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.)

 

Potter’s Raid, April 25, 1865: After 23 days and 300 miles, the raiders return to Georgetown

The Civil War might be winding down in the last week of April 1865, but Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter’s provisional division was still in the field, though marching back to the coast from a successful raid reaching the Sand Hills of South Carolina. On April 21, 1865, a flag of truce relayed the news of a truce, while General Joseph E. Johnston and Major-General William T. Sherman worked out the details of a Confederate surrender.  From that point, Potter’s raiders had a relatively uneventful march to the coast.

PotterRaidApr25

Potter directed the column towards the boat-depot at Wright’s Bluff on April 22.  There he transferred “wounded, sick, and about five hundred contrabands” to the boats to ease the march.  Potter himself departed by boat, heading back to Charleston in order to report and receive any new orders.  In his absence, Colonel Philip Brown, of the 157th New York and First Brigade commander, assumed command of the division.  In total, the Federals put twenty-three miles behind them.

For the march of April 23rd, Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts recorded:

At 5.30 a.m., on the 23d, the Second Brigade led out for the day’s march. Now that hostilities had ceased, the force was dependent upon such supplies as could be purchased. A very large number of contrabands were with the column, straggling, and obstructing the rapid progress it was desirable to make. The day was cool and pleasant; the route through a fine country mainly, but wooded and low in places. Intelligence of President Lincoln’s assassination was received, – sad tidings which could hardly be credited. There was much bitter feeling indulged in by the soldiery for a time.  The division accomplished twenty-three miles that day, bivouacking at Stagget’s Mill.

The next day the column continued the march towards Georgetown, through what Emilio described as “a wooded region where no supplies could be obtained.”  He added, “As a substitute for rations two ears of corn were issued t each man.”  The force marched twenty-three miles, for the third day in a row.

Our last bivouac in the field was broken on the morning of April 25th, when in good weather through a timbered country we completed the march.  …  The troops reached town at 5 p.m. after making twenty-two miles.

Thus ended Potter’s 1865 Raid into South Carolina. Potter offered a summary and results in his official report:

The results of the expedition may be summed up in the capture of 1 battle-flag, 3 guns, and 65 prisoners, 100 horses and 150 mules, and the destruction of 32 locomotives, 250 cars, large portions of the railroad, and all the railroad buildings between Camden and Sumterville, 100 cotton gins and presses, 5,000 bales of cotton, and large quantities of government stores.  Five thousand negroes joined the column and were brought within our lines. Our entire loss was 10 killed, 72 wounded, and 1 missing.

Those figures relate a remarkable level of destruction wrought by a small force, and at the very end of the war.   Though one might say such was hardly worth the effort.  Potter’s Raid could not do much more to hasten the end of the war than what had already been done elsewhere. Yet, the real impact of Potter’s Raid was well beyond the military needs expressed in its mission objectives.

In his summary, Emilio indicted higher numbers of contrabands and livestock than Potter had reported:

Potter’s Raid occupied twenty-one days, during which the troops marched some three hundred miles. About three thousand negroes came into Georgetown with the division, while the whole number released was estimated at six thousand.  Our train was very large, for besides innumerable vehicles, five hundred horses and mules were secured, of which number the Fifty-fourth turned in one hundred and sixty.

Whether the figure was 6,000 or 5,000 who were emancipated as result of Potter’s Raid, that statistic was, I would submit, the most important of those tallied.  Instead of being inland to await the resolution of the war and receiving emancipation, thousands had taken advantage of the opportunity to “self-emancipate” in those closing days of the war. And those thousands arrived at the coast, adding to the crisis facing Federal commanders.  Would there be more forty acre plots?  Or would Federal leaders encourage “fair labor contracts“?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1031;  Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 307-9.)

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.)