Commanding an island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter National Monument marks the site of the first military engagement of the Civil War. On April 12, 1861, a month after Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and four months after South Carolina had seceded from the United States, Confederate guns bombarded the fort until the federal forces withdrew. The structure was badly damaged, but no one was killed and the fort was held by the Confederates for the next four years, by which time it had been almost completely flattened. Partly restored, but still a powerful symbol of the destruction wrought by the war, Fort Sumter is a key stop on any tour of Civil War sites.
You can visit Fort Sumter by taking your personal boat or by taking a ferry tour boat (843/722-2628, $21); they leave from Patriot’s Point, just off US-17’s soaring cable-stayed bridge across the Cooper River. (Other boats to Fort Sumter dock at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center in downtown Charleston.) Patriot’s Point is also the anchorage of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (daily, $22), centerpiece of an excellent floating maritime museum that also includes World War II-era fighter planes, a destroyer that took part in D-Day, a River Patrol boat, and a Cold War-era submarine.