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.)

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 15-16, 1865: “Charge Bayonet!” as Potter out-maneuvers the Confederates

By destroying locomotives and railroad facilities at Manchester, South Carolina on April 11, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward Potter accomplished a significant portion of his assigned tasks. But Potter learned the Confederates held additional locomotives and rolling stock up the railroad spur line to Camden.  To complete his mission, Potter needed to bag those trains.

But since April 5, the marching and fighting left Potter short on supplies.  This dictated a three and a half day pause, waiting on resupply from the boats staged on the Santee River.  This pause allowed Confederate forces in the area to build up defenses of the railroad lines.  A reconnaissance on April 13 brought back information that Major-General Pierce M.B. Young had two cavalry brigades entrenching around Boykin’s Mill.  Potter made plans to skirt around that force and march on Camden.

PotterRaidApr15_16

On the morning of April 15, Potter sent the 25th Ohio Infantry forward to Stateburg.  The Federals had made several patrols in that direction, and knew well the dispositions.  But that morning, under a light rain, the infantry was to clear the road for the remainder of Potter’s division.  Major Edward Culp of the 25th Ohio recalled:

We met the enemy a mile from camp, and commenced a lively skirmish, driving them back about a mile to Red Hill, where they had erected works, and were prepared to make a good resistance.  Companies A and B were on the skirmish line, and the Regiment in the road, marching by the flank, advanced from the center.

Our skirmishers fell back, and Colonel [Nathaniel] Haughton gave the command, “By wing into line, march!” “Fix bayonet!” “Charge Bayonet!” The rebels were driven from their works, although they retired sullenly and in better order than usual.

Yes, even at the end of the war, cold steel could move an enemy out of position.  The Buckeye troops suffered one killed and seven wounded in their charge. A few miles further along, the 25th Ohio ran into a second Confederate line.  Haughton sent word back and waited for reinforcements.   Supporting this advance by the 25th Ohio was one of the cannons captured at Sumter on April 9 – an iron 6-pdr gun.  The Federals fired five rounds from the gun that morning.

With the wagon trains back from Wright’s Bluff, Potter moved the rest of his command forward at 3 p.m. on April 15, taking the road to Camden.  In the advance with First Brigade, Colonel Philip Brown sent the 107th Ohio Infantry and two 12-pdr Napoleons to reinforce Haughton.  Brown developed the position by first running out his artillery, then placing the 107th to the left of the 25th Ohio.  Brown then sent the 157th New York to the right of the line.  But while that last move was being made, the 107th Ohio charged the position, “driving the enemy, with the loss of 2 men wounded.”   The Napoleon guns fired 25 rounds while in support.

Though gaining ground, Potter could not afford to keep skirmishing all the way to Camden.  Instead, Potter ordered Brown to drive the Confederates back far enough to allow movement on a backroad around Stateburg.   Brown recorded:

The Twenty-fifth Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry was then sent forward, with skirmishers thrown out properly supported, and drove the enemy to Statesburg. As the column turned to the right on the Sumterville road, about two miles south of Statesburg, Lieutenant-Colonel Haughton was ordered to maintain a threatening position before the enemy at Statesburg until nightfall and then rejoin the column, covering the rear, which he accomplished without loss.

The 25th Ohio did not rejoin the main body until 3 a.m. that morning. The flank march placed Potter’s main body on the rear of the Confederate defenders, and closer to Camden.  The Federals camped that night about two miles out of Providence.

The march resumed at 7:30 a.m. on April 16, but with Colonel Edward Hallowell’s Second Brigade in the lead.  Captain Luis Emilio recorded the march:

April 16, the march was resumed, the colored brigade leading, and Providence Post-Office was left on the right hand. With good weather the route was through a hilly and rolling country sparsely settled with poor whites. A halt was made for dinner at Bradford Springs; and when the column again proceeded, the enemy’s skirmishers were encountered, who gave way readily, but kept up a running fight all the afternoon.

The 54th Massachusetts lost one killed and one wounded during the day.  But Potter’s force made sixteen miles and camped at Spring Hill, just twelve miles from Camden.

With two days march on side roads, Potter had bypassed the main Confederate defenses.  While Potter accomplished this, recall that Colonel Henry Chipman with the balance of the 102nd USCT marched up from Wright’s Bluff and reached Manning by the evening of the 16th.  Yes, a lot of moving parts in this section of South Carolina on those days.

