Castle Pinckney

Castle Pinckney is a much more visible site in Charleston Harbor today, thanks to recent trimming of trees and weeds that had obscured the curious foritification for many years. The original 1808 design was created by Col. Jonathan Williams, who was Chief Superintendent of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under president Thomas Jefferson. Williams planned a series of twin-tiered, elliptical fortresses in a castle-like look to guard the Atlantic coast. Two other castle fortresses were built in New York Harbor, with the Charleston version named after Constitution signer Charleston Cotesworth Pinckney.
Castle Pinckney was built on a spit of land called Shutes Folly, located inside the harbor. It’s position so close to the Charleston peninsula quickly made the fort obsolete, as more the powerful cannons of the 1820’s made it necessary to build a fort more distant from the city to keep ships at bay, and thus Fort Sumter was conceived. The only shots fired from Castle Pinckney were military salutes during garrison duty in the early 19th century. Still a U.S. installation in 1860, Castle Pinckney was seized by seceding South Carolinians, and was manned with guns during the Civil War. The only significant use it served during that conflict was as a holding area for Union prisoners in the early days of the war before Confederate prison camps were created. In the summer of 1861 after the first battle of Manassas, Union “Zoave” captives from New York were held at Castle Pinckney, which had barracks decorated with signs that read “Hotel de Zoave” and “Musical Hall 444 Broadway.”
The fort was decommissioned as a military location after the Civil War and served as a harbor channel lighthouse and day marker until 1951, when it was manned by abandoned. Today, the tiny old castle is sunken into surrounding mud, but at least one Dahlgren cannon from the Civil War lies buried within. The property was recently deeded to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have cleaned up year so neglect, and plan to erect a flagpole to display the Second National flag of the Confederacy, the “Stainless Banner” in 2012.

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