Fort Moultrie: Keeping Watch on Charleston History


By: Tour Management Editor
May 30, 2016

Fort Moultrie Quarter

Dawn broke on Sullivan's Island SC on June 28, 1776 revealing nine British warships already in position. For the planned British siege of Charleston to take effect, the British would have to get past the Colonial outpost we know as Fort Moultrie. But the approach proved too deep for Commodore Parker's men to wade ashore, and American guns blocked an amphibious landing. The American fort would have to be eliminated, so Parker's ships primed, aimed and let loose a volley of cannon fire.

Then they watched in amazement as their cannonballs merely bounced off of the walls of the fort. Fort Sullivan, as it was then known, was still under construction. Its walls were made of fresh, spongy palmetto logs that absorbed and repelled the Brits' flying leaden wrecking balls.

Col. William Moultrie's men were outnumbered and outgunned, yet held the high ground. They took careful aim and trained disciplined fire on the invaders. By the end of the day, The British withdrew with 200 dead (compared to 12 Colonists) and five of their nine ships either damaged, severely damaged or grounded.

The Colonial victory at Fort Moultrie, as it became known, was a huge shot in the arm for the young Revolution. Charleston was saved, heroes like Col. Moultrie and Sgt. Jasper were born, and the lowly palmetto tree became legend.

The Federal Period at Fort Moultrie
The Revolutionary War ended and Fort Moultrie was largely abandoned. For about 20 years men and cannons came and went, based on this or that threat. Fort Moultrie was manned, fortified and then neglected – and wrecked by a hurricane in 1804. A permanent fort would not come until 1809, when Fort Moultrie, along with Fort Johnson, Castle Pinckney and Fort Sumter were revitalized under a new national push for coastal defense.

It was during this early Federal period that Fort Moultrie hosted its most famous resident, US Army clerk Edgar Allen Poe. The young Poe arrived at Fort Moultrie in 1827 and spent a few miserable years there. Nonetheless, he absorbed a good bit of Charleston atmosphere and lore that would later appear in works such as The Gold Bug, The Balloon Hoax and The Oblong Box.

The Civil War at Fort Moultrie
Things were pretty quiet at Fort Moultrie for the next 30 years or so, until Secession Fever began to take hold. The Civil War was coming and loyalties were divided. When South Carolina seceded, Fort Moultrie's commander – a Union man – decided to abandon the post and head for the better-defended Fort Sumter. Union troops held out at Sumter until it was brutally pounded by Confederate shelling in the first shots of the Civil War. In turn Fort Moultrie, now held by the Rebels, would be shelled by the US Navy until the Fort disappeared behind the dunes.

The Sun Sets on Fort Moultrie
After the war, Fort Moultrie was rebuilt. Threats came and went, as did periodic refurbishments and upgrades. Fort Moultrie's last burst of activity would come during World War 2, as German submarines threatened shipping up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Fort Moultrie was decommissioned in 1947. Modern technology such as long-range radar, missiles and the atomic bomb had rendered obsolete an old brick fort with a bunch of cannons.

Today, Fort Moultrie is a historical site and open to visitors. Guests can walk the walls and tour the grounds, catacombs and powder magazine and pose for pictures with cannons representing every era of the Fort's service. Across the street, a museum and interpretive center houses artifacts from Fort Moultrie's earliest days until the Army lowered the flag for the final time. There is also a thorough exhibit on the slave trade and slave life in Charleston. Fort Moultrie is right on the beach, with easy access. So bring the family and make a picnic of it!

A trip to Fort Moultrie is just one of the fun and fascinating ways to enjoy the history and heritage of Charleston SC. For more information, contact Adventure Sightseeing today!


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