A successful tactical maneuver placed Potter in striking distance of Camden, where he hoped to find the elusive Confederate trains.  The city, having already seen part of the Fifteenth Corps pass through in February, would host Potter’s raiders on April 17.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, page 1034;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, pages 127-8 ;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, pages 299-300.)

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 9, 1865: “completely routing the entire force” at Dingle’s Mill

Overshadowed by events that took place elsewhere on April 9, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter marched his division towards Sumter, South Carolina.  Potter had Colonel Edward Hallowell’s Second Brigade cross the Pocotaligo River on the repaired causeway over Pocotaligo River during the night of April 8-9.  With that bridgehead, Potter began the day’s march towards Sumter at dawn on April 9.

PotterRaidApr9

On the north side of the Pocotaligo, the Federals found the country open and waiting for their arrival – in more ways than one.  Throughout the day, escaped slaves joined the column, often bringing their own transportation. Captain Luis Emilio, 54th Massachusetts, observed:

At daybreak on a rainy morning the troops moved toward Sumterville, through a fine region with numerous plantations, from which the negroes flocked to the force by hundreds. The train had grown to a formidable array of vehicles, augmented every hour.  During the morning the enemy’s light troops fell back readily after exchanging shots.

Facing Potters advance was a scratch Confederate defense.  Colonel George W. Lee mustered the 20th South Carolina Militia in Sumter, with a few hundred men.  Augmenting Lee, Colonel James F. Pressley brought mounted irregulars and a detachment of the 9th Kentucky Cavalry.  Adding to this force, convalescents and furloughed soldiers joined the defenses.  All told, the Confederate forces probably numbered less than 500.  But they did have benefit of three artillery pieces – two field howitzers and one 6-pdr field gun (which apparently was not in working order).  From the convalescents, artillery  Lieutenants William Alexander McQueen and Raphael Pampere volunteered to manage the howitzers.

While mounted Confederate detachments harassed Potter’s advance during the morning and mid-day, most of the Confederate force established a defensive line on Turkey Creek near Dingle’s Mill.  The two howitzers were in position to cover the causeway over the creek’s swamp.  Above that point, the millpond covered the Confederate left.  Dense swamps covered their right.  In all, a fair defensive position.

Potter received information, presumably from escaped slaves, of the Confederate dispositions.  “Before arriving at this point,” he recorded, “on the afternoon of the 9th I ordered Colonel Hallowell’s brigade to turn the enemy’s position on the left by taking a plantation road which led to the main road between Dingle’s Mill and Sumterville.”  However, Hallowell was unable to gain the flank, “owing to the incapacity of the guide” assigned to the column.

Meanwhile, at around 2:30 p.m., the lead of Colonel Philip Brown’s First Brigade ran up against the main Confederate line.  The 107th Ohio Infantry first encountered Confederate skirmishers just before Turkey Creek.  Brown feed in the 25th Ohio to extend the line.  This drove the Confederates over Turkey Creek. Major Edward Culp, 25th Ohio Infantry, later recorded:

Our skirmishers advanced to the edge of the swamp, and found the bridge burning and the enemy behind good earth-works on the opposite side of the swamp. The 25th Ohio moved to a natural embankment just at the edge of the swamp, which offered good protection, and with its left resting on the road, and near the burning bridge, awaited the orders to charge.

The two Confederate howitzers swept the approaches to the causeway and pinned down the Federal advance at that point.  To counter, Potter brought up Lieutenant Edmund Clark’s detachment of Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery, with their two Napoleons.  Clark placed one gun on the road and the other in an open field to the left of the Federal line.  While effective, to the point of disabling one howitzer and killing McQueen, the artillery did not clear the way.  A rush by the two Federal regiments failed to dislodge the defenders.

Then one of the escaped slaves (traditionally, it is said one of those who worked at the mill) approached the Federal officers offering a path to flank the Confederate right on the down stream side of the swamp.  Lieutenant-Colonel James Carmichael moved with the detachment of the 56th New York to find this path.  As Brown later reported, this was “an undertaking of great difficulty on account of the depth of the mud and water and the almost impenetrable growth of underbrush.”  But Carmichael managed to find a way through and get to dry ground on the opposite side of the swamp.

