This post brought to you by Curtis!
I realized the other day in a conversation with my wife that in all my posts and history about the various forts that we have been to I have been referencing a trip we did to Fort Moultrie, but we have yet to post an article about it! So I am here now to rectify that.
Fort Moultrie is the “other half” of Fort Sumter National Monument, and (along with Fort Sumter itself) was part of our bucket list for Charleston. So when we had a weekend that we didn’t have plans for (January 30, to be exact), we decided to venture out just the two of us and tour the fort. (Dogs are not allowed in the fort, so we left Charlotte at home for the day).
Fort Moultrie itself is located on Sullivan’s Island, one of the barrier islands on the North side of Charleston Harbor with the Fort strategically facing into the harbor. It takes some time to get out there from where we are located and it’s always hard to keep track of all the rivers that we must cross. All the rivers remind me of how we would drive to get around the mountain ranges in Arizona.
When we got to the fort we both were able to go to the visitor center. Something that normally doesn’t happen. Normally, Jess waits outside while I go in to get information, read as many things as quickly as possible, and get our passport stamps (the most important part according to Jess). But without Charlie, we were both able to go in, read ALL the informational signs, watch the 30 minute video, get a view from the roof, converse with the ranger, and get our passport stamps.
All that out of the way, we crossed the street and entered the fort.
It is important to note that, as far as I can remember, this was my FIRST fort tour (or at least first fort on the east coast, the forts we saw in Arizona all tended to be…very much in ruins. For example, Fort Bowie.) So the extensiveness of how much has been preserved really blew me away, hence probably why I am perpetually referring back to it.
The other reason why I keep using Fort Moultrie as a reference is because it simply has been around for SUCH a long time and has seen most every major coastal fort eras of the United States.
The history, and the most famous part of Fort Moultrie, begins with the American Revolution. (I happen to be reading a book on the American Revolution currently so pardon me if I’m a bit more detailed than usual). 1775 saw the outbreak of war with the colonies and Britain, but fighting was largely confined to New England and Canada, especially Boston. But Spring 1776 saw General Howe ready to (finally) strike back. While he attempted to disengage himself from Boston and move on New York, General Clinton was sent with 2500 soldiers and the fleet of Admiral Peter Parker (who later became Spider Man) to try and raise a loyalist army in the Carolinas. Unable to maintain Cape Fear as a base of operations, they moved South to try Charleston Harbor.
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary government in Charleston was busy making plans to defend against this inevitable attack. Colonel William Moultrie was placed in charge of building defenses. Moultrie then selected Sullivan’s Island as a suitable location for a defense of the harbor. This is because ships entering the harbor had to come in from the South straight towards the tip of Sullivan’s Island (and Fort Moultrie) before tacking east into the harbor.
With very little time before the British came, Moultrie set about building a his fort (then called Fort Sullivan) with what materials were available. Palm trees and sand. General Lee (different one) believed the fort to be a “slaughter pen” and recommended it be abandoned. But Moultrie dragged his feet until it was too late. Clinton’s force was landed North of Sullivan’s Island on the Isle of Palms and Parker’s fleet approached from the South, confident the could destroy the incomplete Fort.
On June 28, the ships began to open fire upon the little fort. But owing to the sponginess of the palmetto and sand, the cannon balls had little effect. The American gunners on the other hand were most effective, concentrating their scant resources on damaging the main ships in the fleet. Matters worsened for the British when it became clear that Clinton and his men would be unable to cross to the North end of the Island. Unable to inflict any form of damage, the fleet and army retreated under the cover of darkness. (Clinton would return in 1780 and capture Charleston with an overland campaign). Moultrie was labeled a hero and the Fort was renamed in his honor.
However, because the Fort was basically a glorified sand castle, it was soon washed away and nothing remained of it.
In the late 1790’s another fort was built upon the site of the original as part of the First System of Forts in response to the XYZ affair with France. This Fort (known as Fort Moultrie II) was also destroyed by natural forces.
The Fort Moultrie that stands today (Fort Moultrie III) was part of the Second system of Forts built during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. This Fort would then be modified over the next 150 years to meet the changes of an evolving military.
First up was the Third System of Forts which mostly just updated the cannon. More importantly, Fort Sumter was built during this period, as was Fort Pulaski.
During the Civil War, Moultrie joined her sister Forts in firing upon Fort Sumter in what became the beginning of the Civil War and then later was bombarded substantially by the Federals, but saw little action otherwise.
Following the Spanish American War, Moultrie saw her greatest upgrade in almost 100 years with the Endicott System of Forts. Like Fort Fremont, this system of forts introduced hiding guns, rifled artillery, submarine mines, and the like of modern army. On Sullivan Island, at least 4 or 5 of these new batteries were built to defend the harbor. And had anything happened during the First World War , they would’ve been ready.
But by the Second World War, the Fort was almost obsolete. It had a brief period during the war as a harbor authority, monitoring all ship actions in and out of the harbor. But as it became evident that amphibious assaults could be performed near anywhere, the use of a stationary coastal defense became obsolete, and the fort was mothballed before being picked up by the NPS in the 60’s.
Today, the park is designed very much like I’ve described it. A time machine if you will. You can begin at the height of World War II and see the underground bunkers that were used by the harbor authority, walk on the black concrete of the Endicott system, and go all the way back to smooth bore cannon and brick masonry.
Having never toured a Fort before, I was amazed at how much they allow you to walk around. Walk through the underground rooms. Walk on the parapet. What’s more, it taught me a lot concerning the evolution of the United States’ coastal defense. So much so, that for almost all the Forts we have visited since, I invariably relate them back to the certain stages in Moultrie’s growth.
I love history and hope that you as the readers enjoy it just as much. If you want to see more pictures from the fort, visit savingtimeinabottleimages.tumblr.com.
Note from Jess – I can’t believe he forgot to mention that after we toured the fort, we went out and walked along the beach just beside the fort and saw DOLPHINS!! 😀