The first shots of the United States Civil War took place at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. This island fortress is an important part of U.S. history, and I knew we had to visit while in Charleston. Despite planning ahead there are several things I would do differently if we visited Fort Sumter again. Here are our tips for visiting Fort Sumter with kids.
What Is The History Of Fort Sumter?
Fort Sumter is a National Historic Park maintained by the National Park Service. The fort is located on a man-made island in Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter was built as part of the third defense system. This third defense system was designed to safeguard the coasts of the United States after the War of 1812.
When South Carolina seceded from the Union, U.S. Major Robert Anderson moved his Union troops from Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter. The South Carolina militia took this as an escalation of the tension between North and South.
When President Lincoln announced he was going to send supply ships to Major Anderson at Fort Sumter, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was ordered by the Governor of South Carolina to remove the Union forces from Fort Sumter by any means necessary. This culminated in General Beauregard firing upon Fort Sumter for 34 hours and Anderson’s surrender.
Confederate forces held Fort Sumter for four years despite several Union bombardments. Eventually the confederate forces surrendered Fort Sumter in 1865.
How Do I Get To Fort Sumter?
Since Fort Sumter is located on an island off the coast of Charleston it is only reachable by boat. The National Park Service has partnered with one company to run the boat ferries to Fort Sumter. This is very similar to the system for visiting the Statue of Liberty.
The boat is a three-level ferry. The bottom two levels have some seating and tables, but the top deck has seating only. The indoor seating is limited, which isn’t a problem on a nice day; however, on our Fort Sumter tour day the weather was extremely cold. This meant the bottom two decks were packed with people and the top deck was nearly empty, but miserable.
The Fort Sumter ferry ride takes about 30 minutes each way. The boat ride is a good time to plan what you want to see while on the island.
Check here for more information and to purchase ferry tickets to Fort Sumter.
Tips For Visiting Fort Sumter With Kids
The Time Goes Quickly When Visiting Fort Sumter
The complete tour time for visiting Fort Sumter is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Over one hour of this time is tied up in the boat ride to and from the island where Fort Sumter sits. This only leaves about an hour of time to walk the grounds of Fort Sumter, visit the on-site museum, and listen to the ranger-led talk.
At 3:07pm we arrived at Fort Sumter, and at 4:04pm everyone had reboarded the ferry to leave. This shows how short the time is at Fort Sumter.
We listened to the 15-minute ranger talk that reviewed the history of Fort Sumter, the initial battle, and touched on the role of slave labor in building Fort Sumter. After the talk we walked around the grounds where we found restored cannons and original shells from the Civil War still lodged in the bricks of the fortification wall.
We stopped briefly at the gift shop and then went to the on-site museum. We barely made it through the first half of the museum when rangers gave us a 10-minute warning to board the ferry.
Line Up Early To Board The Fort Sumter Ferry
Our scheduled tour time was 2:30pm. We went out to the loading area a few minutes before time and found ourselves one of the last people to board the ferry to Fort Sumter. This meant we had limited seating options for the long ride to Fort Sumter.
Pick Up A Junior Ranger Packet At The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center
Almost all National Parks and National Monuments have a Junior Ranger program. Junior Rangers can be any age, but the workbooks are usually geared for kids 3 to 12 years old. The Junior Ranger booklets give kids background information on the National Park and make learning about the place you are visiting fun.
Once your Junior Ranger completes their booklet, show it to any available ranger. The ranger will review the booklet and then swear the kids in as Junior Rangers. After this informal ceremony kids get a Junior Ranger pin or sticker.
Elizabeth picked up her Junior Ranger packet at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center before our boat ride to Fort Sumter. Completing the booklet entertained her the whole boat ride to Fort Sumter.
Bring Something To Entertain Kids On The Fort Sumter Boat Ride
The boat ride for visiting Fort Sumter can be boring. Elizabeth was entertained by the Junior Ranger booklet, but other kids around us were antsy. Bring something small like a coloring set, book, or similar item you would take to entertain small children at a restaurant.
Give Yourself Time At The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center
The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square is a small but informative museum. We had done our Charleston Pirate Tour in the morning, eaten a quick lunch, and then walked to Liberty Point for our Fort Sumter tour.
I didn’t budget much time for the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center and regretted it. The museum contains information about slavery in the South, the tension between the states, and events leading up to the shots being fired on Fort Sumter. This information helped all of us better understand the Civil War.
The visitor center is small and only takes about 30 to 60 minutes to visit. This should be plenty of time to see the displays and get a Junior Ranger packet before visiting Fort Sumter with kids.
Final Thoughts On Visiting Fort Sumter With Kids
Visiting Fort Sumter with kids was high on our Charleston bucket list. Learning more about the Civil War and seeing the place where the first shots were fired made history come alive.
Younger kids will enjoy the novelty of a boat ride and the chance to run around the grounds of Fort Sumter. Older kids will appreciate the history of Fort Sumter and its on-site museum.
If you are looking for more Charleston family vacation ideas check out this article about what we loved on our visit to this popular city.