Having reached Sumter on April 9, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward Potter turned his assigned mission once reaching that objective – destruction of railroads and materials. Potter later recalled in his overall report of the expedition:
On the 10th detachments were sent up and down the railroad to destroy the bridges and trestle-work. At Sumterville there were destroyed 4 locomotives, 8 cars, carpenter shops, car and blacksmith shops, machine-shop with the stationary engine, freight depot, and store-houses, together with offices and quarters for the employés, and 1,000,000 feet of lumber. On the same day Major [Moses] Webster: with the cavalry detachment, destroyed the railroad buildings, with one locomotive and a small train of cars at Manchester.
Not mentioned was another party, from the 32nd USCT sent northeast towards Maysville. They captured seven cars and destroyed a railroad bridge. Another detachment from the 102nd USCT destroyed the railroad bridge west of Sumter, along with four cars, 200 bales of cotton, and a mill. In addition, Potters men found newspapers and dispatches in Sumter. And the news excited the men, as Captain Luis Emilio recalled:
Another cause of exultation was the news that Richmond, Mobile, and Selma were in our hands, in honor of which a salute of thirteen shots were fired from the captured guns.
The raiders also attracted many local slaves to abandon their masters. Major Edward Culp of the 25th Ohio described the exodus:
Upon our march to Sumter, and while in that town, the negroes had flocked to us by the thousands, and of all sizes and colors. It became a serious problem how to dispose of them. Our wagon train had also increased in size, and was now a sight to behold. Vehicles of all descriptions; wagons, buggies, carriages, coaches, and in fact, everything imaginable that was ever laced on wheels – a most absurd procession, and lengthening for miles on the road.
Potter sent a report of the raid’s progress thus far to Major-General Quincy Gillmore on the 10th. The focus of that report was on the action at Dingle’s Mill the day before. However, in that report, he indicated only three locomotives were destroyed (presumably the fourth was found later in the day). Potter also noted the destruction of “more than 1,000 bales of cotton” since the raid began. Information gathered in Sumter said that six more locomotives were in Camden to the north, and that trains had been – up to the time the Federals destroyed the railroad in Sumter, at least – running regularly between Camden and Florence. With that, Potter moved up the line to do more damage.
On the 11th, the main column followed the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry to Manchester. There, Potter dispatched the 54th Massachusetts directly to Wateree Junction west of the town. Concurrently, the 107th Ohio marched up the road towards Camden to Middleton Depot then circled back to join the 54th Massachusetts at the junction. Emilio described the attack on the junction:
A reconnaissance made by Lieutenant-Colonel [Henry] Hooper resulted in the discovery at the junction of cars, water-tanks, and several locomotives, – one of which had steam up. It was not known whether there was any armed force there or not; and it was important to seize the locomotive before it could be reversed and the rolling-stock run back. Night had set in. Some sharpshooters were posted to cover an advance and disable any train-men. Then our column, led by Lieutenant [Stephen] Swails, First Sergeant [Frank] Welch, of Company F, and eighteen picked men, rushed over an intervening trestle for the junction. Swails was the first man of all, and jumped into the engine-cab where, while waving his hat in triumph, he received a shot in his right arm from our sharpshooters, who in the darkness probably mistook him for the engineer. The train-hands, some fifteen in number, fled down the railroad embankment into the swamp.
An additional set of locomotives and cars were found up the line to Camden. Those were run back to the junction, across a burning railroad bridge. These operations netted more locomotives and rolling stock:
Eight locomotives and forty cars were destroyed near the Wateree trestle-work, which is three miles in length. A mile of this was burned, as were also some bridges.
Such was additional progress towards Potter’s assigned mission. However, with the movements thus far he had expended much of his supplies. And the boats on the Santee could not make the passage up to Manchester:
As the rations of bread, sugar, and coffee were exhausted on the 12th, I sent the wagons and pack-mules to Wright’s Bluff, on the Santee to obtain additional supplies. The wounded and the contrabands, of whom there were large numbers, were also ordered to the same point, to be embarked on the transports. These trains were under escort of the Thirty-second U.S. Colored Troops.
In a dispatch to Gillmore on the 11th, Potter estimated the number of contrabands at 2,500.
On the 12th, the command moved up to Singleton’s Plantation some three miles outside of Manchester to camp. Culp recalled the camp as “in a beautiful grove of live oaks, one of the fairest portions of South Carolina.” He went on to describe the plantation:
The Singleton mansion was a fine residence, and the outbuildings, negro quarters, etc., neat and convenient. The mansion was used by General Potter for his headquarters. The family had fled upon our approach.
I think (stress think) that the Singleton mansion mentioned here is that of Melrose, one of many in the area owned by Richard Singleton. (Kensington on the other side of the Wateree is the famous one of the lot.) The site of Melrose is about three miles south of where Manchester stood, present day within Poinsett State Park. However, not matching up is the description of Melrose as a “small, quaint little house.”
If any readers know more about this, please do offer a comment. If nothing else, I would offer the location of Potter’s camp deserves a marker.
While waiting the return of supplies, on April 13, Potter sent a force under Lieutenant-Colonel James Carmichael, consisting of the 157th New York and 25th Ohio, to Stateburg and Claremont Station to the north. Carmichael returned with information that Major-General Pierce M.B. Young commanded two brigades entrenching around Boykin’s Mill.
With this news, Potter had even more motivation to proceed towards Camden.
A few markers indicate points of interest along Potter’s route pertaining to the events of April 11-15. In Sumter are markers for Potter’s Headquarters and the activities during the occupation. The site of Manchester, which is just a placename today, has a marker. And a marker in Stateburg discusses the reconnaissance of April 13 – though I think the date is incorrect.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, pages 162; Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, pages 126-7 ;Emilio, Luis F., History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, pages 295-6.)