Fort Sumter

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Thu 2 Dec 2010 21:27
Wednesday night
I had a jittery start to the day as I got an email from the people working on Saxon Blue and some of the jobs they're doing are proving harder to complete than I'd have liked. Hopefully it will all sort itself out but it put me out a bit to start with. After a bit of email writing to try to sort it out, we set off to visit one of the old Charleston houses that the museum looks after. It was built before the Revolution and George Washington stayed there while he was President.
The house waas elegant and airy with some wonderful furniture, made in Charleston in the style of the most fashionable European pieces of the day. The kitchen was a separate building at the back where all the cooking took place on an open fire on the ground floor and the slaves all lived above. We visited a similar house yesterday as well but built slightly later It's clear that the local plantation owners lived a life comparable to that of English aristocrats so they had certainly made the most of the opportunities that the New World offered. The area of town near the tip of the peninsula is full of beautiful old houses, the cobbled streets shaded with huge trees. It oozes faded wealth.
After lunch, we went on a boat excursion out to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. As soon as we boarded the boat, a massive bird flew overhead with strong, slow wingbeats. I thought it was a Heron but it was actually a young Pelican. It looked prehistoric, with its huge bill - almost like a pterodactyl. The trip accross the bay was lovely, even though it was windy and much colder than the last few days. As we waited to dock on the island, there was a whole flock of Pelicans diving into the water that was being churned up by the ferries. Then, in the middle of the diving birds, a grey fin rolled. Soon we were watching a pod of harbour dolphins fishing among the birds. They moved more slowly than the dolphins that we've seen out at sea but with much more maneuverability and were completely at home in the shallow muddy water.
As we stepped off the boat onto the island where Fort Sumter sits, I was surprised how small the fort looks. When it was built, the walls were over 50 feet high but they were destroyed during the siege of the island by the Union during the Civil War. Only the lowest level is left but it was an eerie place to visit. Sitting alone in the middle of the harbour, it was hard to imagine the fear that the garrison must have felt as massive artillery shells landed all around them.
As South Carolina left the Union, there was a Northern garrison in the fort and it was the shelling of them by Confederate soldiers which was the opening engagement of the war. I think both sides felt this was all more symbolic than real war, though, as the shelling went on for days along with counter barrages from the fort but, at the end of it, there were no casualties on either side. Sumter's garrison surrendered and were allowed to leave with full dignity by the Confederates, a level of civility that wasn't to last very long.
As the key to Charleston harbour, the most important supply port for the South, the Union Navy soon returned to try to recapture the fort. They laid seige for years and the artillery destroyed the walls, turning it into a heap of rubble which was, paradoxically, better protection from the shells. The stubborn defence of Sumter by the Confederate troops became one of the iconic events of the conflict and, standing on the tiny island now, it's mind boggling to think that men survived there in the face of so much flying metal for so long. The doomed heroics of it all are heart-rending and we both left in a quiet mood.
We both enjoyed being back on a boat, even if only a ferry and we're really looking forward to getting back on Saxon Blue and setting sail again. We're also both desperate to get some proper food. We're fed up of eating out and the whole hotel thing, never our favourite, is now getting distinctly annoying. We need our own space and a veggie chilli.