April 30, 1865: Gillmore to Potter – “proceed to Orangeburg” with a new sort of mission

On April 30, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore issued a new mission to Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter and his “provisional” division.  Recall that Potter’s force spent most of April on a very successful and destructive raid, reaching Camden.  But five days after completing that raid, Potter’s new mission reflected the events which had transpired – a pole shift, if I may write with over-abundance – in the last April of the war.  These orders would send Potter and his men on a march out of Charleston, South Carolina.

Gillmore’s orders were, as issued through Colonel Stewart Woodford, his Chief of Staff:

The major-general commanding directs that you proceed to Orangeburg, S.C., with the forces hitherto under your command, excepting the garrison left at Georgetown. The One hundred and second U.S. Colored Troops, heretofore ordered to the Santee railroad bridge, will accompany you. You will move as soon as you have collected 1,000 men of your command; the balance will follow as rapidly as possible. You will rebuild the bridge over the Edisto at Orangeburg, making requisition for all necessary material. You will guard your communications with Charleston as far back as Summerville. General Hatch will protect the road to that point. I inclose an official copy of General Sherman’s convention with General Johnston, approved by Lieutenant-General Grant; also copies of General Orders, No. 52, of this date, from these headquarters, republishing General Sherman’s order for carrying the convention into effect.

Grasp the fine details in this order.  First off, Potter’s force was explicitly ordered to go forth and repair – REPAIR – a bridge. That was, recall, a bridge destroyed in February by Confederates to block movements of Seventeenth Corps.  Which brings up the second fine detail of the April 30 order – Potter’s force was not there to raid or damage… or even to fight.  They were there to occupy.  Orangeburg was to be a base from which the Federal forces projected deeper into South Carolina, using the railroad, which was also to be reconstructed, to bring control over the state.

So let us look to the map to see how that looked:

Potter_April30_Objectives

As I pointed out earlier this week, something often overlooked in the discussion of Reconstruction are the operational aspects, militarily speaking.  In this case, consider the South Carolina government, still somewhat between “Confederate” and “restored” in matter of fact, was seated in Columbia, South Carolina.  That city – shell that it may have been – was the heart of the state.  In order to effectively “reconstruct” South Carolina, the Federals had to wield some force from that point on the map.  “Boots on the ground” as we say from our 21st century view.

But, as we look at that map, clearly Columbia was outside the reach, much less grasp, of Gillmore or Potter as things stood on April 30, 1865.  Not to diminish the important political and social factors involved as the nation transition post-war and Reconstruction took relevance.  But what I am pointing out is that when considering the woulda/coulda/shoulda of Reconstruction, there is the question of how far the military force allocated to support the task could reach.  And… this “reach” would not simply get better as railroad were rebuilt… after April 1865 and the return to peace, the Army no longer had the blank check with respect to operational expenses.

Another point, that deserves belaboring, as we consider the details of this order is the reference to Gillmore’s General Orders No. 52.  That order in tern referenced Major-General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Orders No. 65, issued on April 27.   I discussed that order in a lengthy post in context with others issued the same day.  But let us recall the “heart” of that order again:

The general commanding announces a further suspension of hostilities and a final agreement with General Johnston which terminates the war as to the armies under his command and the country east of the Chattahoochee. … and great care must be taken that all the terms and stipulations on our parts be fulfilled with the most scrupulous fidelity, whilst those imposed on our hitherto enemies be received in a spirit becoming a brave and generous army. Army commanders may at once loan to the inhabitants such of the captured mules, horses, wagons, and vehicles as can be spared from immediate use, and the commanding generals of armies may issue provisions, animals, or any public supplies that can be spared, to relieve present wants and to encourage the inhabitants to renew their peaceful pursuits and to restore the relations of friendship among our fellow-citizens and countrymen. Foraging will forthwith cease, and when necessity or long marches compel the taking of forage, provisions, or any kind of private property, compensation will be made on the spot, or, when the disbursing officers are not provided with funds, vouchers will be given in proper form, payable at the nearest military depot.

