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 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 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.)

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 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.)

Sherman’s March, February 2, 1865: Skirmishing everywhere!

Yesterday I put some of the geographic and “demographic” aspects of the first days of Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance into South Carolina.  Today, let me focus on more of the martial aspects.   Lots of skirmishes broke out across the line of advance on February 2, 1865.  Some of those are depicted on the map below with yellow stars:

SCMarch_Feb2

As mentioned earlier, the level of skirmishing in South Carolina is in contrast to that in Georgia the previous fall.  While contact with Confederate forces of some sort happened every day in Georgia, often days would pass with a column encountering no organized resistance.  Such was not the case in South Carolina.  Every day of the march, some Confederates formation was there to contest the advance.

Specific to February 2nd, Major-General Lafayette McLaws’ division manned a line along the Combahee River, upstream to the mouth of the Salkehatchie River.  The extension of this line was a brigade under Colonel George P. Harrison covering the bridges over the Salkehatchie.  Harrison’s command included three regular Georgia regiments, two Georgia reserve regiments, detachments of South Carolina cavalry, and a battery of artillery.  All told, just over 2,000 effectives.  From there, the division of Brigadier-General William Y.C. Humes, from Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, covered the area between the Salkehatchie and Savannah Rivers.  (Not depicted on the map, the division of Major-General Alfred Iverson covered the Georgia side of the Savannah River… to the displeasure of Major-General D.H. Hill.)

The advance of the Right Wing had to cross the lines defended by Humes and Harrison.  Reacting to the advances on February 1, McLaws sent a request for Humes to “cross the Salkehatchie with the greater portion of your command and assist in guarding the crossings of that stream from Rivers’ Bridge to Buford’s and above as far as possible.”  Later in the day Humes reported falling back to cover Barker’s and Buford’s Bridges, though he kept his headquarters near Angley’s Post-Office, south of the Salkehatchie.  Harrison posted his troops to cover Rivers’ and Broxton’s Bridges (not labeled on the original map, but with a gold box on my overlay above).

Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s original orders for February 2 had the Seventeenth Corps, of Major-General Frank P. Blair, continuing the line of march on the roads paralleling the Salkehatchie with the aim of securing Rivers’ Bridge and a lodgement on the other side.  The Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General John A. Logan,  was to move on their left to Angley’s Post-Office.  But in the evening of February 1, Sherman asked Howard to amend those orders:

Slocum is a little behind.  I don’t want Logan to get farther to-morrow than the place marked “Store” near Duck Branch Post-Office. I want to make show marches till Slocum gets up, or nearly so.  Please make your orders accordingly.

We need to consider the maps as primary sources here.  There are plenty of “stores” around South Carolina.  The one in question is indeed simply marked “store” on the military map (a gold colored box on my map above).  Logan complied with the amended orders:

 … the Second Division having the advance, moved to Loper’s Cross-Roads. Our advance was contested by the enemy’s cavalry at the crossing of all the streams and creeks, in which timber had been felled, with the same pertinacity as on the previous day, but with the same result, and our mounted infantry found no difficulty pushing them back across Duck Branch.

Logan kept his Second Division at Duck Branch, but turned First Division towards Angley’s.  The Third Division followed but remained within supporting distance of both divisions when going to camp that night.

On the right, Blair sent forward the Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry, followed by the Third Division, on a road to the left to reach Whippy Swamp Post-Office.  Along the main road, First Division, under Major-General Joseph Mower, assumed the vanguard.  Mower first moved up to Broxton’s Bridge, which was burned by the time of his arrival.  Leaving one regiment posted to keep the Confederates in place, he moved the rest of the division forward to Rivers’ Bridge:

I took the balance of my command on the Rivers’ Bridge road and ordered the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin, Colonel Rusk commanding, forward as skirmishers; they gallantly charged up toward the enemy’s works, and drove them so rapidly that they had no time to burn the bridges, sixteen in number, over the causeway leading to the other side of the Salkehatchie River. Having saved the bridges I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Rusk to deploy his regiment on the right and left of the road and drive the enemy’s skirmishers (if he had any) from this side of the river. The next regiment, the Forty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Swayne commanding, I ordered to move in and take position on the right of the road. While showing him his position a piece of shell struck him in the leg, rendering amputation necessary, which deprived me of the services of a very brave and valuable officer.

