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Fort Sumter in South Carolina was originally built in the nineteenth century as part of the “Third System” plan to defend the coasts of America following the War of 1812 against the British. In fact, it would go on to become the site of the ignition of the American Civil War.
Build Up to the War
Following the election of Abraham Lincoln as the President of the United States in 1860, southern states began seceding from the Union, declaring a separate Confederate States of America. Whilst there were many reasons for the build up to this north-south conflict, the main issue was Lincoln’s opposition to slavery and in particular to legislation such as the Federal Fugitive Slave Act.
South Carolina declared its secession on 20 December 1860. Despite this, Fort Sumter was originally held by the Union under the command of Major Robert Anderson. Anderson had moved his forces from the nearby Fort Moultrie to the previously sparsely defended Fort Sumter six days after the secession. This was seen as a hostile act by the Confederates.
Tensions mounted over this move, resulting in a siege of Fort Sumter by the Confederates against the Union. Supplies at Fort Sumter began running low and, despite negotiations, an agreement failed to be reached.
The War Begins
On the morning of 12 April 1861, the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, signaling the start of the American Civil War. Following 34 hours of bombardment, the Union surrendered Fort Sumter. They would not recapture it for a further four years.
Today, Fort Sumter is open to the public as part of the National Parks network. Visitors can hear a ten minute ranger talk about the site before embarking on a self-guided tour.
Civil War: Battle of Fort Sumter
The Battle of Fort Sumter was fought April 12-14, 1861, and was the opening engagement of the American Civil War. With the secession of South Carolina in December 1860, the garrison of the US Army's harbor forts in Charleston, led by Major Robert Anderson, found itself isolated. Withdrawing to the island bastion of Fort Sumter, the it was soon besieged. While efforts to the relieve the fort moved forward in the North, the newly-formed Confederate government ordered Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard to fire on the fort on April 12, 1861. After a brief fight, Fort Sumter was compelled to surrender and would remain in Confederate hands until the final weeks of the war.
Historic Fort Sumter - Fort Sumter Today
Historic Fort Sumter
At 4:30 a.m., April 12, 1861, Confederate gunners fired on Fort Sumter and the Civil War began. After 34 hours of non-stop shelling, Sumter's Union garrison surrendered, and on April 14 the Confederates took the fort. Fort Sumter then became the focus of a bitter, four-year struggle as Union forces tried to regain the fort and control Charleston Harbor.
Fort Sumter Today
Fort Sumter today looks much different than it did in 1861. The top two tiers are gone, destroyed during the Civil War. And the fort's center is now dominated by Battery Huger, a huge, black concrete artillery emplacement built in 1898-99.
Used by the army for coastal defense through World War II, Fort Sumter today reflects more than one hundred years of military activity (1930s-1940s). The fort became a National Monument in 1948.
Charleston's Historic Past
National Park Sites to Visit
Charleston has played a rich and varied role in America's history, as a defender of America's birth, home to founding fathers, trade center, ignitor of civil strife, and coastal defense link.
Three sites that display key elements of Charleston's storied past are preserved by the National Park Service and can be visited.
Fort Sumter, famous for the Civil War's opening battle, guards the entrance to Charleston
Harbor. Reached only by boast, it was the focus of explosive conflict from 1861-65. Reduced to ruin by war's end, Fort Sumter was partially rebuilt and modernized, continuing as a military site until the end of World War II.
Fort Moultrie, on Sullivans Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, was the site of a Revolutionary War battle in which patriot troops repulsed the invading British Navy. Guarding Charleston for nearly 200 years, Fort Moultrie traces American coastal defenses from the nation's birth through World War II.
Charles Pinckney - patriot, statesman, and a framer of the Constitution - helped mold America in nearby Mt. Pleasant, part of Pinckney's coastal plantation, called Snee Farm, is preserved as Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Features there provide a glimpse of America's early years.
Erected by Fort Sumter National Monument, South Carolina - National Park Service - U.S. Department of the Interior.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Forts and Castles &bull War, US Civil. A significant historical month for this entry is April 1849.