This order backed a policy set forward by the civilian leaders in Washington.  This was the “first draft” Reconstruction as it applied on “the street.”

So men, who had engaged in destroying Confederate infrastructure and seizing anything that might support the Confederate war effort just a week earlier, were dispatched on April 30, 1865 to rebuild some of that infrastructure and facilitate production of subsistence for the population.  Yes, there was a change in focus.  It was less because of any change of heart among the Federal leaders, but more so because, after April 26, the infrastructure and civilian population was American again.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Serial 100, pages 332 and 359.)

 

“Portion of this island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications”: War transforms Hilton Head

In 1860, as the secession crisis began, Hilton Head Island, just as most of the barrier islands from the Chesapeake to the toe of Florida, lacked any military presence. The infrastructure on the island differed little from that depicted on an 1825 map:

HiltonHeadIsland1830s

Although Port Royal offered good anchorage, the lack of major port facilities diminished its importance to military authorities who had prioritized coastal defense projects.  Instead Charleston received the lion’s share of the attention… and funding.

At the start of the war, the Federals needed anchorages in order to maintain the blockade.  Thus Port Royal was posted high on the list of objectives. And at the same time the Confederates recognized the vulnerability of Port Royal and fortified Hilton Head and Phillip’s Island across the sound.

HiltonHead1862

In November 1862, Federal actions demonstrated those defenses were not complete, especially against steam powered navies.  With Port Royal in Federal hands, Hilton Head became an important base.  The island became a sprawling “city” within the span of a year.  By mid-war, outposts and fortifications extended out from Hilton Head to protect Port Royal and approaches.

HiltonHeadDistrictApril64

But with the close of the war, the military would not need Port Royal, and thereby Hilton Head would fall back down the list of priorities for post-war coastal defense appropriations.  However, military minds had reason to rethink that prioritization given the experience of the Civil War.  If the Federals could use Port Royal as a base and lodgement, then a foreign power might also.  That in mind, On April 29, 1865, Major-General Quincy Gillmore sent a letter to the Army’s Adjutant-General, Brigadier-General Lorenzo Thomas, in Washington:

General: I have the honor to call your attention to the following statement in relation to the north end of Hilton Head Island, S. C., bordering upon Port Royal Harbor. This, in common with some other portions of the island, has been reserved by the United States Government for military purposes during the war. The fact that it is the headquarters of the department, and its occupation by troops, has drawn thither a large number of sutlers, army followers, and others, until quite a city has grown up. Most of the buildings erected thus far are owned and occupied by the parties above mentioned and have been put up only on condition of their removal at any time when, in the judgment of the military authorities, the interests of the public service demand it. But the impression is gaining ground that after the war this property will no longer be needed for public purposes and that a city will be located here. In my opinion this portion of the island will be required hereafter for permanent fortifications. Therefore, that this may be understood, I desire the authority of the War Department to announce officially that all the lands now reserved at this post for military purposes will be permanently occupied by the Government. Such announcement will remove all grounds for damages in case at any time it should become necessary to require the removal of the buildings. I have the honor to request that this matter may receive your early attention.

Some of the buildings in question were quarters inhabited by former contrabands… a term being discarded in the correspondence with “refugee” or “freedmen.”

Despite Gillmore’s urgings, the War Department would make no significant efforts to maintain or improve the fortifications left behind on Hilton Head.  In the decades that followed, one experimental battery was placed on Hilton Head Island.  But that was more so to provide trials for new weapons than any scheme of defense.  Changes in military technology allowed for different arrangements than that employed during the Civil War.  In 1898, construction began on Fort Fremont featuring a battery of 10-inch disappearing guns on Saint Helena Island.  Those heavy guns could cover the sound, entrance channel, and Hilton Head with ease.  (Earlier in that decade, a coaling station was established on Paris Island.  And that post eventually grew into a substantial military presence around Port Royal by the early 20th century.)

But the US Government retained control of significant portions of Hilton Head Island after the Civil War.  Some of the pre-war plantation owners returned and reclaimed property.  Portions of the lands held by the Government were passed to the freedmen or sold to speculators.  But the War Department still held significant holdings on the island as the century closed.  And those holdings were used again during World War I and World War II as the military again saw the need to garrison Hilton Head.

