Category Archives: American Civil War

Sam Jones: Call out the militia “against deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves”

On April 20, 1865, Major-General Samuel Jones, commanding the Confederate District of Florida, responded to a request from the Governor of Florida, A. K. Allison, for more troops to defend homes and property of the citizens of Florida:

Governor: I was absent when your letter of the 7th instant was received at my headquarters here, or it would have been sooner answered. I deeply regret that the force at my command is not sufficient to enable me to give full protection to the section of country you designate. I propose, as soon as it can be done, to give a small additional force to the commander of the First Sub-District, which will enable him to give some additional protection to the section of country in question. I am convinced that a portion of the militia force of the State should be placed on duty for the special service you refer to, and called on your predecessor for it, but it seems that, in his judgment, the militia laws of the State were so defective that the militia could not be employed for that service; that is, for the protection of their own homes and property, not from a formidable body of the enemy’s troops, but chiefly from their own slaves and deserters from our service. I respectfully bring this matter to Your Excellency’s notice, with a request that a portion of the militia of the State be called into service to protect the property and homes of the people against deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves.

Jones had fallen from grace somewhat over the span of a year.  From commanding the entire Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, by the first of 1865, his command was just Florida.  After Sherman took Savannah, Jones was somewhat on an island.  While communications were open to other parts of the Confederacy, the lack of railroads and telegraph left the sector somewhat isolated.  Florida was not, however, a major Federal objective.  Jones’ force was for the most part left to die on the vine, pending events unfolding elsewhere.

That background aside, what I find interesting with Jones’ response is that it lays out several issues facing Confederate leaders at the end of the war.  In some ways demonstrating the whole collapse of the system of government by April 1865.  In one part we see the contention between “state” and “national” authority, though unlike the cases where the governors of Georgia, North Carolina, and other states resisted the use of state troops under Confederate authority, in the case of Florida, the governor was calling upon Confederate troops to fill an obligation which the Confederate authority felt should fall to the state.  The Florida militia could be called out to defend against the “Yankee invader” but not to police its own countryside.

And how about “police.”  Yes, that is the sum of what Allison had asked for (I don’t find his correspondence in the records, but assume so from the tone of Jones’ response).  Allison needed some force of arms to counter the lawlessness that had broken out.  Jones does not mention or address Federal raiding parties here.  He could have.

The main Federal garrisons in Florida did send out expeditions and scouted the areas near their lines.  But these were limited due to the need to economize the troops assigned.  However, do recall the Florida (US) Cavalry forces which operated in part as partisans.  Indeed, I missed a promised  sesquicentennial post back in March with respect to William W. Strickland’s operations and death.    (I shall have that as a writing assignment into the post-sesquicentennial.)

Instead, the issue facing Allison and Jones was not some Federal incursion, but rather the lawlessness as the pieces of the Confederacy were falling about them.  Through the war years, considerable effort was placed on policing the home front.  But those resources were pulled, inevitably, to the front lines… or perhaps a better way to view it, the home front became the front line in many parts of the South.

Perhaps it is simply a word choice in play, but Jones did not mention “former slaves” be they run-aways, “contraband,” uniformed USCT, self-emancipated or otherwise. Rather he references “their own slaves.”

And entering his last week of formally being in command of a Confederate department, Major-General Sam Jones’ most pressing task was protecting people and property from “deserters, and to retain and maintain proper subordination among the slaves.”

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part III, Serial 100, page 819.)

Potter’s Raid, April 21, 1865: “The last shots loaded with hostile intent were fired as a salute”

With the destruction of trains at Middleton Depot on April 20, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter turned his division to the Santee River Road on April 21, with the aim of marching back to Georgetown.

PotterRaidApr21

Potter had his men on the march at dawn on the 21st.  In the rear was the 25th Ohio Infantry and Major Edward Culp:

While on Governor Manning’s plantation, and within sight of his mansion, the rebel cavalry made an attack on the two companies acting a rear guard, but were easily repulsed with some loss to them.  A swamp being in our front, General Potter ordered a halt.

The halt took place around Fulton Post-Office. This must have been a somewhat leisurely halt, but the men were still under arms, weapons loaded, and wary of Confederate attack.  Potter was still there at 1 p.m. when the Confederates approached again. This time the were under a flag of truce.  Potter reported:

… I received a communication from Major-General [Pierce M.B.] Young, commanding the force which had been opposed to us, stating that a truce had been agreed upon between Generals Johnston and Sherman, and that notice of forty-eight hours would be given prior to resumption of hostilities.  I answered that my command was moving toward Georgetown, and that it would no longer subsist on the country, except in the matter of forage for animals.

