Posts Tagged ‘South Carolina’

What better way to spend it than reading about the site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson?

Who doesn’t love Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men?


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Entering the PrimevalEnvironmental advocates can sometimes be heard to say “Make Earth Day everyday”. Well, we are going to heed their call and continue highlighting National Park areas that examine the glories of conservation, preservation, and sustainability. Today we move across the country from California’s Muir Woods to another park that boasts oversized trees: South Carolina’s Congaree National Park.

Congaree NP is home to North America’s largest, at 22,000 acres, intact floodplain forest. What that means is a great diversity of tall trees, a swamp-like feel, lots of birds and even more mosquitoes.

In the late 19th century, there were 52 million acres of old-growth floodplain forests in the southeastern United States. In just 50 years, logging companies harvested nearly all of these forests. Today, Congaree NP’s 11,000 acres of old-growth floodplain forest make it the largest example of this ecosystem in North America. The second largest old-growth floodplain forest totals just 2,000 acres.

Congaree NP’s excessively wet climate initially protected it from logging interests but in the 1950’s, conservationist Harry Hampton launched a passionate campaign to save this precious example of the earth’s natural past. A bitter fight between conservationist and loggers ensued, ending when the Congress set aside the land as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. Congaree NP became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983.

Click Here to Read More about Congaree National Park.

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Not a SwampEvery ten years or so Michael’s family has a reunion. All the descendants of his great grandmother (mother’s side) gather somewhere in the greater Reading, Pennsylvania area. Last weekend was that weekend and a good time was had by all, especially we caught up with the many people we hadn’t seen since – well – we were traveling across the country on a two year trip.

In honor of our family reunion http://www.usa-c2c.com is looking at Park Sites that recognize great families. On Monday we highlighted America’s most accomplished and distinguished family: the Adamses. On Wednesday we began our look at the family Cupressaceae.

Um, who is in the Cupressaceae family? War of 1812 admirals? French-Canadian voyageurs? Winter Olympics heroes? Poets? None of the above. The Cupressaceae family is also known as the cypress family and includes two distinctly American flora: the towering sequoia and the redwood trees, the tallest living things on earth.

Family reunion attendees learn many things. 1) There’s more than one branch to every family reunion tree; 2) Sometimes attendees come from all over the country; including some you might never have even seen; 3) Often these separate branches know each other very well; 4) Sometimes these other branches share a resemblance to your side and sometimes they don’t; and 5) Every branch deserves its fair share of the spotlight.

As you might have guessed the Sequoia line is only one part of the Cupressaceae family. They have a slightly shorter but much more prolific set of relations: the Cupressus branch or the Cypress branch. Unlike the Sequoia branch who has isolated themselves in California (and who can blame them) the Cypress branch has scattered themselves all over the world. While its dainty members can be seen in decorative parks and house gardens don’t be fooled. The Cypress line is strong and sturdy, and well adapted to both fire and water.

One of it’s famous family members is the knobby kneed bald cypress, seen throughout the American southeast and often draped in elegant Spanish moss. The bald cypress is a park highlight from Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve to Texas’ Big Thicket National Preserve. But we especially enjoyed the boardwalk system of Congaree National Park which allowed us to get up close and personal with their watery habitat.

Congaree’s other trees don’t reach the heights of redwoods and sequoias but they are some of the tallest specimens east of the Mississippi. So maybe, while at the Cupressaceae reunion, Congaree’s bald cypresses won’t feel as intimidated by their tall California cousins as Florida’s bald cypresses might.

Click Here to Read More about Congaree National Park.

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Blacksburg, S.C.
Visited: October 24, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 268 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Along the TrailWHAT IS IT?
Site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Kings Mountain NMP stands at the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountain Range just a few miles south of the N.C.-S.C. border. It is all downhill from here to the Atlantic Ocean. The Battlefield Trail dips and dives along a paved pathway through the woods and ends along a ridgeline. Still, do not expect wide vistas of the surrounding countryside, the forest is just too dense.

Most of the battlefield’s monuments are small, old, unobtrusive and even tucked away off the path. The Trail feels more like a peaceful walk in the woods than a journey through history. You must walk the Trail to see the battlefield; there is no driving tour.