However, the most significant change would occur in the decades after World War II.  A highway bridge and other improvements transformed the once sparsely populated island where Gullah lived, and occasionally the military garrisoned, into a resort community.  In the span of 100 years, Hilton Head went from being a major military base, to a small community living on the margins of the land and society, and then finally to a place of leisure and luxury.

Such is the passing of history.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 351.)

 

Thank you Samuel Cooper, Henry Halleck, and Morris Runyan. We have our Official Records!

On April 27, 1865, General Samuel Cooper was stranded in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Cooper was the highest ranking Confederate officer and served as Adjutant General and Inspector General.  Though not a field commander, Cooper was a central figure in the Confederacy throughout the war.  A long serving officer in the pre-war U.S. Army, Cooper called the Army his home. And as events unfolded in April 1865, Cooper was becoming a man without a home. When President Jefferson F. Davis rode out of Charlotte, heading south through South Carolina, Cooper remained behind.  He was not fit to make a long, cross-country journey.  Furthermore, he had far too much baggage in his charge:

 A telegram received from Brigadier-General [Thomas] Jordan by Colonel [John] Riely, of my staff, who had telegraphed, by my direction, to ascertain what had transpired from the military convention, states that it had terminated, resulting in a cessation of war by all embraced, private property respected, and transportation home given.  I was left here within the territorial limits of your command by the President, from physical dis-qualification to follow the Government any longer, and I therefore desire to know if I and the staff officer left with me can be included in the arrangement upon the same terms, as I cannot from my situation belong to any other command.  It is not practicable for me to reach Greensborough immediately.

Later Cooper elaborated on the baggage which kept him in Charlotte:

It was found impracticable to transfer the records of the War Department further than this place, and they remain here under my charge.  The President and Secretary of War impressed me with the necessity of their preservation in our own hands, if possible; if not, then by the enemy, as essential to the history of the struggle.  On account of your superior knowledge of the condition of affairs, I desire to have your advice as to the disposition that shall be made of them.

Johnston replied on April 28, informing, “You are entitled to accept the terms of the convention.  I do not know what to advise about the records.”  Later, Johnston sent word that Cooper should, if possible, travel to Greensborough.  Instead, Cooper arranged to have Colonel Riely make that trip as his representative for formal surrender.

But what of the records? On May 7, Captain Morris C. Runyan led a detachment of the 9th New Jersey into Charlotte.  There, among other stores and items, Runyan found,

… a number of boxes said to contain the records of the rebel War Department and all the archives of the so-called Southern Confederacy; also, boxes said to contain all the colors and battle-flags captured from the National forces since the beginning of the war….

(Runyan later wrote an account of the occupation of Charlotte and capture of the records.  But, I find his official report filed at the time somewhat more precise than the post war account.)

Word of this quickly passed up the chain of command to Major-General John Schofield.  On May 16, Schofield inquired to Army Chief of Staff, Major-General Henry Halleck, as to what disposition should be made in regard to the records.  Halleck responded promptly:

Box up all captured Confederate papers, flags, &c., and send them to C. A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, Washington. Preserve every paper, however unimportant it may appear. We have the key to their ciphers. Important links of testimony have thus been discovered here of the Canadian plot.

And please note here, Halleck was just as concerned about the preservation of the Confederate war records as Cooper was.  And we might say that Halleck’s motives were just as Cooper’s.  Above all, Halleck wanted the Confederate words to speak directly to their actions.

The next day, Schofield reported that the records, archives, and flags were being sent to Washington.  He included a detailed invoice for the “eighty-one boxes, weighing ten tons“:

 Invoice of the archives of the late Confederate War Department, as received from General Johnston at Charlotte, N. C., on the 13th day of May, 1865: Five boxes, marked Letters received; 3 boxes, marked Certificates of disability; 13 boxes, marked Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office; 5 boxes, marked Captured flags; 1 box, marked Books and papers, General Lee’s headquarters; 1 box, marked Official reports of battles; 1 box, marked Provost-marshal; 1 box, marked Lieutenant Blackford, C. S. Engineers; 1 box, marked Col. John Withers, C. S. Army; 3 boxes, marked Dept. Office; 7 boxes, contents unknown; 11 boxes, marked War Department, C. S. A.; 21 boxes, marked Regimental rolls; 1 box, marked Signal glasses; 6 boxes, marked Miscellaneous papers.

