The Spring 2014 ECWS Titles: “Thunder in the Harbor”

Layout 1The last time a Federal government shutdown loomed, it was in early April of 2011, literally on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Park Service officials had expected big crowds for the sesquicentennial celebration, but the threatened shutdown scared most visitors from coming.

Chris Mackowski paid his first visit to the fort a few months later, in late August of that year. He’s been in love with Charleston ever since. For his first solo ECWS effort, he attacks Fort Sumter.

“This is one of the most iconic places in America and certainly in the story of the American Civil War,” Chris says:

But beyond those first shots that opened the war, Fort Sumter had a long, interesting career, not just during the Civil War but well into the Twentieth Century. I look forward to exploring its wartime stories but also sharing its postwar history, as well. What a privilege it will be to spend so much time with such a powerful American icon.

About Thunder In the Harbor: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the American Civil War

Fort Sumter hunkered on the horizon like a low, squat line separating Charleston Harbor from the open ocean. But the manmade fort, occupied in April 1861 by the United States government but under siege by secessionist stormclouds from across the South, sat poised on the border of more than South Carolina and the sea. It ran like a line between Federal authority and state control, between North and South, between peace and war.

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war,” President Lincoln had warned secessionist firebrands during his first inaugural address. But South Carolina, the hottest of secessionist hotbeds, wasn’t listening. Southern political brinksmanship was pushing toward inevitable, calamitous war.

Fort Sumter had become the flashpoint.

At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire. Thirty-four hours later, with their supplies running low but their honor satisfied, Federal forces lowered their tattered flag. The only casualty—an accidental death—came after the surrender. It was otherwise a bloodless first battle to the bloodiest four years in American history.

But those fateful first shots of the Civil War—certainly the war’s most famous—marked only the first of many chapters for Sumter. Over the next four years, the fort and the harbor it protected weathered the storms of war: bombardments and blockades; the launch and loss of the Confederate submarine Hunley; the assault on Battery Wagner, on adjacent Morris Island, by the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry; and Sherman’s march to the sea.

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