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.)

 

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