Harrison brought up his only artillery at that time, and swept the Federals back away from the bridge itself.  Mower’s direct action had saved the crossing, but effecting a crossing was another matter.  Towards that end, Mower deployed the remainder of his division to threaten a crossing and started looking about:

After reconnoitering the enemy’s position I found his works too strong to assault them in front, so I ordered all the troops out of the swamp, which was about one mile long, only leaving a very strong skirmish line, and placed my command on high ground; I then put all my pioneers to work felling trees and constructing a road through the swamp, the water in most places being from one to eight feet deep. I reported the condition of affairs in the swamp to Major-General Blair that evening, who ordered me to go on constructing bridges and to cross, if possible, the next day.

A note here to any aspirant armchair generals… this is what you do when confronted with an “impossible” situation.  You look for openings and try to make something happen.

Elsewhere, the Left Wing continued its efforts to get out of the Savannah River bottom lands.  To close some of the gap developing between the wings, Major-General Henry Slocum directed the two divisions of the Twentieth Corps already over the river to push out towards Lawtonville.  Major-General Alpheus Williams left one brigade to protect Robertsville.  Major-General William T. Ward’s division lead the advance:

Marched for Lawtonville upon the 2d of February, meeting the enemy about one mile from town, barricaded in a dense swamp, with artillery. I deployed two brigades, and pressing forward two regiments, One hundred and fifth and One hundred and twenty-ninth Illinois Volunteers, and four companies of Seventieth Indiana, dislodged the enemy, losing 2 killed and 12 wounded; enemy’s loss, 8 killed, 30 or 40 wounded.

In addition to these movements, Brigadier-General John Hatch started a demonstration towards Combahee Ferry.  With one regiment and two Napoleon guns, Colonel Edward Hallowell’s objective was simply a reconnaissance, but “If you are confident that you can carry the work without serious loss you will do so.”   That move would develop over the following days.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 222, 387, and 782; Part II, Serial 99, pages 194, 203, and 1053.)

 

 

“6,000 bayonets flashed in the rays of the departing sun”: Seymour’s Charge on Battery Wagner

Let’s talk memory for a moment. I suspect this is what most readers recall when the July 18, 1863 assault on Battery Wagner comes up in conversation:

The other day Kevin Levin refered to this action as “the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s unsuccessful assault at Battery Wagner.” While I certainly agree with Kevin’s broader point in regard to the aspects of the commemoration, I can’t help but draw a “memory” parallel here with respect to his “high water-mark” label. Somewhat as the “high-water mark” of the Confederacy at Gettysburg was long associated with just one of the participating divisions, we’ve linked, for good measure to be sure, the July 18th assault with just one of the participating regiments. Don’t get me wrong. I say this not to take away from the heroic deeds of the 54th Massachusetts, but rather to offer context. We have recast, for accuracy’s sake, the Confederate assault of July 3 as the “Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge.” Perhaps we should consider the term “Seymour’s Charge” for July 18:

battery-wagner-battlemap-9-2-2008

Civil War Trust offered this Steve Stanley map in 2008 to support the effort to preserve the remaining sections of Morris Island (the yellow section in the middle of the map). The map depicts the column of regiments from the First and Second Brigades, Second Division, of the Tenth Corps under Brigadier-General Truman Seymour. All told around 6000 men attacking through a narrow corridor. And Seymour’s name isn’t even on the map!

