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.

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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 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.)