Battle of Fort Sumter Online Exhibit

Fort Sumter in the Harbor

Illustration of Fort Sumter in the Harbor.

Caption: Fort Sumter, Seen from the Rear, at Low Water – From a sketch by an officer of Major Anderson's Command.

Source: Illustration from Harper's Weekly, January 26, 1861, page 56. Description below from the same issue, page 49.

The following description of the fort is from high authority:

"Fort Sumter is a modern truncated pentagonal fort, built upon an artificial island at the mouth of Charleston harbor, three and three-eighths miles distant from the city of Charleston. The island has for its base a sand and mud bank, with a superstructure, if we may so term it, of the refuse chips from several Northern granite quarries. These rocks are firmly imbedded in the sand, and upon them the present fortification is reared.  The island itself cost half a million dollars and was ten years in construction. The fortification cost another half a million dollars, and at the time of its occupancy by Major Anderson was so nearly completed as to admit the introduction of its armament. The walls are of solid brick and concrete masonry, built close to the edge of the water and without a berme. They are sixty feet high and from eight to twelve feet in thickness, and are pierced for three tiers of guns on the north, east, and west exterior sides. Its weakest point is on the south side, of which the masonry is not only weaker than that of the other sides, but it is not protected by any flank fire, which would sweep the wharf. Once landed, an entrance may, at the present state of the construction, be easily made; for the blinds of the lower embrasures, though six inches in thickness, may yet be easily blown away. And even if this was impossible, scaling ladders can reach those of the second tier, which are not protected in this manner.

"The work is designed for an armament of one hundred and forty pieces of ordnance of all calibres. Two tiers of the guns are under bomb-proof casements, and the third or upper tier open, or, in military parlance, en barbette; the lower tier for forty-two-pounder Paixhan guns; the second tier for eight and ten inch Columbiads, for throwing solid or hollow shot, and the upper tier for mortars and twenty-four-pound guns. The full armament of the fort, however, had not arrived there when Major Anderson took possession; but since its occupancy by the present garrison no efforts have been spared to place the work in an efficient state of defense, by mounting all the available guns and placing them in salient points.  As we before remarked, the full armament of the fort is not in position, as only seventy-five of the one hundred and forty guns required for it are now mounted. Eleven Paixhan guns are among that number -- nine of them commanding Fort Moultrie, which is within easy range, and the other two pointing toward Castle Pinckney, which is well out of range. Some of the Columbiads, the most effective weapon for siege or defensive operations, are not mounted. Four of the thirty-two-pounder barbette guns are on pivot carriages, which gives them the entire range of the horizon, and others have a horizontal sweep of fire of 180 degrees. In addition to these weightier preparations for defense, the walls are pierced every where for muskets, of which there are endless numbers ready and loaded. The magazine contains seven hundred barrels of gunpowder and an ample supply of shot, powder, and shells for one year's siege, and a large amount of miscellaneous artillery stores. The garrison is amply supplied with water from artificial wells, which are supplied by the frequent showers of rain.

"In a defensive or strategical point of view, Fort Sumter radiates its fire through all the channels from the sea approach to Charleston, and has a full sweep of range in its rear, or city side. The fort is sufficiently out of range from a land artillery attack, so that all apprehensions for breaching it from that source may be put at rest. The maximum range of the guns from Sumter is three miles; but for accurate firing, sufficient to hull a. vessel, the distance would require to be reduced one-half of that figure. The war garrison of the fort is six hundred men, but only seventy-nine of that number are within its walls."

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Last Updated: April 2, 2012