Thus the Federals took possession of a substantial number of official Confederate documents, if not a complete set.  Similar efforts by Federal commanders elsewhere in the south would bring in official correspondence, reports, and rolls from the scattered Confederate departments.  Of course that net missed many records, falling well short of a complete haul.  Doubtless you know well the story of records destroyed by the fires when Richmond fell.  And other records were destroyed before reaching Federal hands.

But all things considered, what was preserved included a remarkable set of artifacts.  Many of those artifacts were later included in the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion” in the same binding with Federal accounts of the same time periods.  And those compiled records were published and made accessible to libraries around the country.  Today, those same records are just a browser window away at all times, anywhere you chose to study them.

We might recall many other “Civil Wars” in which historians lament the loss of vital accounts due to records destroyed in the end.  Such is, on whole, not the case with the American Civil War. You see, the history of the Civil War was not simply “written by the victors” as some partisans contend.  Rather it was written by those who could consult the words of the participants… thanks to the efforts by both sides to preserve those words.

So, next time you chase down a footnote and see “OR” followed by volume and serial notations, pause to thank old Samuel Cooper… and Henry Halleck… and Morris Runyan… who had a hand in preserving those.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 491, 510-1, 842, 848,

Howard, April 27, 1865: “This Army is very proud of its record. Let, then, every officer and man do his best to keep it unsullied”

After receiving Special Field Orders No. 66 from Major-General William T. Sherman on April 27, 1865, both Major-Generals Oliver O. Howard and Henry Slocum, commanding respectively the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia, issued a set of derivative orders to their subordinates.

Howard’s was Special Field Orders No. 102 from his headquarters. The first eleven paragraphs of that order offered details about the march route, location of key elements on the march, and procedures for marking the route.  Generally the administrative details which most (except for us “proper” military historians) find boring.  For instance, Lieutenant Amos Stickney was assigned the task to “examine and mark the roads so that the two corps may cross Crabtree Creek without interference.”  Having been assigned similar chores, I have some appreciation and sympathy for the work Stickney had to complete.  So I felt compelled to give the Lieutenant his due on this day, 150 years later.

But the real interesting portion of Howard’s order was in paragraph XII, which began, “The following special instructions are issued for the guidance of corps and other commanders during the march from Raleigh to Richmond, Va.:”

First. All foraging will cease. Corps commanders will obtain what supplies they may need in addition to those carried with them by sending their quartermaster and commissary in advance, who are required to purchase, paying the cash or giving proper vouchers. The supplies will be carefully selected to the divisions and regularly issued.

Second. The provost guards will be selected with the greatest care and sent well ahead, so that every house may be guarded, and every possible precaution will be taken to prevent the misconduct of any straggler or marauder. Punishments for entering or pillaging houses will be severe and immediate. Besides the roll-calls morning and even-big at every regular halt of each day’s march, the rolls will be called and every absentee not properly accounted for will be severely punished.

These first two points derived directly from Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 65.  I could point to numerous orders issued by Howard and his subordinates from Atlanta to Goldsboro that governed and regulated foraging.  These orders stopped the practice.  After April 27, the Army would carry its own food, and eat from its own table, from this point forward.  And were that bounds was violated, there would be punishment.  The Army was no longer moving through enemy territory, but rather that of its own country.

The next point addressed horses:

Third. Before starting on the march all persons not properly mounted will be dismounted, and all surplus animals, vehicles, and all ammunition (artillery and infantry) now in wagons, and all prisoners of war; will be turned over to Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield or an officer designated by him to receive them.

