|Fort Sumter (NPS Photo)|
The two fortifications had much in common. Both stood on islands that commanded the entrances to key Southern harbors, both were held by Union forces while state militia troops had occupied surrounding works and both were named for famous South Carolinians.
Fort Sumter, named for General Thomas Sumter of the American Revolution, stood on a man-made island inside the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Designed for multiple tiers of cannon, the fort controlled a long stretch of the channel that led into the harbor. With Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney and Fort Johnson, it was part of a harbor defense system that was designed to prevent an attacking navy from reaching Charleston. As long as it remained in U.S. hands, however, it bottled up the harbor and had the potential to prevent Southern commerce and warships from moving in and out of Charleston. It was incomplete in 1861, although construction had been underway since 1827. To learn more about Fort Sumter, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortsumter.
An attack on either fort would lead to the outbreak of civil war. In mid-January it appeared that the first spark might ignite at Fort Pickens, where on January 16, 1861, 150 years ago today, Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer of the U.S. Army refused a second demand that he surrender the fort to a growing force of state militia. The government in Washington, D.C., was faced with the issue of whether to attempt to reinforce either fort or both forts, with the realization that doing so might well ignite the war they hoped to prevent.