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Here's a great question for you next trivia challenge: where did the first bombardment of Fort Sumter that began the Civil War originate? No points lost if you incorrectly answered The Battery along downtown's sea wall or Fort Moultrie in Mount Pleasant, but the first shot on Sumter actually came from James Island's Fort Johnson, on the southern shore of the harbor's mouth and almost directly opposite Fort Sumter in mid-harbor (that's Sumter in the distance in the above photo).

Once called Windmill Point. there have been at least four military fortifications on the site, starting with a colonial-era British one erected in 1708 and named for the Proprietary Governor of the Carolinas at the time, Nathaniel Johnson. While any traces of this original fort have long disappeared, segments of the tabby walls of a second, pre-Revolutionary War fort built in 1759 can still be seen at the site. By 1775, an enlarged and better defended fort rose on the Point, at first occupied by colonial rebels but seized by the British during their occupation of Charleston and later destroyed by a hurricane. Yet another fort rose on the site as a second British invasion of Charleston seemed possible during the War of 1812. All that remains of this third structure are the stone base of a wooden observation tower, and a free-standing brick magazine which remains intact.

The c.1830 magazine remains intact.

Fort Johnson during the Civil War

By 1861, South Carolina troops had placed two 10-inch mortars on the point. On April 12, 1861 one of the mortars fired on Fort Sumter in the opening salvo of the war that split the nation. During the war, Confederate forces drove off two Union regiments that attempted an approach from nearby Morris Island, keeping the Fort in Confederate hands until the winter of 1865, when it was abandoned in the general withdrawal from Charleston as Union forces approached the city.

A post-war, federally operated quarantine station next occupied the site until the 1950's when the College of Charleston and MUSC took title to the 40-acre property, but by the 1970's most of the land had been transferred to the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, which continues to operate a marine research station there. The College's Grice Marine Laboratory serves as a research and teaching facility at the site, while MUSC sold its waterfront portion to the South Carolina Battlefield Preservation Trust, which has created a 20-acre park and historic site for the public.

On the point, with its sweeping view down the harbor toward Charleston, you can still walk where guns once roared and a war began.

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