From Edwards Ferry all the way to Raleigh, Howard always seemed to have too many horses!  At several points along the march through Georgia and the Carolinas, excess mounts were called in.  And in all cases that was simply a check control measure.  Subordinate commands acquired more mounts as needed to support foraging, scouting, and administrative tasks.  With no foraging or scouting necessary, Howard could clear out excess mounts.  This reduced the number of soldiers who might be tempted to stray off the line of march.  It also reduced the number of mouths to feed.  No doubt, some of those animals and vehicles would end up “loaned” to civilians under Sherman’s directives.

Addressing another problem seen throughout the march:

Fourth. Refugees will be discouraged from following the columns, because of the impossibility of carrying supplies for their subsistence.

But how far might one carry “discouraged” into practice?  Furthermore, someone should do a study of correspondence and determine how “contraband” was gradually replaced, subsumed, or otherwise rendered obsolete by other terms such as “refugee.”

As for the rate of march and advance of the units, Howard directed:

Fifth. Corps commanders will not habitually close up their divisions, but allow them to encamp two or three miles separated, and in order to prevent night marching it will be well to commence encamping as early as 3 p.m. daily.

Sixth. The left column, General Blair will be the regulating column as to the distance for each day’s march. It is desirable for the two corps to reach Petersburg simultaneously, or as nearly so as possible. This order will be published to all officers and men at every headquarters, and to all quartermaster’s employés, as well as generally to the command.

These would become a sore point – literally and figuratively – to the rank and file.  As commanders will do, some formations competed to “out march” others in the days to come.  Instead of a very leisurely march, in some early stretches the soldiers made excessive marches.

Outside of these orders, Howard wrote additional instructions to both Major-Generals John Logan and Frank Blair.  To both, Howard stressed, “This Army is very proud of its record. Let, then, every officer and man do his best to keep it unsullied.”

These were the orders that launched the Army of the Tennessee on its last series of marches, and into the history books.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 324-6.)

Sherman’s March, April 27, 1865: Facilitating the surrender; Planning the march north

With dawn on April 27, 1865, the ink was hardly dry on the “final-final” surrender agreement between Major-General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston.  But Sherman was already looking to the next leg of the Great March.  So a flurry of orders went out from Sherman’s headquarters down to the brigade level.  The group of armies was about to move once again – starting the last series of marches of their war.

Before any movement orders were issued, there were a few loose ends to attend in regard to the surrender terms.  Supplementary terms included eight points:

First. The Confederate troops to retain their transportation.

Second. Each brigade or separate body to retain a number of arms equal to one-fifth of its effective total, which, when the troops reach their homes, will be received by the local authorities for public purposes.

Third. Officers and men to be released from their obligation at the same time with those of the Army of Virginia.

Fourth. Artillery horses to be used for field transportation when necessary.

Fifth. The horses and other private property of officers and men to be retained by them.

Sixth. Troops from Arkansas and Texas to be transported by water from Mobile or New Orleans to their homes by the United States.

Seventh. The obligations of private soldiers to be signed by their company officers.

Eighth. Naval officers within the limits of General Johnston’s command to have the benefit of the stipulations of this convention.

Beyond those terms, Sherman would offer assistance to Johnston.  But Sherman charged Major-General John Schofield with the responsibility of implementation in North Carolina with respect to Johnston’s force.  And that charge was spelled out in a pair of orders – Special Field Orders No. 65 and 66.

Orders No. 65 outlined the administrative handling and mechanisms of the surrender.  The order gave Schofield, Major-General Quincy Gillmore, and Major-General James Wilson the responsibility to manage the surrender process within their respective areas of control.  The orders assigned an ordnance officer to manage surrendered weapons for Johnston’s command.  And Sherman directed that paper paroles, similar to those used at Appomattox earlier in the month, be printed for issue to all surrendered Confederates (securing the proper equipment and supplies to print these was somewhat a task in and of itself, but eventually worked out).  To this Sherman added,

… great care must be taken that all the terms and stipulations on our parts be fulfilled with the most scrupulous fidelity, whilst those imposed on our hitherto enemies be received in a spirit becoming a brave and generous army.

