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Fort Sumter – A Personal Review

One of the big visits we planned on our 2023 Spring Break trip to Charleston, SC was to Patriot’s Point and the Fort Sumter National Historic Park. Our kids were very excited about the visit to an aircraft carrier, and the boat ride to Fort Sumter. 

An added bonus for my daughter, a friend of hers from her girl scout troop was in town and their family was planning to visit the same day, so she had a buddy to hang out with during the trip.

How to get to Fort Sumter

Google Map of Charleston Harbor and route to Fort Sumter

To visit Fort Sumter, you have to get boat tickets from Fort Sumter Tours. The boats leave from one of two locations as private boats are not permitted to the site and we are not strong swimmers (ha, ha). The first is at the main Visitor Center at Liberty Square within the city of Charleston, which is right next to the Aquarium.  

Man posing next to Fort Sumter National Monument Sign at Liberty Square
Visitor Center at Liberty Square

We selected the second location at Patriots Point, which is across the bay in Mt. Pleasant. The advantage here is we were able to couple the Fort Sumter tour with tickets to the USS Yorktown (CV-10) aircraft carrier, which was something my son was eager to see. 

We selected the early tour, so we had more flexibility with the Yorktown tour and were not rushed at lunch. While we ordered our tickets online, we arrived early enough that we could have bought them the day of our trip. Fort Sumter tours have a number of bundle tickets available (Carriage rides, etc.), so consider their offers on what you would like to do on your trip.

Boat ride!

We left our Airbnb fairly early from Charleston, and we arrived at Patriots point in plenty of time after the drive over the bridge on Rt 17. After waiting for some time and meeting up with our friends we loaded up on the ferry to Ft. Sumter.  

In a queue to boat the ferry boat to Fort Sumter National Historic Park
Queue for the Ferry to the Fort

The ride over was very pleasant and did not take very long.  The ferry takes you around the bow of the USS Yorktown, which was quite impressive, even for an old WWII vessel. We passed by Shutes Folly Island and Castle Pickney as well. 

This was named after Charles Pickney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who has his own NPS site. Read my article about Charles Pickney. It is apparently a privately owned island, so no tours, but it has its own unique history as well.

The Boat ride itself was nice and not choppy at all. There were concessions, bathrooms on board and plenty of seating. The views and breeze during the ride were welcomed on this hot day. I had a nice conversation with a gentleman from long island who was on a month’s long trek along the east coast.

We chatted about our plan to visit Yellowstone and his experiences as they were out in South Dakota just recently. It is always good to have a pleasant attitude as you just don’t know who you will meet along the way.

View of external Fort Sumter from water on sunny day
Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter external entrance Sign

Arriving at the Fort, people began positioning themselves to leave the ferry. There is plenty of time afforded to visit all the sites on the Fort, so you don’t have to rush. We were near the back of the line getting off and had no trouble seeing everything there was to see.

A Ranger provided a great overview of the fort in the main courtyard. Getting a position by the wall of Battery Huger in the shade was nice, as it was sunny and hot!

Inside Fort Sumter, a profile picture of a 15" Rodman Cannon with Park ranger in the background speaking to a crowd.
15″ Rodman Cannon

When you first enter the fort, you can’t help but notice Battery Huger, a large concrete structure built in the middle of the parade ground during the Spanish-American war in 1899. This is where the museum, bathrooms and bookstore are located.

There is a small bookstore on the second level, and yes, it is small. If more than ten people are in the store, you will begin making close friends fast. One nice thing about the bookstore is the air conditioning, so if you are getting a little warm you know where you can go. The stamping location is in here and was well provisioned.

Stamping location at the Fort Sumter bookstore
Fort Sumter Stamping Station
Interior of the bookstore at Fort Sumter National Historic Park
Fort Sumter Bookstore

There are some interesting stories to be heard during the visit and I would encourage you to spend time exploring the fort in depth. The fort today bears only a small resemblance to what it looked like in 1861. Originally three stories tall, it was beaten down by the Union during the years of Confederate occupation.

We found cannon shells still embedded in the brickwork or the fort, unique original cannons, and fingerprints! Yes, you can actually see the fingerprints in a brick made by a slave during the Fort’s construction. A sad observation is that based on the size of the fingerprints, it was probable from a child.

100 pounder parrot gun on the right face of the Fort Sumter
Parrot Gun

USS Yorktown and Patriots Point

The ride back to Patriots Point was just as pleasant and while it is a bit of a cattle call getting on and off the ferry, it really was just fine. Our next stop after the tour of Fort Sumter, was checking out the USS Yorktown (CV-10)! This was eagerly anticipated by son, and we had a really good time exploring the ship.

I think he liked sitting in the captain’s chair the most. There are four main tour routes to view different things on the ship, from the flight deck & bridge to the wardroom, catapult room and Brig. Make sure to leave enough time to soak it all in!

Along with the Aircraft Carrier you can also tour the Destroyer USS Laffey as well. This ship not only took part in the Normandy invasion, but subsequently was deployed out to the Pacific as well.

They have a really immersive experience in Gun Mount 53. You can crawl inside the Gun mount and hear the story of what happened on the ship and in the gun mount on April 16, 1945, when it was on picket duty off Okinawa.

Your ticket should also allow you to walk through the Vietnam experience, which was quite immersive. I was getting flashbacks to all the M*A*S*H episodes I watched as a kid. Yes, I know. Wrong war, but it reminded me of it.

Along with the helicopters and artillery, they also set up an army base with a sick bay, guard tower and mess hall. For added flare, they broadcasted sounds of Helicopter rotors and artillery.

Liberty Square Visitor Center

The next day we set out to Liberty Square to see the Visitor Center. Getting around the city is fairly easy as it is flat and navigating the streets is not challenging. You can also use the free downtown bus system that is a big win for tired feet! Liberty Square holds a park and the South Carolina Aquarium, as well as the Visitor Center.

This location has a very nice Visitor Center for the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park. It holds the original garrison flag that was flown over Fort Sumter during the siege as well as a large reproduction. To no surprise, the exhibits run through the run up to the Civil War and the politics during that time.

As you work though the exhibits, you will find the bookstore (and stamps) next the back of the building. Additionally, this is also where you would go to wait for the ferry that leaves for the Fort from this location.

Thanks for visiting! We will finish our visit to Charleston when will go into detail for our visit to Fort Moultrie.

NPS Stamp for Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie

Unit: Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie NHP

Path to 429#: 65

Region: Southeast

Month/Year: Apr 2023

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