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Token of the Month #5 -
The 10 Post Exchange Token from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina

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Each month there is a special South Carolina token or medal that is highlighted as the Token or Medal of the Month. For this first month of the new millenium, the honor goes to one of the most historically significant South Carolina tokens, the post exchange token from Fort Moultrie. Fort Moultrie, located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, is one of South Carolina's many famous historic sites and was the Palmetto State's first permanent military installation.

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This month's featured token is a nice pre-1900 brass piece approximately 35mm in diameter. The obverse inscription reads as follows: Post Exchange, 10, Fort Moultrie, S.C. The reverse is blank except for the picture of a key. The significance of this key is not known. The fact that all of the letters and the numerals are incuse (stamped into the surface of the metal rather than in relief like modern coins) can be used to date the token in a general sense. Incuse tokens were generally made in the 1880s and 1890s. This token is extremely rare; I personally know of only three specimens, two in collectors' hands and one ensconced in the Fort Moultrie Museum.

Several different sets of tokens were used at the Fort Moultrie Post Exchange (PX, for short). They were primarily used to enable the troops to get an advance against future wages. If a particular soldier found himself broke a couple of days before payday, he was advanced these tokens so that he could obtain essential items from the post exchange. The amount was later deducted from his pay.

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The fort that is known today as Moultrie has had a long and varied history, a life that has undergone several incarnations. The original fort was built in 1776 on Sullivan's Island (one of the barrier islands at the mouth of Charleston harbor) to aid in the defense of South Carolina's premier city against threat from British warships. The fort was hastily constructed using thousands of palmetto logs and tons of sand, with gun platforms being placed amid the ramparts.

Colonel William Moultrie, a Charleston-born former militiaman and Indian fighter, had been placed in charge of not only the construction but also the defense of the new fortifications. Moultrie, in command of only 400 men and 31 cannon, hurried to make preparations for war against a nearby British fleet that included 10 warships and nearly 300 heavy guns. The battle was joined on June 28, 1776; the brave patriots were severely outmanned but managed to repulse the British invaders. The soundly-defeated British warships retreated the next day, abandoning one of their ships and sustaining over 300 casualties. The palmetto logs of the fort fared much better. Although they were hit many times by enemy fire, the spongy logs tended to absorb the force of the British shells rather than being splintered and blown apart.

It was during this particular battle that Sgt. William Jasper performed his famous heroic deed. A British cannonball had hit the fort's flagpole and had knocked down the flag. Sgt. Jasper calmly climbed over the ramparts, defiantly exposed himself to British fire for a considerable period of time, and remounted the downed flag. Jasper was not wounded during his little excursion, and for his heroics he was later presented with Governor Rutledge's sword.

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A photo of the Jasper Monument at White Point Gardens (The Battery) in Charleston.

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Colonel Moultrie, for his part in commanding the young American troops in the first major American victory of the Revolutionary War, was promptly promoted to general, and was further honored by having the palmetto-and-sand fort named after him. Even the resourceful palmetto tree received recognition by becoming the "state symbol" and being incorporated into the state flag and the state seal.

After the Revolutionary War had ended, the troops were withdrawn, and the fort was abandoned to the forces of wand and wave. By 1794, the first fort had deteriorated to the point of no return, and a second Fort Moultrie was ordered to be erected by act of Congress. This second fort fared no better against the forces of nature than the first. It was ravaged by a killer hurricane on September 7, 1804.

The third Fort Moultrie, built of sturdier brick and mortar and basically the one in existence today, was completed in 1809. This fort saw only limited action in the War of 1812, as no major battles were fought in Charleston Harbor during these hostilities. And except for use as a troop staging area during the Mexican War in 1846, all was fairly quiet for a number of years.

Although there were no major threats to the security of the United States during this quiet period, the powers in Washington thought it necessary to post a permanent garrison at Moultrie. Stationed at the fort at various times prior to the Civil War were such notables as famed author Edgar Allan Poe, inventor-of-baseball Abner Doubleday, and the infamous William Tecumseh Sherman.

Another historic personage also walked the grounds of Fort Moultrie during this time period, although not by his choice. The feared Seminole Indian leader Osceola was imprisoned at the fort in 1838. This ended his two-year resistance against the U.S. Government's removal of his people from their ancestral lands. Unfortunately, he contracted a severe infection during his confinement, and died a few weeks later. He was then buried at the fort with full military honors. His bones rested by the fort's "sally port" entrance for over 100 years until very recently, when members of his tribe clandestinely dug up his remains one night and took them back to tribal land in Florida.

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A circa 1915 postcard showing Osceola's grave outside Moultrie's Sally Port entrance.

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Fort Moultrie was also to figure prominently in the Civil War. The fort participated in the opening battle of the War Between the States, when Confederate forces at Moultrie fired on the Union forces at Fort Sumter. Although not having the distinction of firing the first shot of the war (that distinction is held by Fort Johnson on James Island), Fort Moultrie was the main Confederate participant in this initial engagement between the North and South. Moultrie and Sumter fired round after round at each other, each wanting to get the best of the other. After two days, Moultrie had the upper hand, and the Union forces at Sumter were forced to surrender.

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An April 1861 photo showing Confederate soldiers at rest following the fall of Fort Sumter.

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Moultrie was involved in many other battles during the Civil War, mainly in defense against Union ironclads. The fort was finally captured by Union forces in February of 1865, but not before it was able to prove itself as a great Confederate stronghold.

In the years after the war, Fort Moultrie was renovated and re-equipped with larger gun emplacements. The fort again became quiet until the Spanish-American War in 1898. The coastal defenses of the U.S. were beefed up during this confrontation, and Moultrie was no exception. Additional batteries were built to house even more powerful guns.

During World Wars I and II, the fort again found itself in readiness for war. Thankfully, no battles were fought in Charleston Harbor during these wars, but the soldiers were ever vigilant and always ready to defend the fort nonetheless. And even during later peacetime, Fort Moultrie was not as quiet as it had been in the past. In the 1920s and 1930s, the fort often found itself playing host to thousands of members of the National Guard, the ROTC, or the CCC.

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A real photo postcard featuring the WWI era Fort Moultrie Football Squad composed of members of Company 144 of the Coastal Artillery Corps.

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A long chapter in the military history of South Carolina came to an end in 1947 when the proud fort was finally deactivated. After 171 years of service in the defense of Charleston Harbor, Fort Moultrie's military usefulness had come to an end. In 1960 the old fort became part of the National Park System. It has now been restored and can be toured most any day of the year.

Copyright 1999 by Tony Chibbaro.

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If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.

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Email: chibbaro@mindspring.com