What Is the Significance of Fort Sumter?

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Fort Sumter is historically significant as the location of the first shots fired in the American Civil War. The United States began building Fort Sumter after the War of 1812 to strengthen the defense of its southern ports. After South Carolina’s secession from the Union, Union forces occupied the unfinished Fort Sumter. After 3 1/2 days of battle, Union troops, led by Major Robert Anderson, surrendered.

Fort Sumter is on an island at the entry to Charleston Harbor. Although construction started in 1829, the fort was unfinished in December of 1860 when Anderson occupied it. Upon South Carolina’s secession, a standoff with its state militia left Anderson and his troops access to supplies. President Lincoln’s announcement that he intended to resupply the fort led to its bombardment by Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard in April 1861. Upon Anderson’s surrender, Confederate troops took over the fort and occupied it for four years until Sherman captured Charleston in February 1865.

During the Confederate occupation, the fort was completed; however, the ensuing battles damaged parts of the structure. After the war, the fort was redesigned and rebuilt. It served for a while as a lighthouse but was recommissioned for the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. In 1948, the United States decommissioned Fort Sumter as a military institute and turned the property over to the National Parks Service.