Potter’s Raid, April 25, 1865: After 23 days and 300 miles, the raiders return to Georgetown

The Civil War might be winding down in the last week of April 1865, but Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter’s provisional division was still in the field, though marching back to the coast from a successful raid reaching the Sand Hills of South Carolina. On April 21, 1865, a flag of truce relayed the news of a truce, while General Joseph E. Johnston and Major-General William T. Sherman worked out the details of a Confederate surrender.  From that point, Potter’s raiders had a relatively uneventful march to the coast.

PotterRaidApr25

Potter directed the column towards the boat-depot at Wright’s Bluff on April 22.  There he transferred “wounded, sick, and about five hundred contrabands” to the boats to ease the march.  Potter himself departed by boat, heading back to Charleston in order to report and receive any new orders.  In his absence, Colonel Philip Brown, of the 157th New York and First Brigade commander, assumed command of the division.  In total, the Federals put twenty-three miles behind them.

For the march of April 23rd, Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts recorded:

At 5.30 a.m., on the 23d, the Second Brigade led out for the day’s march. Now that hostilities had ceased, the force was dependent upon such supplies as could be purchased. A very large number of contrabands were with the column, straggling, and obstructing the rapid progress it was desirable to make. The day was cool and pleasant; the route through a fine country mainly, but wooded and low in places. Intelligence of President Lincoln’s assassination was received, – sad tidings which could hardly be credited. There was much bitter feeling indulged in by the soldiery for a time.  The division accomplished twenty-three miles that day, bivouacking at Stagget’s Mill.

The next day the column continued the march towards Georgetown, through what Emilio described as “a wooded region where no supplies could be obtained.”  He added, “As a substitute for rations two ears of corn were issued t each man.”  The force marched twenty-three miles, for the third day in a row.

Our last bivouac in the field was broken on the morning of April 25th, when in good weather through a timbered country we completed the march.  …  The troops reached town at 5 p.m. after making twenty-two miles.

Thus ended Potter’s 1865 Raid into South Carolina. Potter offered a summary and results in his official report:

The results of the expedition may be summed up in the capture of 1 battle-flag, 3 guns, and 65 prisoners, 100 horses and 150 mules, and the destruction of 32 locomotives, 250 cars, large portions of the railroad, and all the railroad buildings between Camden and Sumterville, 100 cotton gins and presses, 5,000 bales of cotton, and large quantities of government stores.  Five thousand negroes joined the column and were brought within our lines. Our entire loss was 10 killed, 72 wounded, and 1 missing.

Those figures relate a remarkable level of destruction wrought by a small force, and at the very end of the war.   Though one might say such was hardly worth the effort.  Potter’s Raid could not do much more to hasten the end of the war than what had already been done elsewhere. Yet, the real impact of Potter’s Raid was well beyond the military needs expressed in its mission objectives.

In his summary, Emilio indicted higher numbers of contrabands and livestock than Potter had reported:

Potter’s Raid occupied twenty-one days, during which the troops marched some three hundred miles. About three thousand negroes came into Georgetown with the division, while the whole number released was estimated at six thousand.  Our train was very large, for besides innumerable vehicles, five hundred horses and mules were secured, of which number the Fifty-fourth turned in one hundred and sixty.

Whether the figure was 6,000 or 5,000 who were emancipated as result of Potter’s Raid, that statistic was, I would submit, the most important of those tallied.  Instead of being inland to await the resolution of the war and receiving emancipation, thousands had taken advantage of the opportunity to “self-emancipate” in those closing days of the war. And those thousands arrived at the coast, adding to the crisis facing Federal commanders.  Would there be more forty acre plots?  Or would Federal leaders encourage “fair labor contracts“?

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 1031;  Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 307-9.)

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.

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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.

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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.)

 

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.)