… but not waiting for his whole command to form, with the detachment of the Fifty-sixth New York Veteran Volunteers and one company of the One hundred and fifty-seventh New York Volunteers he charged on the enemy, killed the officer commanding the enemy’s artillery, completely routing the entire force, and captured 2 pieces of artillery and 1 battle-flag.

With the 20th South Carolina Militia in flight, the Federals advanced across Turkey Creek. The Confederates made one more stand before Sumter.  But Brown promptly dealt with this with a skirmish line and a few more rounds from Clark’s Napoleons.  Just before dark, Potter’s men entered Sumter.

Potter reported 26 casualties in the action at Dingle’s Mill – six killed or mortally wounded and twenty wounded.  Confederate figures were six killed, eight wounded, and two captured.

In addition to the two howitzers, the Federals later captured the 6-pdr gun (a cast iron type).  All three cannon, along with limbers and caissons, were assigned to Clark, who then formed an additional section of artillery with men of the 25th Ohio.  Clark’s Napoleons fired 57 rounds during the engagement, out of their original stock of 360 rounds.  The expenditure was not prohibitive on the expedition, but this did prompt considerations for resupply.

Culp, with the 25th Ohio, entered Sumter that evening.  Years later he recalled:

Sumter was a beautiful little city, with a wealth of shade, many elegant residences, and two female seminaries in full blast.

This was the first visitation of Yankee troops, and the inhabitants used much common sense in their intercourse with the soldiers.  The “Sumter Watchman” was nearly ready for the press, and our corps of printers were soon at work getting out another number of the “Banner of Freedom,” which had quite a circulation after we left.

As Potter and his men settled into camps at Sumter that spring evening, they had some rumors in the air about the fall of Richmond and other events in Virginia and North Carolina.  Hammer blows fell upon the Confederacy at all points.  Potter’s was, though small in comparison, hitting deep into the heart of secession.  Not aware of the evolving situation far to the north, Potter continued with his mission – destruction of the railroads.  Sumter being a railroad town, it would receive full attention over the days to follow.

A state marker interprets the location of the fighting at Dingle’s Mill.  A memorial lists the names of Confederates known to be killed, wounded, or captured in the afternoon engagement.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1028, 1033, and 1036; Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, pages 123-5; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 294.)

Potter’s Raid, April 6-7, 1865: Close enough “to give them a bit of my Yankee eloquence”

After a strong march of nineteen miles on April 5, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued to move his two brigade division to the south of Black River.

PotterRaidApr6

On April 6, the detachment from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, under Major Moses Webster lead the march at 6:30 a.m.  Following was the Second Brigade under Colonel Edward Hallowell, including the USCT regiments.  Hallowell summarized the day’s march, “… country more open and rolling. Marched nineteen miles and camped near Thorntree swamp.”  Captain Luis Emilio, in the 54th Massachusetts added, “The column entered a better region with rolling ground, where foraging parties found good supplies and draught animals.”  Towards the end of the day’s march, the cavalry skirmished briefly with mounted Confederates at Seven Mile Bridge.  Otherwise the day simply marked another march.

The column resumed the march at 6:30 a.m. on the 7th.  Nearing Kingstree, Emilio recalled the Federals moved “… through a more open and settled country, containing still more abundant supplies, which our foragers secured, but, by orders, burned all cotton and mills.”

PotterRaidApr7

Upon reaching the Northeastern Railroad, Potter dispatched two side columns.  Webster and the 4th Massachusetts dashed for Murray’s Ferry to link up with the boats on the Santee River.  Potter wanted those boats to proceed, if possible, up the Santee to the railroad bridge near Manchester.

The 102nd USCT, the other side column, marched north on the railroad to reach the bridge over Black River.  The troops briefly engaged Confederates guarding the bridge.  The bridge was soon destroyed, either by the retreating Confederates or by the advancing Federals.