Location. 32° 45.639′ N, 79° 51.438′ W. Marker is in Sullivans Island, South Carolina, in Charleston County. Marker is on Middle Street, on the right when traveling west. Located in the parking lot behind the
visitor center for Fort Moultrie. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Sullivans Island SC 29482, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Grave of General William Moultrie (a few steps from this marker) Defending Charleston (within shouting distance of this marker) From Military Base to National Park (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line) Oceola / Patapsco Dead (about 300 feet away) Northwest Bastionet (about 400 feet away) Powder Magazine (about 500 feet away) Traverse c.1820 (about 500 feet away) Harbor Vigilance (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Sullivans Island.
More about this marker. In the upper portion of the Fort Sumter marker is an illustration depicting Fort Sumter as built with the caption, In 1861, Fort Sumter was an imposing, three-tier, brick fortress designed for 135 guns and 650 men. On the upper right is a wartime photo showing damage to the fort. By August 1863, Fort Sumter showed the effect of Union shelling. During the longest siege in U.S. military history, Union batteries bombarded the fort for 22 months (1863-65), pounding it into a mound of rubble. The lower part of the marker displays an aerial photo of the fort today.
On the Charleston's Past side, a map shows the location of the three National Parks sites. At the lower part of that side are photos of Forts Sumter and Moultrie, along with a portrait of Pinckney.
Regarding Historic Fort Sumter - Fort Sumter Today. Although many maps show such, there is no ferry from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter. The closest access to Fort Sumter is at Patriot's Point (see link).
Also see . . .
1. Fort Sumter. National Park Service site. The site offers details regarding access to Fort Sumter. (Submitted on June 15, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
2. Fort Moultrie. National Park Service site. (Submitted on June 15, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
3. Charlest Pinckney National Historic Site. National Park Service site. (Submitted on June 15, 2010, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
Fort Sumter didn’t just have a dramatic impact on the city of Charleston. It arguably changed the destiny of the entire United States.
The History of Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter received its name from General Thomas Sumter, a hero of the Revolutionary War who later served as a U.S. Senator. His nickname, the “Carolina Gamecock,” came from his unique and fierce fighting style—and later influenced the mascot of the University of South Carolina, the Gamecocks.
Construction on Fort Sumter began in 1829 at a strategic location in the Charleston harbor—although by the time the Civil War started, the five-sided structure remained unfinished. That’s why Major Robert Anderson of the U.S. Army first found himself at nearby Fort Moultrie just six days after South Carolina seceded from the Union.
Anderson abandoned the site, however, thinking it indefensible while South Carolina militia bore down on him. Instead, he went to the strategic Fort Sumter, despite its unfinished condition. From there, the Union possessed a key blocking point over Charleston harbor.
The governor of South Carolina demanded of then-President Buchanan that the Union abandon the Fort. The North refused, however, leading to a stalemate that lasted for months. By April of 1861, the situation grew dire as Anderson’s men began to run out of food. The newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln ordered a fleet of ships to deliver supplies to Fort Sumter, while Confederate leaders like General P.G.T. Beauregard considered whether they should take the fortress by force. In the early morning hours of April 11th, the Confederates opened fire on the fort, and the Civil War began.
Within days, Fort Sumter fell—and with it, any chance of peace.
Fort Sumter Today
Today, Fort Sumter is a National Monument and perhaps the go-to place to learn about the American Civil War. Situated on an island, the fort is only accessible by boat, which helps to explain its strategic importance during the Civil War—when shipping by sea was the dominant form of trade.
As a National Monument, Fort Sumter is maintained by the National Park Service and routinely open to visitors who want to learn more about the Civil War. Much of Fort Sumter has remained authentic to its appearance during the Civil War. The Fort Sumter National Monument doesn’t charge an entry fee, although you will likely have to pay associated fees for tours.
Although you can’t reach Fort Sumter by horse-drawn carriage, and can be seen depending on your route. The site remains one of the top historic attractions in the city of Charleston.
Schedule a carriage ride today to learn more about the history of Charleston while riding through the city in style.
