Fort Sumter will forever go down in history as the location of the opening shots of the Civil War on April 12, 1861. The Cartographic Branch holds architectural plans and drawings associated with the construction of forts throughout our nation’s history. This includes numerous plans relating to Fort Sumter’s lengthy construction. Today we are featuring a sampling of these plans, which are held within Record Group (RG) 77, Fortifications Map File.
Following the War of 1812, the United States began to strengthen its coastal defenses. The idea for a fortification that eventually became Fort Sumter first appears in an 1826 report to Congress. Initial plans were drawn up in the following years, including the 1828 plan below.
Work commenced on the fort, but progressed slowly. A rock foundation was constructed on a shoal in Charleston Harbor. However, in 1834, a legal case concerning the ownership of the shoal area halted construction.
Construction resumed in 1841. Under the supervision of Captain A.H. Bowman, the original plans were modified to make the fortification stronger. However, troubles continued to plague the construction of the fort. A lack of supplies and the difficulty of transporting supplies by boat to the shoal made progress slow.
Work continued in the 1850s, but then stalled due to lack of funding. By 1860, Fort Sumter consisted of an unfinished five-sided stone masonry fort. Two tiers of gunrooms lined four of the fort’s walls. Officers quarters were located along the other wall. The fort also contained three barracks buildings for enlisted soldiers and a parade ground.
As tensions between North and South escalated in December 1860 with the secession of the state of South Carolina, artillery troops occupied the unfinished fort. At that time, only 15 out of the planned 135 cannon were mounted and in place. Barracks, quarters, and gunrooms remained unfinished. After an attack by South Carolina troops on a ship attempting to resupply Fort Sumter in January 1861, the troops within Fort Sumter began strengthening their position in preparation for an attack against the fort.
On the morning of April 12, 1861, tensions finally reached the breaking point. At about 4:30 a.m., Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. After facing a severe bombardment, the Union-held fort surrendered the following day. Confederates held Fort Sumter until February 1865, only weeks before the surrender of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. Throughout the war, the fort suffered repeated bombardments and was severely damaged, as evidenced by the drawings below.
The above plans provide only a small sampling of the plans of Fort Sumter that are available to view in the Cartographic Research Room at the National Archives. We invite you to visit to learn more about Fort Sumter and the other forts and fortifications for which we hold architectural drawings and plans.
Sources about the construction of Fort Sumter:
Barnes, Frank E. Fort Sumter National Monument.
Hendrix, M. Patrick. A History of Fort Sumter: Building a Civil War Landmark. The History Press, 2014.
National Park Service. “Fort Sumter. History and Culture.