Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter and the Civil War

Current Stock:
Gift wrapping:
Options available
Richard W. Hatcher, III
Pub Date:
December 2023
Hardcover, 6 x 9
3 maps, 50 images, 288 pp.
Signed bookplates:


Purchase your eBook here!

Click HERE to read all the Front Matter and Chapter 1!

About the Book

Fort Sumter. Charleston. April 1861. The bombardment and surrender of Sumter were only the beginning of the story. Both sides understood the military significance of the fort and the busy seaport, which played host to one of the longest and most complicated and fascinating campaigns of the entire Civil War. Richard Hatcher’s Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter and the Civil War is the first modern study to document the fort from its origins through the war and up to the present.

After it was captured, Southern troops immediately occupied and improved Sumter’s defenses. The U.S. blockaded Charleston Harbor and for two years the fort, with its 50 heavy guns and a 500-man garrison, remained mostly untested. That changed in April 1863, when a powerful combined operation set its sights on the fort, Charleston, and its outer defenses. The result was a grueling 22-month land and sea siege—the longest of the Civil War. The widespread effort included ironclad attacks, land assaults, raiding parties, and siege operations. Some of the war’s most famous events unfolded there under the direction of a host of colorful personalities, including the assault of African-American troops against Battery Wagner (depicted in the movie Glory), the shelling of the city by the “Swamp Angel,” and the beginning of submarine warfare when the H. L. Hunley sank the USS Housatonic and was herself lost at sea.

The destruction of Fort Sumter remained a key Federal objective throughout the siege. Despite repeated concentrated bombardments of the fort and the city, it never fell. The defiant fort, Charleston, and its meandering defensive lines were evacuated in February 1865 once word arrived that Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had taken Columbia, South Carolina, and was about to cut off the coastal city. Hatcher, the former historian at Fort Sumter, mined a host of primary sources to produce an in-depth and fascinating account of the intricacies, complexities, and importance of this campaign to the overall war effort.

Nearly 18 months of shelling had rendered Fort Sumter almost unrecognizable, but the significance of its location remained. During the eight decades that followed, the United States invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours rebuilding and rearming the fort to face potential foreign threats in three different wars. By the end of World War II, sea and air power had made Sumter obsolete, and the fort was transferred to the National Park Service.

Thunder in the Harbor fills a large gap in the historiography of the war and underscores that there is still much to learn about our endlessly fascinating Civil War.

Advance Praise

“A detailed, authoritative, and expansive new study of the centerpiece of Charleston’s defensive network. Lovers of American history should visit this beautiful city. Take a carriage ride, sample the food, and relax at The Battery. But before you take that boat ride to Fort Sumter, prepare yourself properly with Rick Hatcher’s fascinating Thunder in the Harbor.” — Pat Brennan, co-author of Gettysburg in Color (Vols. 1 and 2)

“Richard Hatcher’s Thunder in the Harbor is a highly readable and informative history of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, from its construction after the War of 1812 through its role in the Civil War and up to the present. As a historian at the Fort Sumter Fort Moultrie National Historical Park for more than 22 years, Rick qualifies as the world’s most knowledgeable expert on the fort’s history. His expertise, combined with his talent as an engaging narrator, has resulted in a book that occupies an honored space on my Civil War bookshelf. I highly recommend it.” — Gordon C. Rhea, author of five books on the Overland Campaign, and Stephen A. Swails: Black Freedom Fighter in the Civil War and Reconstruction

“Fort Sumter, the guardian of Charleston and the Gibraltar of the Confederacy, withstood the greatest series of artillery bombardments ever endured in the Western Hemisphere. Rick Hatcher, the former historian of Fort Sumter Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, brings it all to life in the most comprehensive account to date. Thunder in the Harbor is a must for anyone interested in the history of Charleston, the Civil War, and Fort Sumter’s indomitable legacy.” — Stephen R. Wise, author of Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor 1863

“Rick Hatcher’s outstanding book fills a gaping hole in the literature of the Civil War. Using many sources missed by countless historians, Hatcher has reconstructed the fort’s history from its origins through its ultimate transfer to the National Park Service in 1948. Hatcher describes all of the combat and personal sacrifice that took place in and around the fort. Thunder in the Harbor is engrossing and authoritative. It will stand as the definitive account of Fort Sumter for years to come.” — Kyle S. Sinisi, Ph.D., Professor of History, The Citadel 

“A masterpiece of historical research...” - Midwest Book Review

“Hatcher’s expertise is apparent and his sifting of source material exhaustive. The author has crafted a detailed and well-plotted history of Fort Sumter and the soldiers, sailors, and civilians, both white and black, who played a role in the events there. Thunder in the Harbor will serve as a seminal work on Fort Sumter for years to come.” - Civil War Monitor




Richard W. Hatcher III is a native of Richmond, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1973 with a BA in History. His lifelong love of the subject began during the Civil War Centennial, and grew when he later worked as a seasonal employee at Richmond National Battlefield Park. Rick began working permanently with the National Park Service in 1976 and he retired as Historian from Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park in 2015. Rick is the author or co-author of numerous articles and books including the award-winning Wilson’s Creek, The Second Major Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It (2001), and Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove and is a regular on the Civil War speaking circuit.