The Battle of Fort Sumter: 160 Years Ago Today
On this day 160 years ago, Confederate forces fired on Federal troops stationed in Charleston Harbor’s Fort Sumter -- marking the official start of the American Civil War.
Today, over a century after the bloodiest conflict fought on American soil commenced in Charleston Harbor, anyone can buy a ferry ticket and see Fort Sumter for themselves. In fact, I was lucky enough to visit the fort, now a national monument under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, last month during my trip to Charleston.
However, before I get into my own experience at Fort Sumter it is important to address one key question: how did the country truly come to such a breaking point on the early morning of April 12, 1861?
In this artistic depiction of Fort Sumter from around 1860, the fort appears as it would have during the start of the Civil War in April 1861.
The firing on Fort Sumter was the climax of a series of events that were months, if not decades, in the making. By April 1861, the tensions that would boil over into the Civil War were a well entrenched part of American political life and had only intensified over the previous couple of months. By this point in American history, years of debate and attempted compromises had failed to address the issue of slavery adequately and the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln had been the final straw for those that supported maintaining the institution of slavery.
It is important to note that slavery was deeply intertwined with the economy and culture of the Southern states at this time. As a result, the election of Abraham Lincoln -- who had campaigned against the spread of slavery into new American territories -- was perceived as a threat by many in this region. South Carolina would famously lead the charge for succession , being the first to formally do so on December 20, 1860.
Another important key detail to make note of in the lead up to Fort Sumter was the incoming transfer of power from President James Buchanan over to the newly elected Abraham Lincoln. At this point in American history, the president did not formally take office until early March. Thus, the crisis of secession fell under the “lame duck” period of the Buchanan administration. Coupled with the controversial status Buchanan’s successor had among the Southern states, this would only further set the stage for the crisis that was brewing on the horizon.
In January 1861, a ship intending to deliver supplies to the 200 Federal troops at Fort Sumter had been fired upon -- forcing the vessel to turn around and retreat. The Federal troops present in Charleston, commanded by Major Robert Anderson, had moved from another fort along the coast, Fort Moultrie, to Fort Sumter on December 26, 1860. Major Anderson had ordered the move of his troops believing that Fort Sumter, due to being on an island in the harbor, was more easily defendable. Only days after, Confederate troops would move into Fort Moultrie as well as the other fortifications that outlined the city’s harbor.
By the end of 1860, Major Anderson and his roughly 200 men were stationed in the last federal stronghold in Charleston as over 3,000 Confederate troops surrounded them. Their decision to slip away to Fort Sumter had been viewed by the citizens of Charleston as an indignant act of aggression and tensions only further mounted.
Six more states -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- had declared their secession by February 1861. Delegates representing these states and South Carolina had officially convened in Montgomery, Alabama to designate themselves under a new, independent government: the Confederate States of America. As Buchanan’s days in office dwindled, a South Carolina delegation arrived in Washington, DC demanding that all federal military installations in the state be surrendered. Buchanan refused.
The inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861 — just over a month before the official start of the Civil War
The following month, March 1861, Lincoln officially took office and inherited a dangerously divided nation. Although President Lincoln had made it clear that he would not accept the succession of the Southern states as legitimate, he intended to resolve the crisis without war. On April 4, 1861 -- Lincoln informed South Carolina authorities that he intended to resupply the federal troops stationed in Fort Sumter. Confederate delegates then approached Major Anderson, asking him to surrender the fort but Anderson refused and stated that:
Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, head of the Confederate troops in Charleston, had already received orders from the Confederate government to take Fort Sumter. Upon hearing Major Anderson’s refusal to surrender the fort, the firing on the fort was now imminent.
An artistic depiction of the firing on Fort Sumter, an event which started the Civil War and forever altered the trajectory of American history.
Just before five in the morning on April 12, 1861 -- Beauregard’s men opened fire and the first shots of the Civil War exploded in the air above Fort Sumter. These shots had been the signal for all other Confederate garrisons along the harbor to start firing upon the fort. Two hours later, Anderson fired back.
