Having gained bridgeheads over the North Fork of the Edisto River on February 12, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman’s orders for February 13 were to complete crossing of that stream and push on towards the Congaree River.
For the Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard tasked the Seventeenth Corps with destruction of the Columbia (or Orangeburg) Branch Railroad up to the State Road, about a dozen miles north of Orangeburg. Mounted infantry struck further out to Motte’s Fort (a colonial and Revolutionary War placename), near the Congaree bottoms. There they encountered Confederate pickets prepared to burn the railroad trestle over the swamps.
The Fifteenth Corps moved astride the Caw Caw Swamp. The Second and Third Divisions advanced on a road to the east side. The First and Fourth moved by way of a plantation road on the west side. The two columns aimed to concentrate at Sandy Run Post-Office the next day.
The Twentieth Corps, with once again Major-General John Geary’s division in the lead, likewise advanced out of the Edisto bottoms. First priority of the day was repairing Jeffcoat’s Bridge. That accomplished, the advance met some resistance as Geary recalled:
February 13, by 1 a.m. the bridge was repaired. I immediately sent forward skirmishers and found that the enemy had retired from their position of last night. By daylight my First and Second Brigades had crossed and my Third Brigade followed closely. My skirmishers met those of the enemy intrenched at a bridge across a mill stream three-quarters of a mile from the river, and after a sharp encounter drove them and captured their works. At a fork of the road just beyond the enemy attempted to stand behind rail barricades, but were quickly driven from them. Here I halted and gave my troops an opportunity to breakfast, having received orders to allow the Third and First Divisions to pass me, and with my division to bring forward the rear of the train from this point to the encampment four miles ahead on the direct Columbia road. I reached the camp with the rear of the train at 11 p.m. The country north of the North Edisto becomes more rolling, with many quite steep hills. The soil continues sandy, and is poorly cultivated; weather cold; distance, six miles.
Actions of February 12-13 cost Geary 13 casualties.
The Fourteenth Corps and the Cavalry Division remained the only forces south of the Edisto that day. Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick maintained a protective picket line running from Johnson’s Station to Kitching’s Mills. This allowed Major-General Absalom Baird’s Third Division, Fifteenth Corps to improve on the railroad damage out to that point. The other two divisions of the Fifteenth Corps proceeded over the Edisto and camped near Dean’s Swamp that evening.
Preparing for the next day’s advance, Kilpatrick dispatched Colonel Thomas J. Jordan’s First Brigade towards the North Edisto. At Gunter’s Bridge, Jordan’s men sparred with Confederate pickets. But no serious resistance lay between the forks of the Edisto.
We might summarize the activities of February 13 as simply a lot of movement, some railroad wrecking, and some minor skirmishes. One side note is worthy of mention here. For the day’s activity, Major-General Frank Blair noted, “The Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, having returned from Pocotaligo, took the advance.” Recall the 9th Illinois was sent as escort back to the Right Wing’s supply base on February 4. The wagons and escort returned to the wing on February 12.
The column, consisting of more than fifty wagons, had traversed through the area behind the Federal advance with no recorded molestation. No running battles with Confederate cavalrymen. No contested passage of the numerous swamps. The Confederate leaders were far more concerned about getting in front of Sherman’s advance to worry about making trouble behind him. There is an implication here which takes some time to develop. But consider earlier stages of the war, during Federal advances through Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi. In each there were significant partisan activity which cause worry to the Federal commands. Such was not the case in the first two weeks into South Carolina. I’d ask the reader to consider why that might be the case.
The other aspect of the ride to Pocotaligo and back that feeds in here is a queue to me! I’ve neglected discussion of events along the coast which happened in conjunction with Sherman’s advance. I shall move now to correct that deficiency! The story of Charleston’s fall is directly linked to events on the Congaree in place and time.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 378 and 685.)