Advancing further on the main road, Potter’s column crossed Keele’s Swamp and continued on towards Mill Branch.  Opposite Kingstree around 3 p.m., Potter dispatched Companies A and H of the 54th Massachusetts, under Captain Charles E. Tucker, to destroy the Eppes Bridge over the Black River to Kingstree.   Emilio later recalled Tucker’s account of the foray:

Leaving the main column, we filed to the right, marching by that flank nearly or quite a mile.  I had previously mounted old Cyclops (a horse of Lieutenant Richie’s, who was not on the raid), and put on as many ‘general’ airs as my general health and anatomy would endure. Great clouds of smoke were now coming up over the woods directly in our front. [Lieutenant Edward] Stevens deployed one platoon on the left of the road, holding the other for support. [Lieutenant F.E.] Rogers disposed of his company on the right in the same way.  Advancing, we were wading knee-deep. We had not gone far before we received fire from the enemy. The fire was returned. We advanced in sight of the bridge and easy musket-range, when the enemy abandoned the temporary works they had improvised from the flooring of the bridge on the opposite side of the river, making quick their retreat and leaving behind the heavy timbering of the work in flames.  During the interchange of shots Rogers and two men of his company were wounded. We did not or could not cross the river. I remember well of being sufficiently near to give them a bit of my Yankee eloquence and calling attention to their nervousness in not being able to shoot even old ‘Cyclops.’  Our object being accomplished, we started for and joined the regiment at Mill Branch about two o’clock next morning.  My impression is that the force opposed to me was a company, or part of a company, of dismounted cavalry.

With the bridges over Black River destroyed, Potter’s right flank was secure.  After a march of fifteen miles, he went into camp near Mill Branch.  Three days out of Georgetown, Potter had encountered only light resistance and was half way to his objective.

There was one other Federal column moving up from the coast of South Carolina that April.  For sake of complete coverage, let me briefly discuss the composition, mission, and progress of that force.  On April 5, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell assembled a force consisting of the 54th New York, 55th Massachusetts, and a section from Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery.  Hartwell was to clear out Confederate forces and lawless bands encountered south of the Santee River.

HartwellApril7

Starting from Four-Mile Tavern, north of Charleston, on April 6, Hartwell’s command marched to Goose Creek.  Receiving information from escaped slaves that Confederate cavalry were assembling nearby at Dean Hall, Hartwell sent two companies on an overnight march to intercept.  This force failed to locate the Confederates, being “misled by the guide,” but reached Twenty-five Mile House on the State Road.

Hartwell resumed the march at 7 a.m. on April 7 and advanced along the Santee Canal in the direction of Black Oak.  Along the way, he dispatched a detachment to Biggins’ Bridge.  Hartwell’s main force proceeded to the house of a Mr. Cain, some twenty-two miles distant.  Cain was reported as supporting the Confederates operating in the area.   There, Hartwell chanced upon the cavalry missed the night before.

I sent two companies to deploy and surround the house in which they were reported to be, and surprised them.  The enemy, however, got notice of our approach in season to escape, leaving several blankets and guns, and their supper ready cooked.  Mr. Cain had several sons in the rebel army; he had entertained those who had just gone, and had recently given them a grand dinner; his barn, accidentally or by some unknown incendiary, was burned.

Though Hartwell’s column but a few dozen miles from Potter’s force, he was not coordinating movements or objectives.  Over the days which followed, Hartwell would spend more time attempting to restore order over a lawless land.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1036 and 1042; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 291-3.)

Potter’s Raid, April 5, 1865: Marching out of Georgetown into South Carolina

On this morning (April 5) 150 years ago, at 8 a.m., Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter led a division of troops out of Georgetown, South Carolina.  As mentioned in the earlier post, this was a two brigade force with detachments of engineers, artillery and cavalry.  In the Second Brigade marched the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and Captain Luis Emilio.

Emilio later recalled, in his History of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the day’s march:

April 5, at 8 a.m., Potter’s force moved from Georgetown, the First Brigade in advance, over the centre or Sampit road for three miles, when the column took another to the right leading to Kingstree.  Marching through a heavily timbered country and encountering no hostiles, the division compassed nineteen miles, camping at nightfall near Johnston’s Swamp.

Thus we have a simple map with a single blue arrow to depict the first day of Potter’s Raid.

PotterRaidApr5

Potter would describe the terrain as “poor and sandy” for the first two days of the march.  If you searched out back-roads approximating the march today, 150 years removed from the event, one would find dirt roads bordered by pine trees.

PotterMarchApril5

Save the power-line/telephone pole, not far removed from the scenes past by Potter’s force.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1028; Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 291.)