By 1780, the primary military theater of the Revolutionary War had shifted from the mid-Atlantic States to the Carolinas. General Cornwallis believed there were enough Loyalist sympathizers, or at the very least pragmatic frontiersmen in the South. He could easily sway these lackadaisical patriots to his side with the hopes of being on the surefire winning team.

The Loyalist’s successful rout of Horatio Gates’ forces at Camden, S.C. in August, 1780 proved the sagacity of the tactic. By September, the British forces had successfully raised a Loyalist army. The Patriots had had trouble getting enlistees post-Camden, with most Carolinians either joining the Brits or sitting on the fence. It was then that the haughty Major Ferguson unnecessarily opened his big mouth and addressed the heretofore-sleeping giant, the Appalachian Mountain Man.

Ferguson announced, “He would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country to waste with fire and sword.” By most accounts, the “Overmountain Boys” had not cared about the War… until that point. Swiftly they marched over the rugged Appalachians ready to find this bold Briton.

Death of a Haughty BritonHe was not that hard to find. Ferguson always rode into battle with his trademark red-checkered shirt. His two mistresses rode with him as well. Those three were the only Britons at Kings Mountain. When Cornwallis heard the mountain men were coming, he told Ferguson he was on his own. The forthcoming fight was fought entirely by Americans, Loyalist Carolinians versus newly formed Patriots from Appalachia.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was over almost as soon as it began. In less than an hour, nearly all of Ferguson’s troops were dead. Ferguson died spectacularly, foot in stirrup, horse dragging him until the end. He is buried at Kings Mountain, next to his one mistress who felt the wrath of Appalachia. His second mistress was one of the few that eluded the Mountainman bullets.

The Overmountain Boys’ victory swayed the Carolinas’ allegiance toward the Patriot side. The success of Cornwallis’ Southern strategy was now doubtful. The tide of the Revolutionary War turned at Kings Mountain and in one year’s time, Cornwallis would surrender his army at Yorktown.

CROWDS (7/10)
We experienced a swath of schoolchildren, a few historical tourists and some locals enjoying the paved mountain trail and the crisp high-country air.

The Visitor Center is about three miles south of Interstate 85, Exit 2 via South Carolina Route 216 a/k/a Battleground Drive. Charlotte, N.C. is 40 miles to the east.

A paved 1½-mile battlefield trail circles Kings Mountain. The sometimes steep walk roller coasters through the depths of dense forest scenery ending along the ridge of the Patriot assault.

We loved the huge selection of Revolutionary War books, glassware, old photographs and assorted living history knickknacks. So did the class of Charlotte-area middle-schoolers, all of whom were eagerly spending their allowance money.

COSTS (4/5)
Entry is free.

More Rangers would have been nice, but we got nearly an hour’s worth of questions answered by a terrific volunteer.

The Park’s new History Channel-produced film is high on drama, rippling with stunning costumes and full of historic holes. The film gets you excited about the battle but then confuses you with disjointed facts and implausible explanations.

Here is one of many examples. The question: how could Ferguson, a rifle designer and skilled sharpshooter, lose a battle so quickly when his troops held pre-fight control of the high ground? The film’s answer: because his troops forgot to adjust their aim angle and shot over the charging soldiers’ heads. Are we idiots?

The film extracted a lengthy list of questions, all of which were ably answered by a volunteer Ranger. He too was dismayed at the film’s incredulous superficiality (our words, not his). His answer for Ferguson’s quick loss was that the Major was so arrogant that he failed to dig trenches and earthworks. As a result, his men were easily overpowered. The 1.5-mile historical trail proves his hypothesis; there is a shocking dearth of earthworks in this highly protected and isolated wilderness.

Gab Inside Hollowed Out Museum TreeThe new Museum similarly emphasizes flash over substance. Sure, the exhibits are all self-contained in reproduced plastic tree trunks and there are lots of flat-screen TV’s. Birds chirp and drums roll on a looped overhead audio track. What exactly do these things tell us about the Battle of Kings Mountain? Not much, but they sure would seem interesting to a busload full of middle school kids.

FUN (7/10)
Great story, agreeable outcome, pleasant walk, obliging Rangers, unique museum and stellar historical villain = fun time.

Kings Mountain NMP makes for a terrific, off-the-beaten-path day trip destination from Charlotte or Asheville, NC, especially since the park is less than three miles south of Interstate 85. The Site’s museum and film are definitely entertaining for all ages. The 1.5-mile trail is a satisfying distance for the day-tripper (not too long, not too short) and challenging enough to make you think you have done some exercising. If your good-feeling patriotism is not stirred by the events at Kings Mountain then it never will be.

