At the same time as the Confederate withdrawal from Richmond and Petersburg, a small expedition was organizing on the coast of South Carolina. This effort, aimed at knocking out the few remaining rail lines in the state, would become the last Federal offensive in South Carolina and among the last of the war.
Recall that in mid-March, while idle at Fayetteville, North Carolina, Major-General William T. Sherman directed Major-General Quincy Gillmore to send a force of around 2,500 men against the railroad lines between Sumterville and Florence. Specifically, Sherman wanted locomotives and rolling stock, which had escaped his columns during their passage through South Carolina, destroyed. Gillmore was to scrape up, from his garrison forces, a force to march inland to wreck a section of the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad and chase down some trains. Gillmore assigned this task to Brigadier-General Edward Potter. Much like Major-General George Stoneman’s Raid, Potter was to tie up one of the smaller loose ends.
Potter’s start point was Georgetown, South Carolina. To catch up a bit, shortly after the fall of Charleston, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren directed a naval force to seize Georgetown and close the last seaport in the state. Though able to secure the port with just a naval landing force, Dahlgren lost his flagship, the USS Harvest Moon, to a torpedo in Winyah Bay. This setback did not stop the Federals from establishing a base at Georgetown.
Potter’s force would consist of two brigades. The First Brigade, under Colonel Philip P. Brown, included the 25th Ohio, 107th Ohio, 157th New York, and a detachment from the 56th New York. Colonel Edward Hallowell commanded the Second Brigade with the 54th Massachusetts, 32nd USCT, five companies of the 102nd USCT. A section of Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery, under Lieutenant Edmund C. Clark, brought along two 12-pdr Napoleon guns, but with only 360 rounds of ammunition. Detachments from the 1st New York Engineers and 4th Massachusetts Cavalry rounded out the force. All tallied, Potter reported 2,700 men for his expedition.
In addition to the main column, Potter had the Army transports Hooker and Planter move up the Santee River, supported by a Navy detachment under Commander Fabius Stanly, to Murray’s Ferry. The water-born column brought ammunition and rations, but no additional troops.
Potter did not leave Charleston until April 1. Even then, he took an additional four days to get the expedition fully organized and the supplies staged for movement to Murray’s Ferry. Not until April 5 did Potter leave Georgetown. Sherman had wanted the expedition sent out by the last days of March. But delays outfitting the ad-hoc formation determined much of the delay.
I’ll pick up the “line of march” following Potter at the appropriate sesquicentennial mark. For the moment, consider some of the units involved with this expedition. Many were veterans of the fighting on Morris Island – in particular the 54th Massachusetts. Also consider the Planter moved in support. Rather fitting that the last offensive operation in South Carolina would include troops and vessels which had served with prominence around Charleston.
(Source: OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1027-8.)