Fort Sumter Civil War 150th Commemorative Event At Fort Ontario

OSWEGO, NY – On Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17, a special event commemorating the Confederate artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter will be held at Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Oswego.

About 100 Union and Confederate reenactors with up to 16 cannon will converge at the fort over the weekend to conduct living history and artillery firing demonstrations.  The first cannon will go off at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday as it did on April 12, 1861, starting the original Battle of Fort Sumter.

Battle of Fort Sumter
Battle of Fort Sumter

Fort Ontario will be open to the public from 10: a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; regular admission fees of $4 for adults and $3 for seniors and student age 13 and above will be charged.  Children age 12 and under will be admitted free.

The museum shop will be open.  On Saturday only the Continental Arms Collectors will present an exhibit of Civil War artifacts.  The Daughters of the Civil War will host an exhibit on their organization.

From 1:15  to 2:15 p.m. on Saturday artillery fire will be sustained by Union artillery on the forts ramparts representing Fort Sumter’s defense by its exhausted 70 man garrison led by Major Robert Anderson.  Confederate artillery will be set up in batteries east of the fort and will represent cannon fired from the City of Charleston which mostly destroyed and burned Fort Sumter during the 33 hour siege beginning April 12th 1861.  A 100 gun salute commemorating the heroic defense of Fort Sumter will begin on Sunday at 2:30 PM. Civil War activities will cease at the end of the salute.

The highlight of the Civil War artillery event will be “Fireworks over Fort Ontario” from 8:30 – 9 p.m. on Saturday, simulating exploding shells fired from cannon in the City of Charleston at Fort Sumter.  No parking will be available at the fort due to fireworks safety zones, wet ground conditions, and extra space needed for artillery firing.

Patrons are encouraged to park on city streets around the fort and walk to the park.

Only reenactors and fort staff will be allowed inside the fort and a safety zone will be established around the fort during the evening fireworks demonstration.

On Saturday at 10 a.m. the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War will present a lecture on their activities and at 11 a.m. Historic Site Manager Paul Lear will discuss activities at Fort Ontario during the Civil War.

On Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Robert Yott, author of a book on the Soldiers Home in Bath, NY, will conduct a lecture on New York State in the Civil.

Other unscheduled activities such as drill and guard duty will be performed throughout the event.

AmeriCorps staffer Ian Mumpton will conduct invigorating 19th century period games and activities for children during the event.

The Battle of Fort Sumter signaled the beginning of the bloodiest war in American history (1861-65) in which more than 600,000 Americans died.

Oswego County supplied thousands of soldiers for the Union Army and Fort Ontario served as a major recruiting depot.  In 1861, the 81st New York Infantry was recruited and trained at Fort Ontario; this regiment gained fame as being the first infantry regiment to enter the City of Richmond after it fell in 1865.

Battery G First New York Light Artillery was put together at Fort Ontario and sent to Elmira for enrollment, as well as the 21st New York Independent Battery of Artillery later on.  Early in the Civil War the 7th U.S. Infantry, while being paroled after treacherously being turned over to Confederates in Texas by a turncoat commanding officer, garrisoned the post.

In 1863 the 16th U.S. Infantry occupied the post, recruiting after heavy battlefield losses. Companies of the 147th New York Infantry, later to gain fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, were also organized at Fort Ontario in 1862.

During the infamous and violent New York City Draft Riots of July 13 – 16, 1863, draft records were brought to Fort Ontario for safekeeping as the government thought it the only safe place in the State of New York.

Fearing intervention on the part of Great Britain and an invasion of the United States through Canada, the Corps of Engineers began work on modernizing Fort Ontario in 1863 and replacing its 1840s’ pressure treated timber and earth outer walls with stone quarried from the area of the modern Post Cemetery.  It is fair to state that at no time during the actual years of the Civil War was Fort Ontario, or any other northern defenses, in a satisfactory condition to repel any determined attempt which might have been made on the part of the British from Canada to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.

However, exertions of the garrisons materially aided the Union cause, particularly through recruitment and training of both volunteers and draftees.

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