TOTAL 55/80

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near Greenwood, S.C.
Visited: October 23, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 267 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Kosciuszko’s PrideWHAT IS IT?
Site of, on November 19, 1775, the first major land-based Revolutionary War battle south of New England as well as, in June of 1781, the War’s longest siege.

BEAUTY (6/10)
It would be difficult to imagine a more pleasant historical stroll than Ninety Six NHS’s Walking Tour. The walk begins in the shadow of towering pine trees, twisting its way before it makes a sharp left at the historic Island Ford Road. It is easy to imagine horseback riders and elegant coaches traipsing along this shaded thoroughfare.

Once you cross the road, a wide, treeless expanse become apparent. This is the siege ground, an undulating series of earthworks, gentle S-curves, manicured bright green grass and perfect blue skies. A helpful observation tower allows for a bird’s-eye view of the terrain; it looks more like a golf course than a battleground.

The walk passes the ruins of the British Star Fort, the siege’s target, before leading past the reconstructed remnants of the Town of Ninety Six, a Stockade Fort and the Black Swan Tavern. Ninety Six NHS is one of those subtle places that remind you of how gorgeous the day is without overwhelming you with beauty.

Ninety Six NHS is among the least significant of all the NPS Revolutionary War sites. The Loyalists successfully repelled the Patriots June 1781 but abandoned the Site less than a month later. Nevertheless, the Ninety Six siege saw military action from the incomparable engineer (and our favorite Revolutionary War Hero) Thaddeus Kosciuszko.

The dashing Pole designed the earthworks as well as underground mine shaft whose purpose was to lead under the Loyalist Star Fort and facilitate an underground Patriot bomb (a la The Battle of the Crater). The tunnel never worked but its bold path remains.

One of Michael’s Favorite ThingsCROWDS (7/10)
A motley mish mash of South Carolinians accompanied us on our leisurely walk. The lovely Sunday afternoon and the mildly interesting historical tale charmed us all. As we were leaving the Site, a large family was setting up a post-church outdoor barbeque at the Park’s picnic tables. Ninety Six NHS feels loved and enjoyed by its rural neighbors primarily as a superb public place and secondly as a place where light skirmish occurred over 200 years ago.

Ninety Six NHS, like Arkansas Post N MEM and Moores Creek NHS, commemorates a place that once was an important town but has since drifted in rural obscurity. There is zero chance that you could mistakenly find yourself in Ninety Six, S.C., one of two U.S. towns that are a number. The other is Eighty Four, Pa., birthplace of Gab’s dad.

If you want to visit Ninety Six NHS, carefully consult your road atlas. The closest sizable town is Greenwood, about nine miles to the west. Columbia is about 80 miles to the southeast; Greenville is 70 miles to the northeast. A spider web of two-lane roads weaves in and out of the Park’s vicinity.

The Resulting PhotoCONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Most of what is sold here looks site specific. Where else could you find five books (pamphlets is more like it) dedicated to the Siege of Fort Ninety Six? The similar looking series that includes A Backcountry Herbal, The Backcountry Housewife and Old Timey Recipes we are guessing won’t be found at Barnes and Noble.

But, without doubt, the best Ninety Six-only items on sale are the $5 reprints of the pen and ink sketches that hang in the Visitor Center and honor the Siege’s heroes and villains. We might have to order the portrait of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the War’s handsomest man.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is 100% free.

One Ranger was ready to answer all of our Ninety Six-related questions but we did not have any. The Walking Tour is completely self-guided; living history performers and guided tours occur only a few times a year and on special occasions.

Three short sentences on the Site’s webpage summarize what one can do here: View the 10-minute interpretive video. Explore the museum and exhibits. Walk the one mile interpretive trail. Said activities will take about one hour to complete, and that’s just about enough time to learn all there is to know about Ninety Six.

We came to Ninety Six with the very vague idea that a Revolutionary War battle took place here. We found out about the later siege and our favorite Pole’s starring role as we watched the movie, went to the museum and took our recommended walk.

The best part about the walk is the interpretive panels which line the path and illustrate the actions of both Revolutionary events. They are really good! Although judging from the father and son in front of us who took turns reading the panels aloud, a phonetic spelling of Kosciuszko (koh-ZHOOS-koh) might have been helpful.

