bar near the entrance of the harbor, designers chose to manufacture the fortification as a five-sided garrison made from granite. Due to the heavy-duty aspects of the edifice, the process was very slow. By the time the conflict between the North and South began, the fort was still unfinished.

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Fort Sumter, occupied by Union troops, became a target for the South Carolina militia shortly after secession in late 1860. The North attempted to deliver additional troops and supplies on 9 January 1861, but the delivery was repulsed by South Carolina forces. Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard then repeatedly ordered the surrender of the garrison over the next few months. On the morning of 12 April 1861, Confederate guns began to open fire, beginning the First Battle of Fort Sumter. The batteries continued the assault for 34 hours before the US troops surrendered with no casualties on either side.

The South held the fort with no challenges for the next two years. On 7 April 1863, however, the Union launched an attempt at reclaiming the fortress in a conflict that became known as the Second Battle of Fort Sumter. Union forces established a blockade of Charleston harbor and proceeded to bombard the fort with guns from Morris Island. Eventually, the North launched a landing party which was repulsed by the garrison. The siege lasted for two years before the fort was surrendered in the waning days of the war.

Following the American Civil War, the ruins of the fortress were rebuilt for use by the US Army. In 1876, it was recommissioned as a lighthouse. It was briefly used again as a military installation during the Spanish-American War and both World Wars. Fort Sumter was eventually established as a national monument in 1948.

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