Fort Sumter is a Third System masonry coastal fortification located in Charleston harbor, South Carolina. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Named after General Thomas Sumter, Revolutionary War hero, Fort Sumter was built following the War of 1812, as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast. Construction began in 1827, and the structure was still unfinished in 1860, when the conflict began. Seventy thousand tons of granite were imported from New England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston harbor, which the site dominates; The fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet (58 m) long, with walls five feet thick, standing 50 feet (15 m) over the low tide mark. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun emplacements, although it was never filled near its full capacities.
On December 26, 1860, five days after South Carolina declared its secession, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson abandoned the indefensible Fort Moultrie and secretly relocated companies E and H (127 men, 13 of them musicians) of the 1st U.S. Artillery to Fort Sumter without orders from Washington, on his own initiative. He thought that providing a stronger defense would delay an attack by South Carolina militia. The Fort was not yet complete at the time and fewer than half of the cannons that should have been available were not available due to military downsizing by President James Buchanan. Over the next few months, repeated calls for the United States evacuation of Fort Sumter from the government of South Carolina and later Confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard were ignored. United States attempts to resupply and reinforce the garrison were repulsed on January 9, 1861 when the first shots of the war prevented the steamer Star of the West, a ship hired by the Union to transport troops and supplies to Fort Sumter, from completing the task. After realizing that Anderson's command would run out of food by April 15, 1861, President Lincoln ordered a fleet of ships, under the command of Gustavus V. Fox, to attempt entry into Charleston Harbor and support Fort Sumter. The ships assigned were the steam sloop-of-war USS Pawnee, steam sloop-of-war USS Powhatan, transporting motorized launches and about 300 sailors (secretly removed from the Charleston fleet to join in the forced reinforcement of Fort Pickens, Pensacola, Fla.), armed screw steamer USS Pocahontas, Revenue Cutter USS Harriet Lane, steamer Baltic transporting about 200 troops, composed of companies C and D of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, and three hired tug boats with added protection against small arms fire to be used to tow troop and supply barges directly to Fort Sumter. By April 6, 1861 the first ships began to set sail for their rendezvous off the Charleston Bar. The first to arrive was the Harriet Lane, before midnight of April 11, 1861.