A Day Discovering James Island, SC | February 27, 2016
Fun fact: This was the only weekend we spent actually in the greater Charleston area in February. Now that Curtis is tied down to school, we are so glad we took so much time to travel, and now our weekends are focused on getting to know our area better!
We wanted to go for a longer walk and do some letterboxing, so we decided to visit James Island County Park. We found that the park is huge and has a lot of features to it – a dog park, splash pad, playgrounds, a campground, cabins, boat rentals, a giant rock climbing wall, archery range, and – what we came for – trails! We got a map of the area and made note of the areas where there were boxes, and thanks to the connecting trails, found a way to see the whole park and get 6 boxes while going for a 4 mile walk. The trails were all paved, so we couldn’t call this a hike by any means, but we had a great walk and got some exercise, and that’s what counts, right? There were a few nice points where we were on our own and strolling through wooded areas, but those never lasted long. That’s okay though – we found the boxes we came here for!
One interesting thing – as we were walking, we met a lady on the trail who was a basset lover, and she asked us what kind of basset hound Charlotte was. We were confused, and she told us there are different kinds – English bassets, Australian bassets…I did some research later and couldn’t find anything on this, so I’m still confused. It’d make a little sense if she was a different type than some bassets because she’s so petite and still kind of has a puppy face at 20 months. (If anyone is a basset expert and can shed some light on the subject, that’d be much appreciated!)
After our walk, we decided to continue driving on James Island, in search of the site of Fort Johnson. Of course, we’ve now visited Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter, and while there is not an actual preserved fort here like those, we wanted to find where the area actually was. We followed Fort Johnson Road all the way to the end, where it came to a gated area. It was some sort of research or college area – but the gate was open and there was no sign saying we couldn’t enter, so we continued driving past some buildings until we finally found something. All that was there was a small structure and a memorial. But that’s all we needed to see to know we found the location!
Why does this matter to us so much? Curtis will share the significance of Fort Johnson:
View of Fort Sumter and Sullivan’s Island from Fort Johnson
As some may remember, Fort Johnson was the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. From here, a signal mortar fired a shell on Fort Sumter at 4:30 am April 12, 1861. Following the capitulation of Fort Sumter, Fort Johnson remained manned by the Confederates for the duration of the war until early 1865 when it (and all the other harbor defenses) were abandoned as General Sherman approached.
Of additional interest is how the area (not necessarily Fort Sumter) played a role in the Revolutionary War. As some may remember from the Fort Moultrie article, the British made an attempt to take Charleston Harbor in 1776, but were repulsed by Colonel Moultrie’s fort on Sullivan’s Island. It wasn’t until 1778 that the British attempted anything in the South again.
At a stalemate with Washington in the Middle Colonies, the British ended 1778 by capturing Savannah, Beaufort, and a feeble attempt to take Charleston in 1779 by General Provost. Deciding that the South should be the main theatre of operations, General Clinton (the same General who participated in the attack in 1776), came down from Newport, RI in 1780 with a new strategy to take the port city.
Rather than trying to sail ships into the harbor, Clinton’s forces, along with Prevost’s from Savannah, would launch an overland campaign and lay siege to the peninsula. Clinton landed his forces near James Island and then used the island as the launching point for his siege. Crossing the Ashley river above Charleston.
The Colonials had decided to remain and defend the city, which was perhaps their downfall. Charleston, being on a peninsula with a very thin nek, was very easily sealed off. And after a few brief skirmishes (one at Monck’s Corner), the city was sealed from the mainland with little hope for outside intervention. Since their fortifications were rather inadequate (although you can see one section of it in Marion Park Downtown), General Lincoln surrendered the entire garrison of Charleston (some 5000 troops, the largest American Capitulation until 1862) to General Clinton.
Clinton then left for New York and left General Cornwallis to conduct operations in the south. And rest assured there were many. We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg.
After this, we went after one last letterbox at Sunrise park, but this one was missing. Instead, we enjoyed the views of Charleston from a distance, with signs pointing out what each of the buildings was on the horizon.
And that was it for the day – nothing too grand or exciting, but just enough to refresh us and open our minds to new places and experiences. As time-comsuming as Curtis’ school is, it’s really helped us appreciate and take advantage of any time we have to ourselves.
We are excited about having covered 3 out of 5 of the locations for Charleston’s primary Civil War defenses, but not quite sure about how to hit the last two – Castle Pinckney and Morris Island. Both of which are only accessible by boat and not maintained by the NPS or anyone offering tours. So yes, it’ll be rather difficult…but not impossible. 😉