On December 20, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the United States. That led to a domino effect in which ten other states ultimately seceded from the Union as well. For obvious reasons, the United States was not pleased with South Carolina’s behavior, so on December 26, 1860, it secretly sent soldiers, under the command of Major Robert Anderson, to occupy Fort Sumter, a military fortification just off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. By April of 1861, Fort Sumter received word that the U.S. planned to replenish its supplies. However, the Confederates also heard the news, so tried to persuade Major Anderson to leave the fort or expect an attack. Major Anderson did not leave, so on April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired at Fort Sumter, thus starting the American Civil War. Eventually, Major Anderson surrendered to the Confederates, who then held the fort until 1865, the year that the Civil War ended. By the end of the war, the three-story fort became a ground-level fort, due to the continuous damage that it had endured during the war.
The United States partially rebuilt Fort Sumter after the Civil War and continued to use it until the mid-twentieth century. After that, the National Park Service took charge of it. Today, anyone can visit the site by purchasing a ferry ticket from Fort Sumter Tours. A regular adult ticket is currently $30, so is not particularly cheap. However, the ferry provides a beautiful thirty-minute ride through Charleston Harbor, and includes an audio tour.
I remember my ferry ride well. Each November, Charleston hosts a library conference that is specifically geared toward librarians and publishers who deal with acquisitions for academic libraries. My colleague and I had the privilege of attending one year, which is why I ended up visiting Fort Sumter. During our ferry ride to the island, I noticed a pin on someone’s backpack that said, “Keep Calm and Weed.” Because I am a librarian, my immediate assumption was that this passenger was also a librarian, and that the pin was referring to the library definition of weeding. For a librarian, weeding means, “to identify and remove books in a library that are no longer relevant to the collection.” However, I soon remembered that “weed” has other meanings as well, such as “marijuana.” I told my colleague, and we both decided that the pin was probably referring to the latter meaning. However, the next day, during my library conference, I was happy to see the passenger with the weed pin also there, confirming that my first interpretation of the pin was correct!
Once the ferry landed on Fort Sumter’s man-made island, a park ranger provided a brief overview of its history. There was also a visitor’s center on the island that had a nice museum about Fort Sumter. I happened to visit Fort Sumter near sunset, so the National Park rangers had to take down the American flag for the night. They invited visitors to help with the process by working as a team to fold the giant flag. Although I did not end up folding the flag, I did enjoy watching the ritual.
Sources and Further Reading
“Battle of Fort Sumter, April 1861.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/battle-of-fort-sumter-april-1861.htm (accessed February 19, 2021).
“Fort Sumter.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/fosu/learn/historyculture/fort_sumter.htm (accessed February 19, 2021).
“Robert Anderson.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/people/robert-anderson.htm (accessed February 19, 2021).