Charleston Harbor

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Map of the Charleston Harbor watershed.

The Charleston Harbor is an inlet (8 sq mi/20.7 km²) of the Atlantic Ocean at Charleston, South Carolina. The inlet is formed by the junction of Ashley and Cooper rivers at 32°49′7.10″N 79°55′40.41″W / 32.8186389°N 79.9278917°W / 32.8186389; -79.9278917. Morris and Sullivan's Islands shelter the entrance. Charleston Harbor is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.[1]

Like most river mouths in the Southeast, the inlet is evidence of a drowned coastline, created by a rise in sea level in recent geologic time.


The harbor is home to Fort Sumter, site of the first shots of the American Civil War. Charleston Harobor was also the site of the first successful submarine attack in history on February 17, 1864, when the H.L. Hunley made a daring night attack on the USS Housatonic, during the American Civil War.[2]

The 12-foot natural depth of the harbor was a major reason for the establishment and growth of Charleston. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1852 authorized the federal government to dredge the channels of the harbor to a depth of 17 feet. This deepening work was interrupted by the Civil War, and was not completed until 1860.[3] The jetties at the entrance to the harbor were constructed between 1878 and 1886.[4]


The harbor includes public terminals owned and operated by the South Carolina State Ports Authority, as well as private terminals. Existing federal channels are dredged to an authorized depth of 45 feet below mean lower low water. This depth is too shallow for Post-Panamax ships. The largest ships must carry less cargo, wait for favorable tide conditions, or combine these two approaches to reach port in Charleston. As of 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to design a deepening of the channels to 52 feet.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charleston Harbor. Columbia University Press at Accessed 2 November 2006.
  2. ^ U.S. Navy history website
  3. ^ U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston Harbor Post 45: Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, Page 1-6.
  4. ^ Sargent, Francis E. Case Histories of Corps Breakwater and Jetty Structures, Department of the Army, Vicksburg Mississippi. September 1988. Page 34. Accessed September 25, 2015.
  5. ^ Landers, Jay (September 2015). "Corps to Begin Design Phase of Charleston Harbor Deepening Project". Civil Engineering (Reston, Virginia: American Society of Civil Engineers) 85 (9): 24–26. 

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