In addition Sherman directed some allowances beyond the surrender terms and directed toward reconciliation of the population:

Army commanders may at once loan to the inhabitants such of the captured mules, horses, wagons, and vehicles as can be spared from immediate use, and the commanding generals of armies may issue provisions, animals, or any public supplies that can be spared, to relieve present wants and to encourage the inhabitants to renew their peaceful pursuits and to restore the relations of friendship among our fellow-citizens and countrymen.

And, with respect to foraging:

Foraging will forthwith cease, and when necessity or long marches compel the taking of forage, provisions, or any kind of private property, compensation will be made on the spot, or, when the disbursing officers are not provided with funds, vouchers will be given in proper form, payable at the nearest military depot.

Adding to this, Sherman directed rations be issued to Johnston’s troops – “ten day’s rations for 25,000 men.”  That is, depending on the repair of railroad lines to allow movement to Greensborough.

Orders No. 66 were more specific to movements of the Federal armies:

Hostilities having ceased, the following changes and dispositions of troops in the field will be made with as little delay as practicable:

I. The Tenth and Twenty-third Corps will remain in the Department of North Carolina, and Maj. Gen. J. M. Schofield will transfer back to Major-General Gillmore, commanding Department of the South, the two brigades formerly belonging to the division of Brevet Major General Grover at Savannah. The Third Division, Cavalry Corps, Bvt. Maj. Gen. J. Kilpatrick commanding, is hereby transferred to the Department of North Carolina, and General Kilpatrick will report in person to Major-General Schofield for orders.

II. The cavalry command of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman will return to East Tennessee, and that of Bvt. Maj. Gen. J. H. Wilson will be conducted back to the Tennessee River in the neighborhood of Decatur, Ala.

This order effectively split Sherman’s “army group” as hit had existed for over a month.  The core elements from the day of the march out of Atlanta – the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia – marched on.  But the Army of the Ohio and Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry would remain in North Carolina.  Of note, the withdrawal of Stoneman’s and Wilson’s commands to points in Tennessee would leave many sections of the south “unoccupied.”  Sherman’s aim, derived from the instructions from the War Department, were not to “occupy” per say, but to facilitate a surrender of military forces… at least as things stood on April 27, 1865.

The last two paragraphs of the order gave the line of march for those corps moving north:

III. Major-General Howard will conduct the Army of the Tennessee to Richmond, Va., following roads substantially by Louisburg, Warrenton, Lawrenceville, and Petersburg, or to the right of that line. Major-General Slocum will conduct the Army of Georgia to Richmond by roads to the left of the one indicated for General Howard, viz, by Oxford, Boydton, and Nottoway Court-House. These armies will turn in at this point the contents of their ordnance trains, and use the wagons for extra forage and provisions. These columns will be conducted slowly and in the best of order, and will aim to be at Richmond ready to resume the march by the middle of May.

IV. The chief quartermaster and commissary of this military division, Generals Easton and Beckwith, after making the proper dispositions of their departments here, will proceed to Richmond and make suitable preparations to receive these columns and to provide for their further journey.

Maybe it would have saved a lot of shoe leather and spared the soldiers some blisters to have moved the force by rail and ship to Washington.  But with shipping capacity on the Atlantic seaboard already taxed just to keep the military in supply, any “boat ride” for the hard marching troops was difficult to arrange.  And why Washington?  Well, they were needed for a victory parade.  And beyond that, there was a growing desire, particularly from Congress, to start demobilizing the forces.  After all, those were “voting constituents” in uniform… and until they were mustered out, the government was paying and feeding them.

The route of the march home was designated on April 27.  Movement would start two days later.  The war was over for these men… all except for the memories and legacy they would carry north and into their post-war lives.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, pages 321-325.)

April 26, 1865: “All acts of war… to cease from this date.”

Terms of a military convention entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennett’s house, near Durham’s Station, N. C, between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina.

1. All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.

2. All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensborough, and delivered to an ordnance officer of the United States Army.

3. Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be retained by the commander of the troops, and the other to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman, each officer and man to give his individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly released from this obligation.