Department commander Brigadier-General Quincy Gillmore (who’s name is on the map, but who was not nearly that far forward), shifted brigades and regiments within the Tenth Corps in order to meet mission obligations. After Brigadier-General Alfred Terry’s division fell back from James Island, Gillmore reorganized the two divisions. The 54th Massachusetts left Terry’s division and joined Brigadier-General George Strong’s brigade (First Brigade of Seymour’s division) alongside five veteran regiments most recently tested on July 11 in an assault on Battery Wagner. Brigadier-General Haldimand Putnam commanded Second Brigade in Seymour’s division with three regiments moved over from Brigadier-General Israel Vogdes’ briagde, rounded out with a fourth pulled from Terry’s division. The brigade of Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson moved out of Terry’s division, picked up the 2nd South Carolina Infantry, and became the Third Brigade of Seymour’s division. Stevenson’s is not depicted on the map and remained back near the First Parallel (off the map to the south) as the exploitation reserve. This reorganization, done between July 16 and 18, touched every brigade in the assault force. Confusing on paper, and even more so in the ranks. The movements also meant that several regiments arriving from James Island were going into line without rest or even a chance to catch a meal.

Recall Gillmore’s original plan called for a siege of Battery Wagner as the second phase of operations. And I would say “short siege.” However events on July 10 gave the impression the Confederate fort might be taken short of a formal siege. Strong’s infantry assault failed to dislodge the Confederates, but Gillmore still held to the modified plan. What he failed to realize was the Confederate garrison, under Brigadier-General William Taliaferro, increased to about 1,300 men while all the preparations were being made.

Starting on July 13, he focused on silencing the Confederate guns in preparation for another infantry assault. Engineers prepared several battery positions on Morris Island and the Navy moved more gunboats offshore. The position of the land batteries and the firing instructions best illustrate Gillmore’s intent. The guns and mortars were to focus fires on the fortification to “dismount the enemy’s guns.” The fires were not concentrated against any single point in the works to break down the walls, as one might do for a siege (say like… Fort Pulaski).

July17Batteries

Gillmore wanted to start this bombardment on July 16, but bad weather stalled commencement until on July 18. Following a morning of ranging fires, the bombardment commenced in earnest at around mid-day. In Battery Wagner, Taliaferro estimated 9,000 projectiles struck in and around the fortification. “In a short time,” Gillmore recalled, “the fort was entirely silent on the face fronting the land batteries, and practically so on the sea front….” However, Taliaferro, with only two of his guns out of action by that time, had simply reduced his fire anticipating the infantry attack.

Assuming bombardment produced the desired effect, Gillmore set the time for the infantry assault at sunset – a rare, for the Civil War, night attack. Initially, Gillmore only wanted to commit Strong’s brigade. But after consulting with Seymour, he agreed the entire division should move. The hope was the twilight would provide just enough light for the infantry to see their way down the beach, but not enough light the defenders could focus fire upon them during the advance. The attackers would go in with bayonets fixed, intending for close quarters combat. No engineers supported the assault. And none of the infantry brought forward equipment to deal with obstacles. As for the lead of this assault, Seymour explained:

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, a colored regiment of excellent character, well officered, with full ranks, and that had conducted itself commendably a few days previously on James Island, was placed in front.

Seymour went on to say that while the other regiments could easily form into column, the 54th, with 600 men, was too large and formed into two lines of columns. Indeed, one of the reasons the 54th was posted to the van of this column it’s strength in numbers. Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hallowell recalled for the 54th’s official report of the action, “General Strong presented himself to the regiment and informed the men of the contemplated assault upon Fort Wagner and asked them if they would led it. They answered in the affirmative.”

Shortly after that, Colonel Robert Shaw ordered the 54th forward to commence the assault. The other regiments in the two lead brigades formed up behind. Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Abbott, of the 7th New Hampshire, waiting in the second brigade line, observed:

Each of these brigades thus stood upon the beach in close column, and thus, while twenty standards opened their folds, and 6,000 bayonets flashed in the rays of the departing sun, they moved up in solid mass toward the batteries, where a hundred pieces of artillery still continued to thunder.

As the men advanced, Confederate canister, grapeshot, and musketry bore upon the ranks. By Hallowell’s account, the 54th crossed the ditch of the fort and reached the parapet. There Shaw and two of the regiment’s captains fell dead. The 54th held that position on the parapet for about an hour, by Hallowell’s estimate.

