Like many of the great American Cities founded before independence, Charleston is ringed with fortifications large and small. Fort Sumter stands tall amongst them. Others have been forgotten, and have vanished to the rush of tides and time, reclaimed by nature or buried by progress. We passed one of the smaller forts on the tour, Castle Pickney, an overlooked and abandoned site that nature is slowly reclaiming. And to the north edge of the harbor, Fort Moultrie stands out on its point. To the south, nature has all but swallowed up Civil War sites that were used to bombard the city.
Fort Sumter, is much further out, and much lower than one would suppose – it was originally three stories tall, an impressive shield-type island fort that was a sight to behold. After the sieges, the upper decks were shot away, and the stumpy ruin was halfheartedly rebuilt, measuring 25 feet tops, as opposed to the former 55 feet. Adding to the decrepitude of the ruin is the massive black bunker in the heart of the old parade grounds – a relic from the Endicott era of coastal refortification, a massive concrete block laid down on what some might call hallowed ground.
We got off the boat and went into the fort, past the curious black and white birds that populate the area. Inside, the ruins cling onto life, the damp salt air and the sinking man-made island slowly degrading them. Mum and Trixie listened intently to the ranger as Pops explored within earshot, examining the lazily leaning wall on one side in former magazines that were now open to the air above. Only the lower deck – the parade grounds – is really intact, and in some ways bears a striking resemblance to the Coliseum in Rome from its fragmentary survival.