4. The side arms of officers and their private horses and baggage to be retained by them.

5. This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.

W. T. Sherman,  Major-General, Commanding U.S. Forces in North Carolina.

J. E. Johnston,  General, Commanding C. S. Forces in North Carolina.
Raleigh, N. C., April 26, 1865.

Approved:
U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 313.)

Potter’s Raid, April 25, 1865: After 23 days and 300 miles, the raiders return to Georgetown

The Civil War might be winding down in the last week of April 1865, but Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter’s provisional division was still in the field, though marching back to the coast from a successful raid reaching the Sand Hills of South Carolina. On April 21, 1865, a flag of truce relayed the news of a truce, while General Joseph E. Johnston and Major-General William T. Sherman worked out the details of a Confederate surrender.  From that point, Potter’s raiders had a relatively uneventful march to the coast.

PotterRaidApr25

Potter directed the column towards the boat-depot at Wright’s Bluff on April 22.  There he transferred “wounded, sick, and about five hundred contrabands” to the boats to ease the march.  Potter himself departed by boat, heading back to Charleston in order to report and receive any new orders.  In his absence, Colonel Philip Brown, of the 157th New York and First Brigade commander, assumed command of the division.  In total, the Federals put twenty-three miles behind them.

For the march of April 23rd, Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts recorded:

At 5.30 a.m., on the 23d, the Second Brigade led out for the day’s march. Now that hostilities had ceased, the force was dependent upon such supplies as could be purchased. A very large number of contrabands were with the column, straggling, and obstructing the rapid progress it was desirable to make. The day was cool and pleasant; the route through a fine country mainly, but wooded and low in places. Intelligence of President Lincoln’s assassination was received, – sad tidings which could hardly be credited. There was much bitter feeling indulged in by the soldiery for a time.  The division accomplished twenty-three miles that day, bivouacking at Stagget’s Mill.

The next day the column continued the march towards Georgetown, through what Emilio described as “a wooded region where no supplies could be obtained.”  He added, “As a substitute for rations two ears of corn were issued t each man.”  The force marched twenty-three miles, for the third day in a row.

Our last bivouac in the field was broken on the morning of April 25th, when in good weather through a timbered country we completed the march.  …  The troops reached town at 5 p.m. after making twenty-two miles.

Thus ended Potter’s 1865 Raid into South Carolina. Potter offered a summary and results in his official report:

The results of the expedition may be summed up in the capture of 1 battle-flag, 3 guns, and 65 prisoners, 100 horses and 150 mules, and the destruction of 32 locomotives, 250 cars, large portions of the railroad, and all the railroad buildings between Camden and Sumterville, 100 cotton gins and presses, 5,000 bales of cotton, and large quantities of government stores.  Five thousand negroes joined the column and were brought within our lines. Our entire loss was 10 killed, 72 wounded, and 1 missing.

Those figures relate a remarkable level of destruction wrought by a small force, and at the very end of the war.   Though one might say such was hardly worth the effort.  Potter’s Raid could not do much more to hasten the end of the war than what had already been done elsewhere. Yet, the real impact of Potter’s Raid was well beyond the military needs expressed in its mission objectives.

In his summary, Emilio indicted higher numbers of contrabands and livestock than Potter had reported:

Potter’s Raid occupied twenty-one days, during which the troops marched some three hundred miles. About three thousand negroes came into Georgetown with the division, while the whole number released was estimated at six thousand.  Our train was very large, for besides innumerable vehicles, five hundred horses and mules were secured, of which number the Fifty-fourth turned in one hundred and sixty.

Whether the figure was 6,000 or 5,000 who were emancipated as result of Potter’s Raid, that statistic was, I would submit, the most important of those tallied.  Instead of being inland to await the resolution of the war and receiving emancipation, thousands had taken advantage of the opportunity to “self-emancipate” in those closing days of the war. And those thousands arrived at the coast, adding to the crisis facing Federal commanders.  Would there be more forty acre plots?  Or would Federal leaders encourage “fair labor contracts“?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1031;  Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 307-9.)