This was met with, as one would presume, much rejoicing by the men.  Culp wrote, “The joy that filled our hearts was supreme.”  In the 54th Massachusetts, Captain Luis Emilio observed:

This great news created the most intense joy and excitement, for it seemed to end the war, as the Rebels themselves acknowledged. Cheers without number were given, and congratulations exchanged.  Then the Fifty-fourth was brought to a field, where the last shots loaded with hostile intent were fired as a salute. Soon after, the march resumed in sultry weather with frequent showers.  Ten miles from the Santee the division bivouacked after completing a journey of twenty miles.

In distant Hilton Head, Major-General Quincy Gillmore also received word of the suspension of hostilities, by way of a staff officer just returned from a visit to Major-General William T. Sherman.  Gillmore ordered “a salute of 100 guns at noon to-day in honor of the success.”  Though within seventy-two hours the truce would be interrupted, at least by orders, and the forty-eight hour notice served.  The war was not quite over and some final details were being elusive… and beyond that there were several military operations in South Carolina to be marched out.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, page 1031;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, page 132-3;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 308.)

Potter’s Raid, April 20, 1865: “The explosions were terrific” – destruction of trains at Middleton

On April 20, 1865, having driven off the last Confederate forces between his forces and the trains on the Camden Branch Railroad the previous day, Brigadier-General Edward Potter sent detachments to Middleton Depot.  The destruction of those trains would mark the completion of Potter’s assigned mission – a hard earned completion of the task.

PotterRaidApr20

At least three regiments “worked on the railroad” that morning.  Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts recalled:

The rolling-stock was ours, massed on the Camden Branch, whence it could not be taken, as the Fifty-forth had destroyed the trestle at Wateree Junction, on the 11th. General Potter devoted the 20th to its destruction. That day the Fifty-fourth marched to Middleton Depot and with other regiments assisted in the work. About this place for a distance of some two miles were sixteen locomotives and 245 cars containing railway supplies, ordnance, commissary and quartermaster’s stores. They were burned, those holding powder and shells during several hours blowing up with deafening explosions and scattering discharges, until property of immense value and quantity disappeared in smoke and flame.  Locomotives were rendered useless before the torch was applied. The Fifty-fourth alone destroyed fifteen locomotives, one passenger, two box and two platform cars with the railway supplies they held.

The 25th Ohio and 157th New York Infantry regiments from First Brigade were also detailed to assist the destruction of the trains.  Colonel Philip Brown recorded similar tallies as Emilio’s, indicating some overlap in the accounting by the participants.  Major Edward Culp, of the 25th, was closer to the scene:

The next morning, April 20th, the 25th Ohio was sent to the railroad, where for two miles the road was crowded with cars, including sixteen locomotives.  The cars were loaded with clothing, ammunition, provisions, and, in fact, everything imaginable. The Regiment was bivouacked some distance from the railroad, and men detailed to fire the train.  Several cars were loaded entirely with powder, and in other cars were thousands of loaded shells. The explosions were terrific, and for several hours it seemed as if a battle was being fought.  After completely destroying the train the Regiment returned to camp at Singleton’s.

Around noon the work on the trains was nearing completion. Potter’s official report stated the day was spent “thoroughly destroying locomotives, 18 in number, and in burning the cars, of which there were 176.”

While this was going on, Confederate cavalry continued to spar with Potter’s rear guard.  Lieutenant Edmund Clark reported, “one howitzer was engaged on the Statesburg road; fired four rounds.”  Culp mentioned, “The rebel cavalry still hovered about, and fired into camp continually, but without much damage.”  Thus, while no “battle” was taking place, the “fighting” in South Carolina continued, after the “last battle” in South Carolina was over.

Potter’s force returned to the Singleton Plantation, where it had camped from April 12-14.  Local residents throughout Sumter County were by that time huddling at various plantations, reeling from over a week of Federal foraging and fighting.  To the south of Potter’s camp that evening was Millford Plantation, the home of John Laurence Manning, former state governor.  Manning’s wife was Susan Hampton Manning, an aunt of Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton III.  Given the connections, one might have expected Millford to become one of many homes in the area to be set afire.  But it survived.

The story of how that happened is attributed to different dates, but most often to sometime on April 19 or 20th.  The story goes that Potter arrived at Millford and remarked of the beauty of the architecture.  Manning responded that the home was designed and built by Nathaniel F. Potter of Rhode Island, adding “and it will be destroyed by a Potter.”  With that Potter is said to have responded, “No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.”  And thus the Rhode Island granite structure was saved and survives to this day.

A standing representative of the Old South spared to be mixed with the New South as Potter’s raid drew to a close.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, pages 1031 and 1041;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, page 132 ;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 306.)