CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- It’s Wednesday which means it’s time to explore the history of the Lowcountry. This week, we take a look at a lesser-known piece of Charleston’s Civil War history: Castle Pinckney.
The barely-visible, overgrown island located in the middle of Charleston harbor near Fort Sumter, was granted to Colonel Alexander Parris, treasurer of the South Carolina colony, in 1711. But by 1746, the island, known as Shute’s Folly, was divided up and sold to rice planter Johnathan Lucas and Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress.
In 1797, a secondary defense structure was built and it was named Fort Pinckney in honor of Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Revolutionary War officer and ambassador to France. Although a hurricane demolished the fortification in 1804, it was rebuilt by 1808. The bricks from the 1808 structure make up the ruins that are visible today.
Then came the Nullification Crisis and with it talks of secession. Between 1832 and 1834, Castle Pinckney was guarded by the U.S. Army as a storehouse for federal property if South Carolina were to secede. South Carolina did so in December 1860 and at the time, there were only two members of the U.S. Army that protected the fort. Later that same month, Castle Pinckney became the first federal installation to be seized by a seceded state.
Now belonging to Confederate forces, Castle Pinckney was redesigned as a holding place for prisoners of war. In September 1861, following the Battle of Bull Run, 156 Union prisoners, arrived on the island, but the overcrowding soon became an issue so the prisoners were transferred to the Charleston City Jail.
In 1863, with the understanding that Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie would soon fall, Castle Pinckney was refitted as an artillery post, a last effort by the Confederate Army to strengthen Charleston’s harbor defenses. But, like the two aforementioned forts, Castle Pinckney would eventually return to United States command in 1865.
After the war, a lighthouse was built on the site of the fort where it remained until 1916. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge designated the island as a national monument. However, Castle Pinckney National Monument never received any visitors, so it was abolished by Congress in 1956.
Since 1956, ownership of the land has changed hands several times, but the South Carolina Ports Authority held the deed for much of the time. In 2011, the South Carolina Ports Authority handed over the deed to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for $10 in Confederate currency. The group still retains possession today.