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History of the Battle of Fort Moultrie
Just days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Battle of Fort Moultrie (then known as Fort Sullivan) resulted in a significant American victory over the British. Earlier that year, a crude palmetto-log fort had been built on Sullivan's Island as a first line of defense for Charleston, South Carolina. On June 28, the formidable British fleet, under the command of Sir Peter Parker, attacked. The small American force, led by Colonel William Moultrie, held its position despite all-day shelling. Moultrie later described the scene as "one continual blaze and roar; and clouds of smoke curling over...for hours together." Even though the British had far superior firepower at their disposal, the spongy palmetto logs and sand that comprised the American fort absorbed most of the enemy shells before they could explode. During the bombardment, the fort's flag—a distinctive silver crescent on a blue field—was shot down by the British. Ignoring heavy gunfire, Sergeant William Jasper retrieved the standard and replanted it on the fort's rampart. At nightfall, the defeated British withdrew.
The American victory ensured the safety of the port of Charleston and won many people over to the patriot cause. Before this battle, General George Washington had had little success in the North. The American triumph at Sullivan's Island showed that the South could wage a successful campaign. It stood as a symbolic declaration of independence from the British, preceding the signing of the actual document by less than a week.
Soon after the victory, the fort was renamed in honor of William Moultrie, who was later promoted to general. John Rutledge, then president of the South Carolina assembly, presented Sergeant Jasper with his dress sword for his bravery and offered him an officer's commission. Jasper, however, declined the commission as inappropriate for a man of humble origins. The blue and silver crescent flag that Jasper replanted during the battle later served as the inspiration for the South Carolina state flag.
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Fort Moultrie is the name of a series of forts on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, built to protect the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The first fort, built of palmetto logs, inspired the flag and nickname (Palmetto State) of South Carolina.
The fort was unnamed and not yet complete when Admiral Sir Peter Parker and nine British warships attacked it on June 28, 1776, near the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.The soft palmetto logs did not crack under bombardment but rather absorbed the shot; there were even reports of cannon balls actually bouncing off of the walls of the structure. Charleston was saved from capture, and the fort was named for the commander in the battle, William Moultrie. Charleston locals celebrate 'Carolina Day' to commemorate the bravery of the defenders of the fort, the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. The fort was eventually captured by the British in the siege of Charleston. (See the southern theatre in the article titled American Revolution for more information).
As tensions heightened after Great Britain and France declared war in 1793, the United States embarked on a systematic fortification of important harbors. A new Fort Moultrie, one of twenty new forts along the Atlantic coast, was completed over the decayed original fort in 1798. Destroyed by a hurricane in 1804, it was replaced by a brick fort by 1809. In The Seminole Indian fighter, Osceola, was detained here in late 1837 with some fellow Seminole prisoners. Osceola died of Malaria in January 1838 and was buried at Fort Moultrie, his grave still maintained as part of the current national monument.
Between 1809 and 1860 Fort Moultrie changed little; the parapet was altered and the armament modernized, but newly created Fort Sumter became the main component of Charleston's defense. Of the four forts around Charleston harbor, Moultrie, Sumter, Johnson, and Castle Pinckney, it was Moultrie's defenders who chose not to surrender to the Confederacy. On December 26, 1860, Major Robert Anderson removed his garrison at Fort Moultrie to the stronger Fort Sumter. Three and a half months later, Confederate troops shelled Fort Sumter into submission and the American Civil War began. In April 1863, Federal ironclads and shore batteries began a twenty-month bombardment of Forts Sumter and Moultrie; the Confederates held the forts and the harbor until February 1865, when the army evacuated the city. By then, Fort Sumter was a pile of rubble, and Fort Moultrie had been pounded below a sand hill, which subsequently protected it against Federal bombardment. Rifled cannon had proved their superiority to brickwork fortifications, but not to the endurance of the Confederate artillerymen who manned the forts throughout.
Fort Moultrie was modernized in the 1870s, with huge rifled cannon and deep concrete bunkers; further modernization in the 1880s turned all of Sullivan's Island into a military complex, of which the old fort was just a part.
The fort evolved with the times through World War II and beyond, but in recent years has been turned over to the National Park Service. The fort is now constructed as a tour backwards in time through the fort's defenses, from World War II back to the palmetto log fort of William Moultrie. It has been designated the Fort Moultrie National Monument, a unit of Fort Sumter National Monument.
Sullivan's Island was the disembarkation port for over 40% (4-8 million) of the slaves traded to the British Colonies via the Middle Passage, making it the largest slave port in North America. It is estimated that nearly half of all African Americans had ancestors that passed through Sullivan's Island.