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 18, 1865: “This last fight of the Fifty-fourth, and also one of the very last of the war” at Boykin’s Mill

Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter started his division out of Camden, South Carolina at 7 a.m. on April 18, 1865.  His objective was Confederate locomotives and rolling stock reported to be trapped on the Camden Branch Railroad in the vicinity of Boykin’s Mill. Potter had a battalion of 102nd USCT advance down the railroad and destroy the line.  (And recall the remainder of the 102nd USCT was with Colonel Henry Chipman, which on that morning was struggling to join with Potter… and we’ll discuss in a moment.)

PotterRaidApr18

Potter met no resistance until nearing Boykin’s Mill, some five miles outside of Camden where the roads crossed Swift Creek.  There Major-General Pierce M.B. Young had his main line of resistance.  Young’s small force, numbering around 800, consisted mostly of South Carolina Home Guard bolstered by veterans from the 53rd Alabama Cavalry, 9th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, and a few artillery pieces.  Also, reflecting the situation at war’s end, Young’s ranks included individuals, detachments, convalescents, and men under almost every administrative status one might contemplate.  It was, as we say, a scratch force.

But Young held a good position.  To his right, the mill pond covered approaches from the east.  To his left, a dense swamp between the railroad and the Wateree River left few routes for any Federal flanking maneuver.  To further bar Federal passage, Young had cut dams so as to flood the roads approaching the Confederate position and removed planks and beams from the Camden road and railroad bridges. So long as Young held the center, where the bridges crossed Swift Creek, he might give Potter a costly delay.

Approaching Swift Creek, Potter demonstrated with the main body of his column along the Camden Road.  Major Edward Culp of the 25th Ohio recalled:

Our skirmishers were advanced to the edge of the swamp, but found the water too deep to wade.  The 107th Ohio, 54th Massachusetts, and 102d U.S.C.T. were sent to the right some distance, with a colored man, a native of that country, to pilot them through the swamps.  The 25th Ohio was moved to the edge of the swamp, and gained possession of some rebel works constructed in anticipation of our march to Camden by that road.  The right of the Regiment rested on the railroad, and we were to charge across the trestle work as soon as our flanking regiments made their attack.

The map below, from Captain Luis Emilio’s history of the 54th Massachusetts, depicts those positions from the Federal perspective (and thus north is to the bottom) to the left (west) of the main roads, and where most of the action in the Battle of Boykin’s Mill would occur.

BoykinsMill

At the railroad bridge (also to the left and off Emilio’s map), Potter positioned one of his 12-pdr Napoleon guns.  The “moving part” of Potter’s command then attempted to slog their way around the Confederate left, as Emilio recorded:

In this flanking movement Lieutenant-Colonel [H. Northy] Hooper led the Fifty-fourth along the creek over ploughed fields bordering the wood of the swamp, with Company F, under Captain [Watson] Bridge, skirmishing.  From contrabands it was learned that the swamp was impassable nearer than Boykin’s Mills, some two miles from the road.  When in vicinity of the mills, the enemy’s scouts were seen falling back.

The crossing point described by Emilio is the road leading across to “Island” on his map. Hooper describing the crossing point in his official report, added:

It was quickly discovered that the enemy was prepared to dispute our passage.  There were found to be two streams. They could be crossed above by a dike and 150 yards below by a road that crossed one stream by a bridge, the boards of which were removed; the second stream fordable; fifteen yards beyond the ford, up a steep ascent, was a breast-work of cotton bales.  The dike was covered by the fire of the enemy. The dike and the road met and formed a junction on the enemy’s side of the creek.

