ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Castle Pinckney, South Carolina
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Castle Pinckney, South Carolina
Castle Pinckney
Built on a site selected by President George
Washington, Castle Pinckney sits on a small island
in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
Castle Pinckney
The old fort is closed to the
public and can be seen only
from the tour boats that cross
Charleston Harbor.
Charleston's Forgotten Fort
The little fort was completed
in 1810 and defended the
harbor during the War of 1812
and Civil War. It is unclear if
its guns ever fired in battle.
Castle Pinckney - Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston's Forgotten Fort
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: July 3, 2012
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Forts of the Southern Coast
A Lost National Monument
Although it was never
developed for public visitation,
Castle Pinkney was a
National Monument from
1924 to 1956.
Castle Pinckney in 1860s
This image from the Library of
Congress shows Castle
Pinckney as it appeared
during the Civil War. As can
be seen, the Confederates
heavily reinforced the old
masonry with embankments
of earth.
Located on Shutes Folly, a small island in
the inner harbor of Charleston, South
Carolina, Castle Pinckney is one of the least
known and most tragically neglected 19th
century coastal forts in the South.

The ruins are not open to the public, but can
be viewed from the various tour boats that
make their way through Charleston Harbor.
Most guides make note of the fort as the
vessels pass by.

The site of Castle Pinckney was selected for
military purposes by President George
Washington. While visiting Charleston in
1791, Washington noticed the strategic
location of Shutes Folly and recommended it
be fortified for the defense of the city.

It was a sound recommendation and after
considerable discussion and planning, a log
work named Fort Pinckney was completed
on the island in 1804. The name of the fort
honored Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a
general of the American Revolution and
delegate from South Carolina to the
Constitutional Convention.

No sooner had the walls of the new log fort
risen than were they leveled by a hurricane
that swept into the harbor. The need for more
permanent fortifications at Charleston was
recognized and work began on two of the
defensive works that can still be seen there
today: Castle Pinckney and Fort Moultrie.

Together with a third, older work - Fort
Johnson on James Island - these forts made
Charleston one of the best defended cities in
America at the time of the War of 1812. So
strong were the fortifications thought to be, in
fact, that the British never attempted to take
the city during that conflict.

Of these three forts, Castle Pinckney was of
the most unique design. Termed a "castle"
by military planners because it allowed guns
to fire on an attacking force from multiple
levels, it was semi-circular in design. The
curving exterior allowed additional cannon to
be brought to bear on the harbor.

The development of longer range cannon
during the early 19th century, however,
reduced the significance of Castle Pinckney
almost as soon as it was completed. The
location of the fort so close to the city itself
rendered it ineffectual for defense.

In 1826, Castle Pinckney was designated a
secondary line of defense for the harbor and
the following year construction began on a
new island fortress further out in the harbor.
This work, Fort Sumter, would assume an
unforgettable place in American history.

Castle Pinckney, however, almost filled the
role of Fort Sumter 29 years before the latter
work was fired on by Confederate troops.

In 1832, South Carolina engaged in a stand-
off with the Federal government that is
remembered today as the Nullification Crisis.

The state held that it had the right to ignore or
"nullify" any Federal law that was contrary to
its interests. In particular, South Carolinians
were angry over the Tariff of 1828, which they
called the Tariff of Abominations.

The tariff levied heavy duties on cotton and
other products vital to the Southern economy.
Southerners hoped that Andrew Jackson
would take action against the tariff when he
assumed the office of President in 1829.
When he did not do so, South Carolina stood
for nullification and provoked a Constitutional

The crisis peaked in 1832 when South
Carolina sent state troops to Charleston and
prepared to raise an army of as many as
25,000 men. Jackson, in turn, vowed to
defend the Union and threatened to hang the
leaders of the nullification movement should
a drop of blood be spilled.

The U.S. garrison in Castle Pinckney was on
the frontline of this dispute and Jackson
ordered the soldiers to hold their position at
all hazards. A single spark could have ignited
war at any minute, but ultimately compromise
was reached and the Nullification Crisis
passed without bloodshed.

The primary garrison of Castle Pinckney was
withdrawn four years later in 1836 and the
fort remained in caretaker status until it was
seized by South Carolina forces on
December 27, 1860. The war that had been
averted in 1832 came four months later when
Confederate forces opened fire on Fort

Castle Pinckney briefly served as a prison for
Union soldiers captured at the Battle of First
Manassas in 1861, then was overhauled by
Confederate engineers who mounted heavy
cannon on its ramparts and reinforced its
walls with massive earthen embankments.

The fort was bombarded three times by
Union artillery, but never fell in battle. It was
evacuated when the Confederate army left
Charleston in 1865.

Declared a National Monument in 1922,
Castle Pinckney was never considered a vital
part of the National Park system and the
designation was withdrawn in 1956. The fort
today is a crumbling ruin supervised by the
South Carolina State Ports Authority. It is not
open to the public.
Photos by Roger Moore