Historic RoadFUN (7/10)
Perhaps we were blessed with unusually sunny and warm weather; perhaps we could have been anywhere in South Carolina and we would have been happy. Or perhaps we just love learning more about a handsome Polish hero and his “Revolutionary” feats of engineering (sorry). We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Ninety Six, and it seemed like every other visitor did too.

We aren’t sure how or why the rest of the Site’s guests found their way to the Star Fort, but there was an air of intellectual curiosity that was contagious. No one among us looked like Revolutionary War buffs or scholars, but we all took turns stopping at each wayside exhibit and pausing at vantage points to try and understand the logic behind placing a fort with no natural water supply 100 meters away from an easily besieged town. So close, yet so far away.

We had a terrific time but Ninety Six is out-of-the-way, like going to Mars out-of-the-way. If the destination encapsulated a significant historic event or was a regional capital, a recommendation would be easier. Instead, Ninety Six was a generic frontier trading post where an anticlimactic, slightly important siege occurred.

That being said, we had a nice day, the grounds were pristine and the earthworks were among the best-preserved and best looking we have seen. If Gab never sees another earthwork, Michael is sure she will be content.

TOTAL 48/80

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Richland County, S.C.
Visited: October 21, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 266 of 353
NPS Website

Entering the PrimevalWHAT IS IT?

Home to North America’s largest, at 22,000 acres, intact floodplain forest. What that means is a great diversity of tall trees, a swamp-like feel, lots of birds and even more mosquitoes.

BEAUTY (6/10)

Trees of all types tower above and a life-providing musty stench fills the air even in the dry, cool season. Woodpeckers hammer away above and numerous wood warblers appear to the patient eye. Bald cypress trees are everywhere. Their familiar knees sprout up amid the recessed plains and meandering streams.

Still, Congaree NP’s beauty takes some convincing. The trees are some of the tallest east of the Mississippi but they do not feel overwhelming, perhaps because of the vast undergrowth and multiple canopy levels. Why did loggers destroy this precious natural ecosystem with such revolting abandon? Maybe it was not stunning enough.

In the late 19th century, there were 52 million acres of old-growth floodplain forests in the southeastern United States. In just 50 years, logging companies harvested nearly all of these forests. Today, Congaree NP’s 11,000 acres of old-growth floodplain forest make it the largest example of this ecosystem in North America. The second largest old-growth floodplain forest totals just 2,000 acres.

Congaree NP’s excessively wet climate initially protected it from logging interests but in the 1950’s, conservationist Harry Hampton launched a passionate campaign to save this precious example of the earth’s natural past. A bitter fight between conservationist and loggers ensued, ending when the Congress set aside the land as Congaree Swamp National Monument in 1976. Congaree NP became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1983.

In 2003, the word swamp was dropped from the Site’s name (making the title ecologically accurate) and it became a National Park. Visitation numbers and interest spiked proving that marketing matters even in the National Park Service.

Elegant FriendCROWDS (5/10)
We skirted around several small groups of walkers on the low and elevated boardwalk trails. Their loud whispers and echoing clompety-clomp feet made bird watching tough. Their ubiquity made photography difficult.

The easy solution is: take the longer, more isolated, non-boardwalked Weston Lake Loop, Oakridge and Kingsnake Trails.

Congaree NP feels like a wildly remote swampy nowhere, but actually sits just 20 miles to the southeast of South Carolina’s capital, Columbia. No National Park is closer to a State Capitol building. South Carolina Route 48 (Bluff Road) runs right past the Park’s entrance and stretches from Interstate 77 (near Columbia) to U.S. Route 601.

An accessible 2½-mile loop boardwalk trail takes you from the Visitor Center into the soaring trees of the floodplain forest. If you are slightly adventurous, additional trails lead into the primordial madness. Canoe put-ins and Bannister Bridge and Cedar Creek allow for further exploration. The great majority of the Park, however, is an unreachable, murky wilderness.

The bookstore is nice but consists only of nature identification handbooks. The Park’s history and beauty, like the land whose memory it protects, feels forgotten.

COSTS (4/5)
Entry is free.

Ranger-led events like canoe trips and “owl prowls” are limited to weekends and reservations (up to six weeks in advance during spring and fall) are required for most.