Seeing the crossing points too well defended for direct assault, Hooper sent a force downstream to a ford reported by his guides.  Major George Pope led Companies A, D, G, and I to that ford only to find the Confederates already there.  Attempting to feel the Confederate strength, Pope ordered Company A to demonstrate at the ford site.  At that same instance, the Confederates delivered their own volley.  In that volley, one of the South Carolina Home Guard, Burwell Henry Boykin, son of the owners of Boykin’s mill, is said to have killed Lieutenant Edward Lewis Stevens.  As frequent reader over at The Cotton Boll Conspiracy has recently mentioned, Stevens had the dubious honor of being the last Federal officer killed in action during the Civil War… and as legend has it, was shot by a fourteen-year-old boy literally defending his home.

At the mill dam, Hooper had one of the sluice gates opened with an aim to drain the waters down to better allow crossing, pending Pope’s maneuvers.  When word came that Pope could not force a crossing, Hooper informed Potter and asked for artillery support.  That came in the form of the second Napoleon gun of Potter’s main force.

… and after a dozen discharges of shell at the position of the enemy I had the satisfaction to see quite a number of rebels rapidly leave our front.  A column composed of the five companies under my immediate command then charged across the two streams over the dike in single file. Although the enemy maintained his position for a while, he soon fled.  The regiment gained the enemy’s breast-works and the affair at Boykins’ Mill was over.

While the 54th Massachusetts forced a crossing at the mill, the battalion from the 102nd USCT  managed to get across further down-stream by crossing on logs.  The 107th Ohio followed them.  The presence of this force did factor in the Confederate retreat.

In this flanking movement that unhinged Young’s Swift Creek line, the 54th Massachusetts suffered three killed (two enlisted besides Stevens) and twelve wounded. Emilio later reflected upon this, which would prove to be the 54th’s last charge of the war:

This last fight of the Fifty-fourth, and also one of the very last of the war, was well managed by Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, when less discretion would have resulted in a repulse and heavy loss.  The charge was a plucky affair under exceptionally adverse conditions.

After clearing the Confederates around the mill at about 4 p.m. that afternoon, the cheering of Hooper’s men prompted a general advance from the rest of the Federal force on the main road from Camden.  Potter pursued Young’s retreat for three miles before going into camp for the evening.

Leading the pursuit that afternoon was Major Moses Webster with his battalion from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry.  Webster’s troopers had been very busy on April 18th, as in the morning they rendered service to Chipman and the 102nd USCT.  Chipman had woke that morning in a precarious position:

Brisk skirmishing commenced with the enemy’s cavalry on the morning of the 18th at different places, who made spirited resistance, fighting behind breast-works of rails, which they would not leave until driven from them by skirmishers.  We were hemmed in on every side, but moved steadily forward.  My loss during the forenoon was 1 man killed, and 1 officer and 7 men wounded.

Thus Chipman’s foray to join Potter, which was originally designed to work with Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell’s force operating out of Charleston, was turning into a disaster.  But before noon, the situation took a turn for the better:

At 11 a.m. Lieutenant [Charles] Barrell joined me, accompanied by Major Webster and detachment of his cavalry.  They had driven the enemy from my front, and gave information concerning the movements of General Potter’s forces.  Skirmishing with my rear guard was kept up till afternoon.  I joined the command of General Potter at 8 p.m. at Swift Creek, where my regiment was united.

Disaster averted, Chipman’s men went into camp with Potter’s division.  All of the men weathered a heavy rainstorm that evening.

Though able to turn Young’s position at Swift Creek, Potter found most of the trains had again eluded him.  One locomotive and a few cars were captured. But the rest fell back down the line.  But that was of little worry.  Trains could not run where there was no track.  And the track south of Stateburg was already torn up.  Potter anticipated capturing the remainder on the 19th.

There would be some action in the days that followed, but the action at Boykin’s Mill had for all practical purposes broken the Confederate defenses.  Rather fitting the the important role played by the 54th Massachusetts and the USCT during the day’s action.  The war had turned full circle in many regards on this day 150 years ago.

Boykin Mill

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, pages 1039 and 1040;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, pages 130-1 ;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, pages 301-4.)

