Our first full day in Charleston, and indeed a full day. I knew I wanted to see Fort Sumter, and I had heard there was an aircraft carrier here as well. And it turned out we could visit both in the same day. Patriot’s Point is the site of the Naval and Maritime Museum, and it is also one of the points from which the ferry to Fort Sumter leaves, so we combined them into one day. We purchased the ferry tickets on the web site the day before to lock in that piece.
After breakfast we headed to Patriot’s Point, and bought tickets for the Captain’s Tour of the USS Yorktown, the WW2 aircraft carrier they have on display. And if you are thinking “Wait a minute, wasn’t the Yorktown sunk at Midway?” well yes, one of them was. You see, the Navy will reuse names, just never using the same name twice for existing ships. So when the Yorktown CV5 was sunk, the next one off the construction line, CV10, was given the name Yorktown. It is in fact the 4th Navy ship to bear the name. And it had a long and distinguished career in the Pacific in WW2, and was decommissioned shortly after the war. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, it was taken out of mothballs and modernized in 1953, though too late to see action. It was modernized again to receive a canted deck, and served in Vietnam. It then was the recovery vessel for Apollo 8, appeared in the films Tora!Tora!Tora! and The Philadelphia Experiment, and finally was decommissioned in 1970 and brought to Charleston in 1975 designated as a National Historical Landmark.
When we bought our tickets for the Captain’s Tour, we had about 40 minutes to spare, and visited the USS Laffey, a destroyer that participated in both the Normandy landings in Europe and the invasion of Okinawa in the Pacific. It was nicknamed “The Ship That Would Not Die” because it survived a massive kamikaze attack at Okinawa. It was docked right next to the Yorktown, and we got to see a couple of short films there and chat with a retired CPO about its history. then we went into the Yorktown for our tour, which was well worth the money. The tour was lead by a retired veteran of 30 years on carriers, so he knew his stuff. They had an exhibit there for the Dolittle Raid on Tokyo, though that was not from this carrier, but instead the USS Hornet. They trained 16 crews on how to take off in Mitchell B-25 bombers from a carrier deck (no easy thing to do), and sent them on a mission to bomb Tokyo. Though the damage to Tokyo was nothing major, it improved American morale and and spooked the Japanese, who thought they were invulnerable on their islands.
The rest of the tour took us through the crew quarters, the ship services like Medical and Dental, the kitchen, the bakery, and so on. We saw the Captain’s room and the Admiral’s room. Admiral’s were not always on board, so often this area was unoccupied. And realistically, the Captain’s Room was usually unoccupied since the Captain had a smaller room by the Bridge where he usually stayed. The Captain’s Room had a Dining area where dignitaries would be entertained when that was called for. And they did tell us of Ann-Margret staying here when she was entertaining the troops. Apparently she was extremely gracious about dining with the sailors, but she applied so much perfume that it took months for the smell to go away.
At this point our Fort Sumter tour was due, and our tour guide called for one of the golf carts to come get us and take us to the ferry. Fort Sumter is a island in the middle of the channel leading into Charleston, and was built specifically to command the approaches. It was flanked by by two land-based forts, Fort Johnson and Fort Multrie. When South Carolina seceded in December of 1860, Fort Sumter was just nearing completion, but still under construction. Major Robert Anderson had US troops at Fort Moultrie, but Fort Moultrie was built to defend against a sea attack, not a land attack from behind, which was surely coming. So under cover of darkness he moved his troops to Fort Sumter. But Fort Sumter was susceptible to bombardment from both Fort Johnson and Fort Moultrie, and after 34 hours of cannon fire Anderson surrendered and was allowed to take his men way to the north. By then most of the fort had been demolished anyway, and it was occupied by the Confederates. You only have one hour on the Island, so make sure you visit the museum there to get more of the story. The nearby island called Morris Island is the site of the Battle of Fort Wagner, involving the Massachusetts 54th regiment, of all black soldiers, shown in the movie Glory.
We then returned to Patriot’s Point, and went back on the Yorktown to see a few things we had missed, including the Bridge and the Flight Deck. All in all it was a very full day, but we had a great time.
Today we met up with Amy and Steve, friends we made on our Viking Danube cruise last year. They live in Charleston, and when we knew we would stop here we made arrangements to renew our friendship. Amy is a now retired professor of History, and she taught South Carolina history for many years, so it made for a good day. We started with lunch at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island, a barrier island on the coast of South Carolina. As is now known, Edgar Allen Poe enlisted in the Army under a false name in 1827, and was sent to Sullivan’s Island. And he set his story The Gold Bug on and around Sullivan’s Island.
After lunch we went to Fort Moultrie to tour this installation. It was in use as an army fort from 1776 to World War 2. In the American Revolution it was simple structure of palmetto logs and earthworks, but palmetto logs are very good at absorbing hits from cannon balls instead of splintering as other trees would be prone to do. So with its 30 smooth-bore cannons it successfully drove off a British fleet with 200 guns. Then it was used successfully to bombard Fort Sumter to start the Civil War. By World War 2 it was used mostly to support anti-submarine warfare. Our guide for the tour was Amy, and she pointed out that it was named for Colonel William Moultrie, commander of the fort in the Revolutionary War. When he drove away the British Fleet, it saved Charleston from occupation for the moment. A few years later, though, the British landed further south and took Charleston by land. One of the points Amy made was that while firing on Fort Sumter started the Civil War, South Carolina was not particularly involved in the war. But it was very important in the Revolution. Coming from Massachusetts, where you are raised on Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, and the Freedom Trail, this was an interesting perspective. We had also heard some stories in Savannah about what they did in the Revolution fighting the British.
After finishing at Fort Moultrie we drove around for a while, Amy and Steve showing us the sights. We got out of the car to walk across the bridge to the Isle of Palms, but it was getting cold and wet. We finally took our leave of them and drove back to the RV.
Today it is rainy pretty much all day, so we declared it a rest day.
We headed downtown to the Visitor Center to get some more information, and discovered they had RV parking on the ground floor of the parking garage! That made parking our big truck easy. Then we booked a tour of Charleston with Grey Line. The driver was very engaging, and gave us a little history as well as pointing out historical homes and sites in the downtown area. After lunch, we decided the weather looked bad, so we opted for the Charleston Museum, which was directly across the street from the Visitor Center. We got a look at Charleston history starting with the Native Americans, through the colonial period, the Revolution, the antebellum South and the slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. We learned a lot about rice cultivation, since that crop made Charleston wealthy. At the time of the Revolution, Charleston was the wealthiest city in the Colonies. This was where Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, was active fighting the British. When we finished in the Museum, the weather had turned a bit uglier, so we headed for the RV.