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Castle Pinckney: South Carolina’s Vanishing War Fort

On a small island called Shutes Folly, located approximately one mile away from the shores of Charleston, the US government constructed a fortification in 1810. It was dubbed the Castle Pinckney, which served the country’s military forces during its glory days.

The castle was briefly used as a detention area for the prisoners of war, then became an artillery position used by the army during the American Civil War. But today, the once might establishment is slowly rotting away in its isolated location.

Castle Pinckney’s Early Years

An original fort called Fort Pinckney was established on Shutes Folly in 1797. The log and earthen fort was built in honor of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a major Revolutionary War hero. The government initially intended it to shield the city from an expected naval attack when the country was on the brink of a war with France.

The construction of the original fort was completed in 1804. But it never served its intended purpose because the French army showed no signs of hostility. However, the fort was badly damaged during a massive hurricane in September of the same year.

By 1809, the government ordered the construction of a brick-and-mortar property, which they dubbed as Castle Pinckney. The structure was finished in 1810. It became a command post during the historic War of 1812, but it never saw any action during the event. After a few years, the fort was abandoned and left for destruction.

During the Nullification Crisis in 1832, a sea wall was built on the island, and the fort was re-assigned as one of the country’s military posts. But the confrontation between South Carolina and President Andrew Jackson’s government only lasted for a while. After the end of the crisis, the military left the fort again and decided to use it as a warehouse for their gunpowder and other essential military supplies.

Castle Pinckney During The American Civil War

After South Carolina withdrew from the Union, the fort was handed over to the SC militia by its minor US army military post. It was relinquished to joint Major Robert Anderson at the Fort Sumter. Castle Pinckney was recognized as the first military installation of the Federals seized by force by the Confederate States of America (CSA).

After three days, the Charleston Arsenal of the Union was also seized by the South Carolina forces. Following the Confederate’s consecutive attack on Fort Sumter, the Zouave Cadets of Charleston garrisoned the fort.

Castle Pinckney was converted into prison cells for the Union Army prisoners of war. But the castle was too small and weak for their permanent confinement. So after six-weeks of staying at the castle, the prisoners were taken back to the Charleston City Jail.

The famous members of the Charleston Zouave Cadets who were stationed at the Castle Pinckney in 1861.

Castle Pinckney Today

The fort was no longer used after the Civil War. It was initially restored to serve as a historic destination, but the restoration costs were very expensive for the government. The once towering fort is now an isolated shoal that is slowly deteriorating with time.