Although remarkably outnumbered, Anderson and his men held their ground for 36 hours before they surrendered. On the afternoon of April 14, 1861, the last remaining federal troops in Charleston evacuated Fort Sumter and the Confederate flag was raised over the fort. The Civil War had officially begun.
The events of April 12, 1861 are a far cry from a typical outing to Fort Sumter today. On a pleasant March afternoon, we boarded a ferry bound for Fort Sumter while enjoying the seaside breeze coming in from the Atlantic Ocean and arrived on the island itself after about a relaxing, half-an-hour journey along the Charleston Harbor.
Today, Fort Sumter looks almost nothing like how it would have looked during the Civil War. The crumbling walls still retain the damage of both Confederate and Union artillery: federal forces would attempt to retake the fort multiple times over the course of the Civil War in an effort to regain control over Charleston Harbor. However, every other structure present at Fort Sumter today was built after the Civil War ended.
Fort Sumter as it can be seen during the ferry’s approach to the island. The walls are much shorter today than they were during the Civil War as their original top two tiers were destroyed during the multiple bombings the fort endured over the course of the war. The central black structure, Battery Huger, was added during around 1898 during the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
The entrance to Fort Sumter National Monument as it can be seen today. The fort remained in active duty through World War II, being used by the army for coastal defense of the United States. It would officially become a national monument in 1948.
Just a few hundred yards from the entrance stands a rectangular stone: I happened to wander over to it while a park ranger detailed the story of Fort Sumter and the Civil War to a substantial crowd of tourists who had journeyed out to the island alongside me. On the stone was a large plaque, commemorating Major Anderson’s garrison for their defense of Fort Sumter during the bombardment. Other than the rubble of its walls and a range of cannons placed throughout the monument, it was the only visible marker of the fort’s role in the Civil War that I could see.
Close-up on a plaque added to Fort Sumter in 1932, a little over a decade before it officially became a national monument, to commemorate Major Robert Anderson and the troops under his commanded who defended the fort against Confederate bombardment in April 1861.
However, even though the fort today does not bear the same appearance as it did on that fateful morning in April 1861, it is undeniable how important the memory of Fort Sumter and the Civil War has remained in the American consciousness up until today. Thousands of people board the ferry bound for Fort Sumter daily to get a glimpse of the site where the most momentous conflict in American history began. At the gift shop on the island itself, you can purchase a number of postcards proudly declaring Fort Sumter as the site “where the Civil War began.” You can even buy teddy bears wearing the Civil War uniform of your choosing -- the navy of the Union or the grey of the Confederacy.
Looking back at the silhouette of Charleston Harbor from the top of Battery Huger as visitors listen to a park ranger’s presentation about the history of Fort Sumter. The dilapidated walls of the fort — reduced to rubble after four years of bombardment from Union troops — are visible. Fort Sumter remains the most bombed place in the United States today.
An example of one of the many postcards available for purchase at Fort Sumter’s gift shop. In this aerial view of the fort, Battery Huger (the black concrete structure in the center of the island) as well as what is left of the fort’s walls can be clearly seen.
Looking back at the expanse of the Charleston Harbor and out to the gigantic Atlantic Ocean from Fort Sumter, I realized just how small the island itself actually was. I could have probably walked its perimeter in a mere ten or fifteen minutes tops. Yet, this tiny blip on the Charleston shoreline made quite the giant mark on the trajectory of American history.
Exploring a Turning Point in American History: Visiting Fort Sumter
Ask most people where the Civil War started, and they'll say Fort Sumter in Charleston. It was at this US Army fort at the mouth of Charleston harbor that the first shots of the war rang out, starting one of the bloodiest and most tragic episodes of American history.
But the root causes of the Civil War stretch back far beyond that fateful early morning of April 12, 1861, and the consequences of that day extend far beyond the skirmish that saw Confederate troops overtake the small but highly strategic fort on a tiny windswept island. The Fort Sumter National Monument, part of the National Park System, attempts to tell that complicated and fascinating history. It also just happens to be one of the most lovely places in all of Charleston.
