Potter’s Raid, April 19, 1865: Fighting at Dinkins’ Mill and Beech Creek

Having cleared the Confederate defenders from Boykin’s Mill on April 18, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued marching south on April 19 in pursuit of Confederate trains on the Camden Branch Railroad.  Potter started the march that morning at 6 a.m.  The First Brigade, under Colonel Philip Brown, had the lead that morning.  The 107th Ohio Infantry marched by way of the railroad while the 157th New York and 25th Ohio lead the march on the main road to Manchester.  In the rear, the 54th Massachusetts formed the rear guard, supported by the iron 6-pdr and two field howitzers captured earlier in the campaign.

PotterRaidApr19

Potter’s column was barely out of camp when they encountered the first Confederate resistance of the day.  Confederate cavalry were posted at a rail breastwork with artillery support.  Major Edward Culp later recalled:

The 157th New York took the left of the road and the 25th Ohio the right. We advanced in line of battle, driving the rebels before us, until they reached higher ground, where, supported by several pieces of artillery, they intended to make a stand.  The 25th advanced steadily under a galling artillery fire until within one hundred yards of the enemy’s position, when [Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Haughton] ordered a charge, and the rebels retreated across Rafting Creek.

This was but the first round of the fighting of April 19. As the Federals passed through, they turned nearby Oakland Plantation into a field hospital.  Oakland had been Major-General Pierce M.B. Young’s headquarters the day before.  And the house had suffered damage from a stray cannon shot (either on April 18, as the marker says, or on April 19).

At Rafting Creek was a Confederate defense similar to that seen the day before at Boykin’s Mill.  The main road, on which the 157th New York and 25th Ohio advanced, crossed Rafting Creek near Dinkins’ Mill.  Potter recalled the position:

The mill dam had been opened and the swamp was not fordable, while in the road the water was waist-deep, and any force attempting to cross here was exposed to a fire from the enemy behind rifle-trenches and with two guns commanding the road.

Young’s force at Dinkins’ Mill consisted of the remainder of the Kentucky Orphan Brigade, 53rd Alabama Cavalry (or Partisan Rangers, as some prefer), 11th Georgia Cavalry, a couple sections of artillery, and South Carolina militia.

Potter had the two infantry regiments maintain a strong skirmish line along the creek, reinforced by the two Napoleon guns of Lieutenant Edmund Clark’s section from Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery. Clark’s gunners expended over thirty rounds that day including the fighting at the barricade earlier in the day.

Potter dispatched Colonel George Baird with four companies of the 32nd USCT to feel for a crossing downstream from the mill.  Meanwhile the 107th Ohio was pressing against the line at the railroad bridge a mile downstream from the main road.  But neither of those movements produced the desired effect for Potter. In the rear, the 54th Massachusetts reported sporadic fighting with Confederate cavalry, but was able to fend off the attacks.

Finally around mid-morning, Potter sent Colonel Henry Chipman with the 102nd USCT and four companies of the 32nd USCT upstream, about a mile to the left, to find a crossing.  Chipman accomplished this with the loss of one killed and two wounded.  Around noon, Chipman’s force engaged the right flank of the Confederate defenders on Rafting Creek.  With sound of that engagement, Potter ordered Brown’s brigade forward.  Within a short time, the Confederate position was carried.

With the position on Rafting Creek turned, Young withdrew most of his forces to the east toward Providence.  But the 53rd Alabama and 11th Georgia continued south towards Stateburg.  The Confederates formed another defensive line at the crossing of Beech Creek.

After breaking for lunch, Potter’s force continued the march south.  The march continued with the 157th New York on the right of the road, 25th Ohio on the left of the road, and the 107th Ohio still marching along the railroad line to the west.  Reaching Beech Creek, the Federals encountered the Confederate defense, as Brown reported:

Here quite a strong force of the enemy was encountered, but the determined men of the two regiments moved briskly forward and so completely routed the enemy that they made no further serious opposition to the march.

Culp was a little less complementary, stating, “In fact, it became hard work to keep up with them.”  Into the evening the Federals pursued the fleeing Confederates.  Under pressure from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, the Confederates finally scattered some four miles beyond Beech Creek and turned east.

