During a recent visit to the Charleston, South Carolina, area, my father and I kayaked to Morris Island, an uninhabited and completely undeveloped island on the south side of Charleston Harbor. I thought I would share a few photos (taken with my rather antiquated phone camera) from the excursion.
And for those unfamiliar with Morris Island’s Civil War roots, here’s a brief summary: A triangular–shaped island formed by Vincent’s Creek to the north, Folly Creek to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Morris Island was the south entrance to the strategically and symbolically vital Charleston Harbor. It was the site of some of the first shots of the war in April 1861 and became part of a thorough network of Confederate defenses that ringed Charleston that included Fort Moultrie, Castle Pinckney, Fort Johnson, and, most notably, Fort Sumter. Fort Wagner was the dominant Confederate defensive feature on Morris Island, and a series of failed Union army attacks against the fort in the summer of 1863 immortalized the 54thMassachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a regiment of all black soldiers, and its commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Confederate forces abandoned Wagner in September 1863, although Charleston itself did not fall to the Union army until 1865.
Although Fort Wagner itself had long since become a victim of erosion (and the island was recognized in the twentieth-century mostly for its historic lighthouse), the island became a hotbed of preservations efforts in the 1990s and 2000s, particularly following the release of the film Glory in 1989. Morris Island was also featured in a 2005 issue of National Geographic on Civil War battlefield preservation. The Civil War Preservation Trust and the Trust for Public Land have been central to the island’s preservation, with both actively engaged in buying portions of the island with the aim of keeping it undeveloped. TPL bought the remainder of the island from a Florida-based real estate developer in 2008 and the island’s long-term conservation now appears secure.
As an aside, this was not my first trip to Morris Island. I swam there from Folly Island in 2005 and I do not recommend that approach (if the distance doesn’t present serious problems, the tide and current will). Charter boat tours, designed primarily for birders and shelling enthusiasts, seem to be the best and safest way to visit the island.