Using Confederate Photography to Recreate Fort Sumter

After thirty years of lackadaisical construction, Fort Sumter was not finished in December 1860 when Major Robert Anderson and his tiny garrison of U.S. soldiers moved in. With only about a tenth as many soldiers as the fort was designed for, Maj. Anderson immediately began efforts to make the fort defensible. The following defensive features on our diorama can all be seen in Confederate photographs taken after the fort’s surrender.

The defenders raised big guns to the barbette (top) tier of the fort, but some guns were too heavy. As a result, two ten-inch and four eight-inch Columbiads were mounted in the parade ground as mortars, cannons that could shoot in a high trajectory over fortification walls.

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The garrison removed the stone flagging from the parade ground so that shells would bury themselves in the dirt and do less damage. The stone was piled in front of various areas of the fort to provide a little more protection to the men inside. In addition, traverses made of piles of dirt and other materials protected the gate and other areas of the fort.

Five machicoulis galleries were built on the barbette tier. Three projected over the gate and two projected over the right and left faces of the fort. These armored wooden boxes contained holes in their floors through which defenders could shoot or drop “grenades” onto attackers.

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The defenders cut away a portion of the barbette tier wall and positioned a gun to cover the wharf. They also mounted two guns at the gate to sweep the esplanade and wharf.

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Since the fort was so badly damaged throughout the remainder of the war, later photos show what seems to be a mere mountain of rubble. This makes the April 1861 photos indispensable in determining what the fort initially looked like as a whole.

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