Potter opted not to continue pursuit of the Confederate force, and remained focused on his objective – the trains on the Camden Branch Railroad.  However, he also decided since those trains were going nowhere further on the line, he would wait until the next morning to descend upon them at the end of the broken line at Middleton Depot.  Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts later wrote, “Beyond Statesburg the resistance was slight, the column proceeding until 10 p.m., when the Fifty-forth reached its former camp at Singleton’s, having marched eighteen miles.” The 107th Ohio continued its march down the railroad until 3 a.m. the next morning, reaching the large Singleton Plantation once again.

The day’s fighting had cost the Federals ten casualties.  Confederate losses were not recorded in detail.   I know there are a lot of points to quibble over when identifying the last of this or last of that.  Indeed, at 7 a.m. on April 19, somewhere upstream in the Wateree watershed, a detail from the 12th Ohio Cavalry, part of Major-General George Stoneman’s raid, captured, and burned, the Nations Ford bridge of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad without a fight.  But these casualties care considered the last in a “named battle” in South Carolina during the Civil War.

However, that would not mean the fighting was done.  Potter still had some trains to destroy.  And after accomplishing that, he had to find his way back to the coast.   Although driven and scattered, the Confederate forces in the area were still around to contest Potter’s movements.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, pages 1030 and 1035;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, page 131 ;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 306.)

Potter’s Raid, April 10-14, 1865: Railroad and rolling stock laid to waste between Sumter and Manchester

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.

PotterRaidApr11

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.”

Melrose

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.)

Potter’s Raid, April 1-4, 1865: The last offensive in South Carolina gets organized

At the same time as the Confederate withdrawal from Richmond and Petersburg, a small expedition was organizing on the coast of South Carolina.  This effort, aimed at knocking out the few remaining rail lines in the state, would become the last Federal offensive in South Carolina and among the last of the war.

Recall that in mid-March, while idle at Fayetteville, North Carolina, Major-General William T. Sherman directed Major-General Quincy Gillmore to send a force of around 2,500 men against the railroad lines between Sumterville and Florence.  Specifically, Sherman wanted locomotives and rolling stock, which had escaped his columns during their passage through South Carolina, destroyed.  Gillmore was to scrape up, from his garrison forces, a force to march inland to wreck a section of the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad and chase down some trains.  Gillmore assigned this task to Brigadier-General Edward Potter. Much like Major-General George Stoneman’s Raid, Potter was to tie up one of the smaller loose ends.

Potter’s start point was Georgetown, South Carolina.  To catch up a bit, shortly after the fall of Charleston, Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren directed a naval force to seize Georgetown and close the last seaport in the state.  Though able to secure the port with just a naval landing force, Dahlgren lost his flagship, the USS Harvest Moon, to a torpedo in Winyah Bay.  This setback did not stop the Federals from establishing a base at Georgetown.

Potter’s force would consist of two brigades.  The First Brigade, under Colonel Philip P. Brown, included the 25th Ohio, 107th Ohio, 157th New York, and a detachment from the 56th New York.  Colonel Edward Hallowell commanded the Second Brigade with the 54th Massachusetts, 32nd USCT,  five companies of the 102nd USCT.  A section of Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery, under Lieutenant Edmund C. Clark, brought along two 12-pdr Napoleon guns, but with only 360 rounds of ammunition.  Detachments from the 1st New York Engineers and 4th Massachusetts Cavalry rounded out the force.  All tallied, Potter reported 2,700 men for his expedition.

PotterRaidBases

In addition to the main column, Potter had the Army transports Hooker and Planter move up the Santee River, supported by a Navy detachment under Commander Fabius Stanly, to Murray’s Ferry.  The water-born column brought ammunition and rations, but no additional troops.

Potter did not leave Charleston until April 1.  Even then, he took an additional four days to get the expedition fully organized and the supplies staged for movement to Murray’s Ferry.  Not until April 5 did Potter leave Georgetown. Sherman had wanted the expedition sent out by the last days of March.  But delays outfitting the ad-hoc formation determined much of the delay.

I’ll pick up the “line of march” following Potter at the appropriate sesquicentennial mark.  For the moment, consider some of the units involved with this expedition.  Many were veterans of the fighting on Morris Island – in particular the 54th Massachusetts.  Also consider the Planter moved in support.  Rather fitting that the last offensive operation in South Carolina would include troops and vessels which had served with prominence around Charleston.

(Source: OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1027-8.)