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 8, 1865: “The Clarendon Banner of Freedom”

After seeing to the bridges at Kingstree on April 7, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued the advance toward Sumter (as Sumterville was shortened to in 1855) on the 8th.  Potter planned to remain on the south side of the Black River for the march to that place.  But to do so, he had to cross the Pocotaligo River, a tributary to the Black River (not to be confused with a river by the same name which flows into the Broad River and Port Royal Sound).  This would prove troublesome for Potter on April 8.

PotterRaidApr8

Potter’s division was on the road that morning at 6:30 a.m.  Reaching Brewington, Potter’s advance marched north only to find the bridge over the Pocotaligo destroyed. “As reconstruction of the bridge, which was 120 feet in length, would have consumed the day,” Potter recalled, “I moved on to Manning, ten miles further west, keeping the south side of the Pocotaligo River, a branch of the Black.”  Along the way to Manning, a report arrived that the bridge over Ox Swamp was destroyed.  This prompted a five mile detour to the south.

Upon reaching Manning, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry skirmished briefly with Confederates.  And… for those following closely the route of Lee’s Retreat, remember the element accompanying Potter was 2nd Battalion of the regiment – Companies A, B, C, and D, under Major Moses Webster.  While that battalion plodded along through South Carolina, the 1st and 3rd Battalion of the regiment were engaged at places such as High Bridge while chasing Confederates across Virginia.

As they left Manning, the Confederates set fire to the causeway over Pocotaligo Swamp, forcing Potter to halt for the day.  This causeway was a mile in length.  That evening, Potter had Major James Place, 1st New York Engineers, work to repair the causeway.  During the night, detachments of Colonel Edward Hallowell’s brigade crossed on the stringers to establish a bridgehead by midnight.  The causeway itself was repaired by the next morning.

For the night, the men of the 54th Massachusetts established camp around Manning, as Captain Luis Emilio recorded:

Manning, a town of a few hundred inhabitants, was occupied at dark, after an eighteen-mile march that day. General Potter established himself at Dr. Hagen’s house.  Major Culp, Twenty-fifth Ohio, Colonel Cooper, One Hundred and Sevent Ohio, and some soldier-printers took possession of “The Clarendon Banner” newspaper office, and changing the title to read “The Clarendon Banner of Freedom,” issued an edition which was distributed.

While Potter cleared the last natural obstacle between him and Sumter, to the south, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell’s expedition continued their “patrol” up to the Santee River.

HartwellApril8

Hartwell resumed his march at 7 a.m. on the morning of April 8.  His column halted at Pineville around mid-day. From there, he marched to a point he identified as “Mexico,” after a march of some 20 miles.  At Pineville, Hartwell was very close to Potter’s supply base at Murray’s Ferry.  But Hartwell made no effort to coordinate there, as he was not expected to.  Nor did Hartwell spend any time on the railroad (which had already been disabled in February) or Santee Canal infrastructure. Rather Hartwell’s mission was more akin to a “police patrol.”  So his report reflects the nature of that mission:

The people in Pineville implored our protection from the negroes, who were arming themselves and threatening the lives of their masters.  Mr. Reno Ravenel requested me to take him with me to save his life.  The negroes flocked in from all sides. At Mexico I found that Mr. Mazyck Porcher had made his house the headquarters of the rebels in the vicinity. While I was on his grounds his property was protected, but was burned to the ground immediately on my leaving, I think, by his field hands.

Such is a brief window in time to the lawlessness that followed in the wake of Confederate withdrawals at several places throughout South Carolina.  As these regions had, for all practical purposes, been under martial law, the departure of organized military forces left a void which the Federals were unable (and somewhat unwilling) to fill.  As result, people like Mazyck Porcher lost property… perhaps ironically, by the hands of individuals who had formerly BEEN property.  You see, stories of damage and destruction across South Carolina in 1865 are far more complex than a simple discussion of Sherman’s bummers.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1028 and 1042-3; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 293.)