Looking UpTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
There is an introductory film at the Visitor Center. It is safe to say it is forgettable, as neither of us can remember what it was about.

Displays in the VC alert viewers to the headlines and controversy surrounding the now protected old growth trees. An exhibit named “Great Trees or Coffee Tables?” chronicles the activism that saved what remains of the bottomland forest.

Other NPS wetland areas we have visited are still under threat from loggers and developers, despite their status as federal lands. We wished there were more opportunity to interact with Rangers to learn if this is the case with Congaree. There is only so much a two-dimensional display can say.

FUN (5/10)

The accessibility of boardwalk trails is both a blessing and a curse. Elevation gain minimal to non-existent – good. Dry feet – good. Safe place to perch while taking pictures of bright green snakes – all very good. However, because short boardwalk trails are so accessible, they tend to be more crowded than average trails. We found the boardwalks filled with people who would not usually embark out into what was once termed a swamp. This can lead to loud voices and bottlenecks on the narrow planks.

Enjoyment at Congaree NP is also directly proportional to the Site’s “Mosquito Meter.” On a scale of 1 (all clear) to 6 (war zone), the day of our visit scored a 1. Our stroll along the boardwalk trails was nearly bite-free. Had the meter climbed to 3 or higher, we cannot guarantee that we would have ventured into the forest.

Not a SwampWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
We enjoyed our time at Congaree NP and should have taken the longer, more isolated walks. But geez, how much level, dense, tall forest do you need to see to get the picture? We arrived too late in the day for woodland birds and were disappointed at the lack of swamp-related birds and alligators. The Park means it when they say the Park is not a swamp.

Does Congaree NP merit the high-security ecological protection that a National Park distinction brings? Emphatically, yes. Should you alter your South Carolina vacation away from the Golf Coast and into Congaree NP’s interior? Not at all. Congaree NP feels outrageously out-of-place in all aspects when compared to other National Parks.

TOTAL 40/80

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Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Visited: October 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Coastal defense fort that saw continuous military use for nearly two centuries, including major battles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Red bricks replaced the namesakes of Fort Moultrie’s Palmetto Fort in the early 1800s. Low walls encircle a grass courtyard and a large unattractive black battery. It is hard to focus your eyes on the Fort’s interior when the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter create your horizon. Fort Moultrie NM offers a wonderful vantage point to view the busy waterway and skyline of the grand old city. Its flags, cannons and planted palmettos help frame the competing blues of the Harbor and the bright Carolina sky.

Confederate cannons fired the first shots of the Civil War from Fort Moultrie onto Fort Sumter. Nevertheless, Moultrie remains shrouded in a cloak of historical anonymity while Sumter is etched indelibly in our American consciousness.

Fort Moultrie was also site of a vital June 28, 1776 Revolutionary War battle which less than a week before our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. British Naval forces led by Commodore Peter Parker attempted to take the key city of Charleston but were repelled by forces commanded by Colonel William Moultrie.

Morning CoffeeCROWDS (6/10)
We encountered a much larger crowd at Fort Moultrie than expected. Dozens moved in and out of the Fort’s quirky nooks and narrow passageways discovering the long history of a coastal fort.

You need a car to get to Fort Moultrie NM, so if you have come to Charleston on a cruise ship, you are out of luck. The Fort is located on the west end of Sullivan’s Island at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor.

From both downtown Charleston and Interstate 26, take U.S. Route 17 North. You will cross the dramatic Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Once you reach the mainland take Coleman Blvd. (S.C. Route 703). Three miles later, Coleman Blvd. will bend and become Ben Sawyer Blvd but remain S.C. 703. You will be crossing marshlands on your way to the Island. Once you reach Sullivan’s Island, turn right onto Middle Street and take it to its end. You are there! Do not worry; there are plenty of signs.

Fort Moultrie’s bookstore spreads itself thin across four wars and several ethnic and cultural topics. Books on the Gullah, Seminoles and the Underground Railroad sit next to stories, songbooks and cookbooks from the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, which share the shelves with a biography of the Swamp Fox, Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and a few paperbacks about the War of 1812 and the Spanish War.

While a few titles do stand out, like the Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, or Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, the store’s variety doesn’t allow for much depth in any of the subject areas. If Fort Moultrie’s bookstore were a basketball team, it would need a better sixth man.