Start your visit at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square, located on the spot where Gadsden's Wharf once stood, right next to the South Carolina Aquarium. Gadsden's Wharf was once the place where enslaved Africans entered South Carolina. The visitor center tells the story of their journey, and of the economic, social and political history of slavery in the US that led up to those first shots fired at Fort Sumter. Make sure you give yourself an hour or even more to explore the exhibits. They give a context and history to the trip out to the fort that makes the experience even richer.
Admission to the fort and visitor center is free, but you'll need to buy ferry tickets to get out to the island. Fort Sumter is one of the most popular attractions in Charleston, and ferry tickets do regularly sell out, so be sure to buy your tickets in advance.
There are two places to get the ferry to Fort Sumter. One is the visitor center and the other is Patriots Point, the naval museum across the harbor in Mount Pleasant. The trip out to the island is one of the best parts of the day. There's a good chance you'll see dolphins out in the harbor, and you'll definitely get the best view of the beautiful Battery and iconic Charleston skyline, the Holy City dotted with steeples. Tour guides point out important landmarks along the way.
Once at Fort Sumter, you'll have the chance to walk and wander through the remains of the fort. Fort Sumter is now a historic site, not a working fort. Much of it is now in ruins, but it wasn't actually decommissioned until 1948. Between the Civil War and the end of World War II, various additions and changes were made to Fort Sumter, and these layers of change are visible to visitors today. Rangers are available to give overviews and answer questions. Tours aren't regularly scheduled but are often available if you ask, depending on how busy the fort is that day.
Make sure you search for the Civil War era projectiles still lodged in the five foot thick walls, the crooked arch and leaning brick walls where a powder keg accidentally exploded. Don't miss the enormous and ancient cannons still standing ready and pointing out to sea, and just know that any kids with you will want to climb onto them. Don't let them. Most things at Fort Sumter, including the bricks and cannons, are fragile and historic, and the kids could get hurt or damage the cannons without meaning to.
Before you board the ferry to return to Charleston, take a few minutes to walk out to the beach just outside the rough, thick walls and along the sandy spit into the harbor. It's possibly the most beautiful view in all of Charleston.
About Fort Sumter
The fort is named for South Carolinian Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War patriot. Construction on the fort began in 1829, one of a series of coastal forts built by the United States after the War of 1812. Enslaved laborers and craftsmen were among those who worked on this structure. It was still unfinished when Maj. Robert Anderson moved his 85-man garrison into the fort on Dec. 26, 1860. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina delegates met in a special convention and voted to break away from the Federal Union.
After Anderson moved his men to Fort Sumter, the South demanded the Union leave. The Union refused. On April 12, 1861, South Carolina Confederate troops from nearby Fort Johnson fired on the fort. The two-day bombardment resulted in the Union surrendering the fort.
On April 14, Maj. Anderson and his men marched out of the fort and boarded ships bound for New York. They had defended Sumter for 34 hours, until "the quarters were entirely burned, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls seriously injured, the magazines surrounded by flames."
The Civil War had begun.
The South held the fort until Feb. 17, 1865, when Confederates evacuated. With Charleston now in Union hands, the US flag that was lowered when the fort was surrendered in 1861, was raised above Fort Sumter. For almost two years leading up to that date, more than 7 million pounds of metal were fired at Fort Sumter. It is considered among the most significant historic monuments in the United States.
Things to Know While Visiting
Check ahead on the weather forecast. While the exhibits inside tell the story of the fort and its famous battle, the rest of the cool things to see and do are outside. If it's warm, bring sunscreen and insect repellent.
While picnics aren't allowed at the fort, there's a snack bar on the ferry. It's also smart to bring a refillable water bottle and snacks to eat while enjoying the great view. There's also a small bookstore that sells history books, Civil War memorabilia and other Fort Sumter keepsakes.
The surrender of Fort Sumter sent shockwaves throughout the United States and Confederate States alike. Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers which was filled immediately by some states while others were still reluctant to get involved. Patriotism on both sides had reached a high and young men began preparing for a full-scale war. While the Battle of Fort Sumter did not have any casualties it led to the bloodiest war in American History.
