By destroying locomotives and railroad facilities at Manchester, South Carolina on April 11, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward Potter accomplished a significant portion of his assigned tasks. But Potter learned the Confederates held additional locomotives and rolling stock up the railroad spur line to Camden. To complete his mission, Potter needed to bag those trains.
But since April 5, the marching and fighting left Potter short on supplies. This dictated a three and a half day pause, waiting on resupply from the boats staged on the Santee River. This pause allowed Confederate forces in the area to build up defenses of the railroad lines. A reconnaissance on April 13 brought back information that Major-General Pierce M.B. Young had two cavalry brigades entrenching around Boykin’s Mill. Potter made plans to skirt around that force and march on Camden.
On the morning of April 15, Potter sent the 25th Ohio Infantry forward to Stateburg. The Federals had made several patrols in that direction, and knew well the dispositions. But that morning, under a light rain, the infantry was to clear the road for the remainder of Potter’s division. Major Edward Culp of the 25th Ohio recalled:
We met the enemy a mile from camp, and commenced a lively skirmish, driving them back about a mile to Red Hill, where they had erected works, and were prepared to make a good resistance. Companies A and B were on the skirmish line, and the Regiment in the road, marching by the flank, advanced from the center.
Our skirmishers fell back, and Colonel [Nathaniel] Haughton gave the command, “By wing into line, march!” “Fix bayonet!” “Charge Bayonet!” The rebels were driven from their works, although they retired sullenly and in better order than usual.
Yes, even at the end of the war, cold steel could move an enemy out of position. The Buckeye troops suffered one killed and seven wounded in their charge. A few miles further along, the 25th Ohio ran into a second Confederate line. Haughton sent word back and waited for reinforcements. Supporting this advance by the 25th Ohio was one of the cannons captured at Sumter on April 9 – an iron 6-pdr gun. The Federals fired five rounds from the gun that morning.
With the wagon trains back from Wright’s Bluff, Potter moved the rest of his command forward at 3 p.m. on April 15, taking the road to Camden. In the advance with First Brigade, Colonel Philip Brown sent the 107th Ohio Infantry and two 12-pdr Napoleons to reinforce Haughton. Brown developed the position by first running out his artillery, then placing the 107th to the left of the 25th Ohio. Brown then sent the 157th New York to the right of the line. But while that last move was being made, the 107th Ohio charged the position, “driving the enemy, with the loss of 2 men wounded.” The Napoleon guns fired 25 rounds while in support.
Though gaining ground, Potter could not afford to keep skirmishing all the way to Camden. Instead, Potter ordered Brown to drive the Confederates back far enough to allow movement on a backroad around Stateburg. Brown recorded:
The Twenty-fifth Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry was then sent forward, with skirmishers thrown out properly supported, and drove the enemy to Statesburg. As the column turned to the right on the Sumterville road, about two miles south of Statesburg, Lieutenant-Colonel Haughton was ordered to maintain a threatening position before the enemy at Statesburg until nightfall and then rejoin the column, covering the rear, which he accomplished without loss.
The 25th Ohio did not rejoin the main body until 3 a.m. that morning. The flank march placed Potter’s main body on the rear of the Confederate defenders, and closer to Camden. The Federals camped that night about two miles out of Providence.
The march resumed at 7:30 a.m. on April 16, but with Colonel Edward Hallowell’s Second Brigade in the lead. Captain Luis Emilio recorded the march:
April 16, the march was resumed, the colored brigade leading, and Providence Post-Office was left on the right hand. With good weather the route was through a hilly and rolling country sparsely settled with poor whites. A halt was made for dinner at Bradford Springs; and when the column again proceeded, the enemy’s skirmishers were encountered, who gave way readily, but kept up a running fight all the afternoon.
The 54th Massachusetts lost one killed and one wounded during the day. But Potter’s force made sixteen miles and camped at Spring Hill, just twelve miles from Camden.
With two days march on side roads, Potter had bypassed the main Confederate defenses. While Potter accomplished this, recall that Colonel Henry Chipman with the balance of the 102nd USCT marched up from Wright’s Bluff and reached Manning by the evening of the 16th. Yes, a lot of moving parts in this section of South Carolina on those days.
A successful tactical maneuver placed Potter in striking distance of Camden, where he hoped to find the elusive Confederate trains. The city, having already seen part of the Fifteenth Corps pass through in February, would host Potter’s raiders on April 17.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, page 1034; Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, pages 127-8 ;Emilio, Luis F., History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, pages 299-300.)