Strength with MowingCOSTS (3/5)
The Fort costs $3 per adult or $5 per family. If you have the National Parks Pass, entry is free.

A charming septuagenarian South Carolinian examined our National Parks pass, shared some knowledge about Charleston’s unique architecture (“We were saved by our own poverty; people were too poor to knock down the old houses and build new.”) and alerted us to the next showing of the film. This was the most interaction we had with any Site staff. We vaguely recall a Ranger but this gentleman volunteer introduced us to the Site and directed us on our way.

It would have been nice to have a Ranger across the street at the actual Fort to answer questions as they arose.

Fort Moultrie’s Visitor Center houses a small set of exhibits, the bookstore and theatre where the Site’s introductory film plays every 30 minutes. What a film it is.

Filmed entirely on location, Fort Moultrie’s video is a one-man tour de force. An actor named Michael Longfield dons several period costumes, different facial hair variations and at least eight different accents to guide viewers through the history of the Palmetto Fort. The audience sees the Fort’s construction, two reconstructions and finally the closing of its gates as a military post through the eyes of a common soldier.

FUN (6/10)
We entered the Fort still smiling from Mr Longfield’s valiant linguistic efforts. Most of the Site is open for exploration. Several rooms within the battery are furnished as offices and radio control centers circa 1940, complete with pin-up calendars and board games to occupy bored privates.

There is a pathway circling the exterior of the Fort and leading down to a small beach. As appealing as this stroll sounds, do not exit the Fort without applying adequate amounts of bug spray. We were fine within the perimeter but mosquitoes swarmed as soon as we neared the water.

Coastal DefenseWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Fort Moultrie NM is one of the most military-focused units in the National Park System, a noteworthy distinction given the innumerable battlefields and war-related historic sites. Fort Moultrie spotlights the role of the soldier in every American conflict from the Revolutionary War to World War II as well as the soldier’s role in peacetime. We even recall a Park volunteer saluting paying customers.

The storied events of Fort Moultrie’s history are even downplayed in favor of highlighting the life of the average soldiers who fought there. Fort Moultrie soldier-centric learning experience contrasts sharply to the historic overview offered at its sister site Fort Sumter. In addition, the view offered at Moultrie is the closest you can get to Fort Sumter without taking the ferry. It worked for the Confederate cannons; it can work for you.

TOTAL 46/80

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Charleston Harbor, S.C.
Visited: October 19, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 264 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Many FlagsWHAT IS IT?
Federal defense fort located in the middle of Charleston Harbor. On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops deluged the Fort with artillery fire, captured the Union soldiers and officially began the American Civil War.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Fort Sumter is a pentagon-shaped redbrick fortification located at the narrowest entry point into Charleston Harbor. The Fort has been largely rebuilt since its major role in American History because non-stop shelling from 1861-65 destroyed its walls and interiors. The Fort, itself, is not particularly attractive especially when compared to the views it affords of the Harbor and old town Charleston.

This is where the Civil War began. Well, at least symbolically. Shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s election, in December of 1860, South Carolina became the first Southern state to secede from the Union. By March 1861, six more states had followed suit. Because they believed themselves to be a new country, the Confederates ordered Federal troops off the Forts within their boundaries.

Even though the American government refused to acknowledge this new nation, they still moved their troops out of most of these Forts. Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens (near Pensacola, Fla.) were the two exceptions. By April 12, three things had happened: 1) Lincoln took office; 2) the Federal troops ran out of supplies and 3) the fiery South Carolinians publicly demanded Sumter’s surrender.

When the Union Major Robert Anderson formally refused to leave, the siege began. Cannon fire rained onto the Fort and less than twelve hours later, Anderson surrendered and the War Between the States had begun. The Confederates held Fort Sumter under General Sherman captured Charleston in 1865.

We asked a Ranger, “How could the Rebels successfully defend Fort Sumter from 1863 to 1865 when the Union made easy work of the similar Fort Pulaski near Savannah.” She sheepishly replied, “Good question: Because they did not have to. Their successful blockade of Charleston Harbor made seizure of Fort Sumter unnecessary.” We added, “So why do the exhibits and the Ranger talks speak about the Fort as the last Confederate stronghold and a symbol of Southern resolve.” Her response was a smile; a spoken answer would have been too complicated.