Fort Sumter would remain in Confederate hands throughout the war and would be the only hole in the Union Blockade. Several attempts were made to recapture the fort, but ultimately failed until General Sherman outflanked the Fort in his march up the coast. The Confederates then abandoned the fort and Major Anderson would return to raise the American flag that he had lowered.
7. Another battle erupted at Fort Sumter in 1863—and it was much bloodier.
The battle—a follow-up to a failed naval assault—took place on September 7 and 8, 1863. Four hundred Union sailors and marines advanced on the garrison, which was believed to be largely unoccupied. But unfortunately for the Union troops, it wasn’t. Some 300 Confederates attacked them from within the structure. “Two-thirds of the amphibious [Union] force escaped, but nearly two dozen of them were killed or wounded and more than a hundred were captured on the face of the fort,” recounts the National Park Service website. “No Confederates were injured.”
The Battle of Sumter
For a while it was a siege like situation, before Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard from the side of the Confederate States, via his aides, demanded that Maj. Anderson and his troops vacate the fort. This was on 11 April. The fort itself was in a secure position and bomb secure. As such it would have been able to protect itself from intruders for a significant length of time.
However because of the siege like situation that preceded the battle, rations and food supplies were running out for Major Anderson and his men. When the Major still refused to surrender, the Confederate Forces commenced bombardment of the fort on the following day.
Because of the foregoing siege, the Confederate forces had had the time and the opportunities to shore up their artillery and their men. Also the Union men did not have the equipment that would permit them to out-gun their attackers.
According to some records, the battle lasted for 34 hours. At the end of this battle Maj. Anderson and his men had to surrender and evacuate the fort. It is a miracle that a gun battle that lasted so long resulted in no deaths. The Battle of Sumter is remarkable for this reason and hugely significant as the first battle of the American Civil War.
(1) William Seward, memorandum to Abraham Lincoln (1st April, 1861)
My system is built upon the idea as a ruling one, namely, that we must change the question before the public from one upon slavery, or about slavery, for a question upon union or disunion. In other words, from what would be regarded as a party question to one of patriotism or union.
The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not in fact a slavery or a party question, is so regarded. Witness the temper manifested by the Republicans in the free states, and even by the Union men in the South.
I would therefore terminate it as a safe means for changing the issue. I deem it fortunate that the last administration created the necessity. For the rest, I would simultaneously defend and reinforce all the ports in the Gulf and have the Navy recalled from foreign stations to be prepared for a blockade. Put the island of Key West under martial law.
(2) Mary Boykin Chesnut, Charleston, South Carolina, diary entry (13th April, 1861)
Fort Sumter has been on fire. Anderson has not yet silenced any of our guns. So the aides, still with swords and red sashes by way of uniform, tell us. But the sound of those guns makes regular meals impossible. None of us go to table. Tea trays pervade the corridors going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery.
(3) Walt Whitman wrote about his thoughts on hearing about the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Specimen Days (1881).
Even after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the gravity of the revolt, and the power and will of the slave States for a strong and continued military resistance to national authority, were not at all realized at the North, except by a few. Nine-tenths of the people of the free States looked upon the rebellion, as started in South Carolina, from a feeling of one-half of contempt, and the other half composed of anger and incredulity. It was not thought it would be joined in by Virginia, North Carolina, or Georgia. A great and cautious national official predicted it would blow over "in sixty days" and folks generally believed the prediction.
(4) Mary Livermore was staying in Boston with her father when the American Civil War started in 1861.
My own home had been in Chicago for years, but my aged father was thought to be dying, and the stern speech of the telegram had summoned me to his bedside. The daily papers teemed with the dreary records of sucession. The Southern press blazed with hatred of the North, and with fierce contempt for her patience and her avowed desire for peace. Northern men and women were driven from Southern homes, leaving behind all their possessions, and thankful to escape with life.
The day after arrival, came the news that Fort Sumter was attacked, which increased the feverish anxiety. The telegraph, which had registered for the astounded nation the hourly progress of the bombardment, announced the lowering of the stars and stripes, and the surrender of the beleaguered garrison, the news fell on the land like a thunderbolt.