For many, the Battery (E. Battery St. and Murray Blvd., 843/724-7321, 24 hrs., free) is the single most iconic Charleston spot, drenched in history and boasting dramatic views in all directions. A look to the south gives you the sweeping expanse of the Cooper River, with views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, Sullivan’s Island, and, off to the north, the old carrier Yorktown moored at Mount Pleasant. A landward look gives you a view of the adjoining, peaceful White Point Gardens, the sumptuous mansions of the Battery, and a beguiling peek behind them into some of the oldest neighborhoods in Charleston.
But if you had been one of the first European visitors to this tip of the peninsula about 400 years ago, you’d have seen how it got its first name, Oyster Point: This entire area was once home to an enormous outcropping of oysters. Their shells glistened bright white in the harsh Southern sun as a ship approached from seaward, hence its subsequent name, White Point. Though the oysters are long gone and much of the area you’re walking on is actually reclaimed marsh, the Battery and White Point Gardens are still a balm for the soul.
Once the bustling (and sometimes seedy) heart of Charleston’s maritime activity, the Battery was where pirate Stede Bonnet and 21 of his men were hanged in 1718. As you might imagine, the area got its name for hosting cannon during the War of 1812, with the current distinctive seawall structure built in the 1850s.
Contrary to popular opinion, no guns fired from here on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War, as they would have been out of range. However, many thankfully inoperable cannons, mortars, and piles of shot still reside here, much to the delight of boys of all ages.
This is where Charlestonians gathered in a giddy, party-like atmosphere to watch the shelling of Fort Sumter in 1861, blissfully ignorant of the horrors to come. A short time later the North would return the favor, as the Battery and all of Charleston up to Broad Street would bear the brunt of shelling during the long siege of the city (the rest was out of reach of Union guns).
But now, the Battery is a place to relax, not fight. The relaxation starts with the fact that there’s usually plenty of free parking all along Battery Street. A promenade all around the periphery is a great place to stroll or jog. Add the calming, almost constant sea breeze and the meditative influence of the wide, blue Cooper River, and you’ll see why this land’s end—once so martial in nature—is now a favorite place for after-church family gatherings, tourists, lovestruck couples, and weddings (about 200 a year at the gazebo in White Point Gardens).
Still, military history is never far away in Charleston, and one of the chief landmarks at the Battery is the USS Hobson Memorial, remembering the sacrifice of the men of that vessel when it sank after a collision with the carrier USS Wasp in 1952.
Look for the three-story private residence where East Battery curves northward. You won’t be taking any tours of it, but you should be aware that it’s the DeSaussure House (1 E. Battery St.), best known in Charleston history for hosting rowdy, celebratory crowds on the roof and the piazzas to watch the 34-hour shelling of Fort Sumter in 1861.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition