April 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War—the nation's bloodiest conflict and a major turning point for the United States. Although the root causes of the Civil War, including states' rights and the economics and morality of slavery, can be traced back to the 1830s, it was the events at Fort Sumter in April 1861 that proved to be the spark that ignited the fiery passions of war. During April 12–13, the fort, located on an island in Charleston Harbor, became the site of a bombardment of besieged Union troops under Major Robert Anderson by Confederate shore artillery commanded by P. G. T. Beauregard. It was the shots fired here that suddenly turned a political crisis into a military confrontation that would soon grow to engulf the country in four years of total war.
The story of Fort Sumter, however, does not end there. On September 9, 1863, Union forces under the command of Major General Quincy Gillmore attempted to retake the fort, still under the command of Beauregard. Although the fort was heavily damaged in the attack, the Union troops were unable to seize it from the Confederate defenders. A year and a half later, Major General William T. Sherman's bloody march through South Carolina prompted the Confederates to abandon Charleston and Fort Sumter, allowing the fort to come back under federal control on February 22, 1865. After the war, Fort Sumter was partially restored, although it served as a simple lighthouse for most of the remainder of the 19th century. The fort became a national monument on April 28, 1948, and is today visited by more than 300,000 people a year.
The National Park Service and various historical societies have a number of events planned to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War and Fort Sumter's role in the conflict, including concerts, special photograph collections, and art exhibits. A living history reenactment will be held from April 9 to 14, featuring a military encampment of infantry, cavalry, and engineers at Patriot's Point in Mount Pleasant; Union and then Confederate garrisons at the fort; and a number of educational demonstrations and harbor cruises.
Although the 1861 bombardment of Fort Sumter has become overshadowed somewhat by later events such as the Battle of Gettysburg and Sherman's March to the Sea, the shots that began the Civil War remain a vital part of American history.