CROWDS (3/10)
Every day, hundreds of people pile into the ferries that travel to Fort Sumter. The Civil War’s flash point is a major attraction in a major tourist town. The effect is an amusement park experience where most participants are unsure of what they are going to see! We actually overheard this on the ferryboat: “Who knew that historic stuff happened in Charleston?” Fort Sumter feels like a checkmark on the tourists’ Things to Do While Your Cruise Ship is Docked list rather than a pilgrimage to a near-sacred American history destination.

Escaping the Ranger TalkEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
We were approached by a very sunburned English man while walking the genteel streets of old town Charlestown. “Could you please point me towards Fort Sumter,” he asked. “You see that island Fort about five miles away?” Michael said while pointing, “That’s Fort Sumter.” “Oh,” he responded, “I am not making it today then, am I?”

Three ferries leave from Liberty Square/Aquarium throughout most of the year. Liberty Square borders the Cooper River, the Charleston peninsula’s eastern coast, and stands at the end of Calhoun Street. As for driving directions, look for signs to the Aquarium.

Charleston peninsula is all narrow one-way streets and few long-term non-parking garage options. We walked from our hotel. Most of the other visitors had walked from their cruise ship docked nearby.

A far more accessible ferry leaves from Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point has ample free parking and only slightly less frequent service. Three boats leave during the summer, two during spring and fall and one during winter.

Civil War bookstores set a high standard because most overflow with hundreds of obscure tomes and kitschy knickknacks. Fort Sumter does not live up to this difficult scrutiny. You are not going to find a long lost Civil War text here. A few books, however, did catch our eye, including Dr. Seuss Goes to War, an eye-opening book that recounts the children’s book writer’s early career as an editorial cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine during World War II.

COSTS (1/5)
Fort Sumter stands in the middle of Charleston Harbor. You need to take a ferry. The boat’s 2005 rates were $13 per adult. If you take the Liberty Square ferry, you need to use a parking garage. Metered street parking is capped at two hours, the round trip to Fort Sumter lasts for two hours and 15 minutes. Coincidence?

The ferryboats dropped at least 100 fellow tourists and us off on the Island for one hour. During that period, one Ranger gave a 30-minute talk about the Fort. Once his talk finished, another Ranger appeared to answer questions and the lecturer disappeared.

For much of our visit, we fruitlessly tried to corner one of the Rangers. We had questions but so did countless other patrons. We were not able to isolate a Ranger until five minutes before departure. We left disappointed and wishing for more staffing at this highly visited marquee historic attraction.

Useless CannonsTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
The Fort Sumter Ranger talk and ferry boat narration are an elementary-school level Civil War refresher course. The teaching is aimed at the lowest common denominator; understandable when you see thousands of tour boat travelers every day but disappointing for history nerds like us. The good news is that the Rangers really know their stuff. The bad news is that you might have trouble getting you questions answered given the large crowds.

We enjoyed the Park’s two Museums, especially the one located in Liberty Square. The Liberty Square Museum approaches the events leading up to the events of April 1861, the South Carolinian mess of human rights, property rights and states rights. In another word: slavery. Be sure to take the time to read its intelligent but carefully worded displays, especially the Ambiguities of the Constitution exhibit.

Most tourists seemed to skip the Museum altogether on their way from the ticket booth to the ferry queue. Do not be that person. The Museum provides a terrific and in-depth intro to the Civil War. Do not rely on the inane canned historical nuggets provided over the ferryboat’s antiquated audio system. The second Museum, located on Fort Sumter, examines the Fort’s role during the War.

FUN (5/10)
Island Park sites are difficult. Ferryboat rides are expensive and your time is always limited. We tend to spend multiple hours at forts and battlefields between the museums and Ranger talks. Fort Sumter does not allow you to learn at your own pace. Our visit felt very rushed. One hour was not enough. However, the one-hour Harbor cruise was nice; Charleston, S.C. is one of America’s most beautiful old cities and the views from the water are spectacular.

We loved our time in Charleston and Fort Sumter is its most essential tourist attraction. Oddly, though, it was the low point of our visit to the Holy City. The trip was more obligatory than fun. Sumter’s best learning opportunities are found at the landlocked Museum and experienced without the ferry ride. Time spent on the fort is time not spent on the old town streets, at the boutique shops and in the terrific restaurants. So should you go? Er, uh, ah, um, probably yes.

TOTAL 40/80

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