Fort Moultrie during the War of 1812

In a March 17, 1807 report, Captain Alexander McComb, described Forts Moultrie and Johnson as, "only heaps of rubbish." A hurricane had struck the South Carolina coast on September 7-8, 1804 near Beaufort.As a result, the fortifications in Charleston Harbor were "wrecked" and soon fell "into ruin." Captain McComb had been sent to Charleston in 1806 to study the harbor and its defenses. Following the Chesapeake Incident in June of 1807, the citizens of Charleston became increasingly concerned about the possibility an attack.

War Department officials directed McComb to do what he could to protect Charleston against a naval bombardment. The captain worked with the Charleston Committee on Public Safety to repair hurricane damaged Fort Moultrie II, Fort Johnson, and Fort Pinckney. While some guns were placed at Fort Johnson to make it "inexpedient" for a ship to come within range, little else was done. Until Congress appropriated funds and engineers drew plans for new forts, Charleston's coastal defenses would remain in a holding pattern.

From 1807-12, Congress provided $3,000,000 for what is now called the second system of American seacoast defenses. In 1808, McComb, now a major, was ordered to supervise the work on Charleston's fortifications. By June work was well underway on Fort Johnson, Fort Mechanic (on the tip of the Charleston peninsula), and Castle Pinckney. By the heat of summer, officials in Charleston had received plans and begun work on Fort Moultrie III.

By November 1808, Fort Mechanic and Fort Johnson were completed, plus the Charleston Arsenal. On December 19, 1808, Ft. Moultrie III was completed and garrisoned by two companies of the 2nd US Infantry Regiment and a company of Light Dragoons. About a year later, the completion of Castle Pinckney on Shute's Folly Island signaled that Charleston's seacoast defense system was finished.

On June 11, 1812, the U.S. declared war on Great Britain. Charlestonians got word on June 24th, and the 3rd South Carolina Militia moved to reinforce Fort Moultrie and other harbor defenses. In autumn, the 18th U.S. Infantry Regiment was organized in Charleston and the 3rd S.C. mustered out of service. The harbor's defenses would be under the responsibility of the 18th and several companies of the 2nd U.S. Artillery for the remainder of the war.

During the War of 1812 the British Navy blockaded Charleston, but no serious bombardments took place. The harbor was again hit by a hurricane during the war; this time, however, the forts in Charleston Harbor were capable of withstanding the storm. On December 24, 1814, The Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium, officially ending the War of 1812. [1]

Successes and failures of the second system of American seacoast defenses in Baltimore (Fort McHenry) and on the Potomac River (Fort Washington) proved that while necessary, American seacoast defenses were still inadequate. As a result construction on the third system of American seacoast defenses began in 1818. Charleston would receive a new fort from this system, Fort Sumter.

[1] Fort Sumter 1776-1947, by Edwin C. Bearss, pages 59-72. FORT MOULTRIE, NO. 3, Fort Sumter National Monument Historic Structures Report Historical Data Section, December 30, 1968, by Edwin C. Bearss, pages. 1-27.

Last updated: December 11, 2019

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