Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 1861 - Castle Pinckney, Charleston's Forgotten Fort

Castle Pinckney from the Air
January 23, 1861

As South Carolina troops moved to prepare for war in Charleston Harbor, one of the key installations they occupied was Castle Pinckney.

Built in 1809-1811 on the site of an earlier work that was destroyed in the Hurricane of 1804, Castle Pinckney was a horse-shoe shaped masonry work located on the southern tip of Shutes Folley Island about one mile off the Battery at Charleston. At the time of its completion, it was considered the strongest of Charleston's forts and due to its location in the inner harbor, it was the city's final line of defense against an attacking warships.

Castle Pinckney Interior in 1861
The old fort was placed in inactive status after the War of 1812, but played a role in the "Nullification Crisis" of the 1830s. By the time South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860, however, Castle Pinckney was considered much weaker than nearby Fort Sumter and Major Robert Anderson opted to consolidated his available force in the latter installation. State troops quickly occupied the work and began the task of mounting guns and repairing the fort.

By January 24, 1861, the work on Castle Pinckney had progressed well and, along with Fort Moultrie and Fort Johnson, it provided state forces with a good ability to defend the harbor from an attack by the U.S. Navy, despite the fact that Federal troops still held Fort Sumter.

Charleston Zouaves at Castle Pinckney
Unlike the other primary forts of Charleston Harbor, Castle Pinckney is difficult to see today. There is no bridge connecting Shutes Folly with the mainland and special permission is required to even land on the island. The fort itself is badly deteriorated, although there have been some recent efforts to at least protect it "as is." Oddly enough, it was a National Monument from 1933-1956, but  the status with withdrawn and the fort left the care of the National Park Service. It is now owned by the South Carolina State Ports Authority.

The fort can be seen from the tour boats that cruise Charleston Harbor and is usually pointed out on the voyage out to Fort Sumter. Its unique semi-circular or "horseshoe" design was common in forts of its day. Two similar forts can be seen in New York Harbor, where Castle William survives at Governor's Island National Monument and Castle Clinton National Monument can be visited in Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan.

If you would like to read more about the fort, I recommend this excellent summary of its history:

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