July18assaultStrong

Behind the 54th Massachusetts, the 48th New York and 6th Connecticut swung to the right. Those regiments reached a section of the parapet which happened to be lightly manned. The 31st North Carolina was assigned that sector. But, as Taliaferro recorded, the North Carolinians “could not be induced to occupy their position, and ingloriously deserted the ramparts….” This allowed the two Federal regiments to gain the parapet and gain a lodgement in the works. But they needed reinforcement to secure the footholds gained by the initial assault.

In addition to Shaw, Strong and Colonel John Chatfield of the 6th Connecticut also fell mortally wounded. Further injuring the command structure, all but one of Strong’s regimental commanders went down with wounds. Command of the 54th Massachusetts went to Captain Luis Emilio as the last line officer standing. And Seymour himself was wounded.

Problem was Putnam’s second brigade did not follow closely as planned. After Strong’s advance, Putnam held his position claiming he was simply complying with orders from Gillmore (recall the original plan for advance). Seymour did mange to convince Putnam to move forward but the delay proved costly. Into this confusing night battlefield, Putnam’s regiments pressed towards the works. One of his regiments fired on a body of troops which turned out to be the 3rd New Hampshire and part of the 48th New York. But at best Putnam’s troops could only maintain what was gained by the first wave. As he directed his troops, Putnam was struck in the head and killed.

With the operation reaching a crisis, Seymour called for the Third Brigade. But at that point, Gillmore sent word to hold off committing the brigade. This halted any remaining momentum in the Federal attack. By midnight, the fighting began to fall off. The assault now turned into a retrograde. Captain Emilio managed to rally a large group of the 54th Massachusetts at a trench line 700 yards from the fort. That line served as a rally point for troops falling back from the failed assault. Going in and coming out, the 54th had furthered their reputation.

Looking at the casualty figures by regiment, Strong’s brigade felt the heaviest loss:

  • 54th Massachusetts – 34 killed, 136 wounded, 92 missing – Total 272
  • 48th New York – 54 killed, 112 wounded, 73 missing – Total 242
  • 6th Connecticut – 15 killed, 77 wounded, 46 missing – Total of 138
  • 9th Maine – 4 killed, 94 wounded, 19 missing – Total 177
  • 76th Pennsylvania – 2 killed, 20 wounded, 2 missing – Total 24
  • 3rd New Hampshire – 2 killed, 38 wounded, 6 missing – Total 46

But Putnam’s brigade suffered considerable loss too:

  • 7th New Hampshire – 41 killed, 119 wounded, 56 missing – Total 216
  • 100th New York – 49 killed, 97 wounded, 29 missing – Total 175
  • 62nd Ohio – 26 killed, 87 wounded, 38 missing – Total 151
  • 67th Ohio – 19 killed, 82 wounded, 25 missing – Total 126

The artillery batteries reported six wounded during the fighting on July 18. That brought the total casualties to 1,515 men. The assault stands up as one of the bloodiest division-size attacks of the war.

There’s a lot to focus upon that went wrong regarding the July 18 attack on Battery Wagner – hasty reorganization, failure to rest and feed the troops, insufficient artillery bombardment, deviations from the original plan of action, lack of engineering support at the point of attack, and absence of any contingency plans. The severe loss among Federal leaders, from division commander down to the line officers, further hindered the operation. But perhaps most felt was the very narrow corridor which prevented the Federals from fully developing the assault. Say what you will for the failure, Gillmore would not repeat it on Morris Island. He would now return to his original plan – a siege of Battery Wagner.

From the broader context, the assault of July 18 was a rare example where battlefield failure turned into political success. The actions of the 54th Massachusetts received widespread attention in the northern papers.

battle-fort-wagner

The Emancipation Proclamation had spawned a weapon of battle.

(Citations and primary sources: OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, pages 15, 201, 210-1, 345-8, 362, 364-5, 417-19; Secondary sources: Burton, E. Milby. The Siege of Charleston 1861–1865. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970; Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998; Reed, Rowena. Combined Operations in the Civil War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1978)