Sherman’s March, February 9, 1865: Crossing the South Edisto, “The advantages of position were decidedly in our favor”

The journals and reports for Major-General William T. Sherman’s armies with respect to February 9, 1865 reflect three general activities – marches to catch up with the main body, railroad wrecking, and movements against the Edisto River line which started a pivot onto the railroad running north to Columbia.

SCMarch_Feb9

To the rear of the advance, Fourteenth Corps split the march with Second and Third Divisions advancing along the main road towards Barnwell.  The Third Division, under Major-General Absalom Baird, closed on Erwinton on the 9th.  To the east, the First Division, under Brigadier-General William Carlin, took a wide path through Beach Branch Post-Office and King’s Creek Post-Office to avoid the Coosawhatchie Swamps.  The corps was still many miles behind the advance.

Major-General John Geary’s Second Division, Twentieth Corps made a good march that day on side roads to reach Blackville.  “For the first time in this campaign my foragers found an abundance of forage and supplies; some of them went as far as Barnwell, and all returned well laden.” With their arrival in camp that evening, all of the Twentieth Corps had closed up.   The other two divisions of the corps had the task of destroying the railroad line.  The men were engaged twisting rails out to Williston that day.

Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division, Fifteenth Corps also made progress.  That division reached the Little Salkehatchie on the 9th. Not until the next day would Corse be considered with the Fifteenth Corps.

At the front edge of Sherman’s advance, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division advanced further west on the South Carolina Railroad to Johnson’s Station.  They skirmished briefly with Confederate cavalry there.

The Right Wing moved forward again on February 9th. Their objective was crossing points on the South Fork of the Edisto River.  Sherman wanted to set the “hinge” for the pivot which would put the armies on the Columbia Branch Railroad around Orangeburg.  Such would break direct contact between Charleston and Columbia.  It would also render the junction at Branchville of little value. (Remind me to run a post detailing the Railroads of South Carolina at some point!!!)

Major-General John Logan sent Major-General William Hazen’s Second Division of the Fifteenth Corps forward to Holman’s Bridge.  Hazen found the bridge burned and a strong Confederate force on the north bank.   “Troops were crossed on fallen trees late at evening and during the night the enemy withdrew. Our casualties were 2 wounded.”  As the lodgement was made late in the day, Logan opted to hold up the corps and cross the following day.

To the east, Seventeenth Corps was a bit more successful.  Major-General Frank Blair, Jr.’s troops reached Binnaker’s Bridge at 1 p.m. on the 9th:

We found the bridge destroyed and enemy occupying a strongly intrenched position on the opposite side of the river and swamp, with artillery commanding the crossing.  The advantages of position were decidedly in our favor – a high and bluff bank upon this and low flat swamp upon the opposite side of the river, beyond which the enemy was intrenched.  We quickly laid a pontoon bridge about 500 yards below the old crossing, and out of sight and range of their artillery, over which General Mower passed his division, and deployed and moved forward through the swamp, attacked the enemy and completely routed him with a loss of one caisson and several prisoners, our loss in this engagement being only 3 killed and 7 wounded.

Blair was a master at the run-on sentence.

Major-General C.L. Stevenson commanded the division opposing the Right Wing’s advance on the 9th.  At Binnaker’s Bridge, Colonel Abda Johnson commanded a brigade contesting the crossing.  Stevenson sent forward another brigade, with Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Gordon in charge.  Reporting around mid-night, Gordon indicated,

Colonel Johnson is intoxicated. At the request of the different regimental commanders, I assume command of the troops until further orders from you. I shall continue moving slowly toward Orangeburg, for the following reasons: The enemy has crossed in considerable force, and since dark has driven back the skirmishers, and the command was ordered on the retreat with some confusion and haste. The enemy is still pursuing and in some force have gone above, taking the left hand near the river.

During the night, the 1st Missouri Engineers placed a second bridge, of seven pontoons, across the river.  Once again, Blair’s men were across a major stream. And once again the Confederates ceded ground.

Other activities associated with Sherman’s movements into South Carolina occurred along the coast, closer to Charleston.  I’ll take those up in a separate post later today.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 377-8, 272-3, 684; Part II, Serial 99, page 1134.)

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