Potter’s Raid, April 19, 1865: Fighting at Dinkins’ Mill and Beech Creek

Having cleared the Confederate defenders from Boykin’s Mill on April 18, 1865, Brigadier-General Edward E. Potter continued marching south on April 19 in pursuit of Confederate trains on the Camden Branch Railroad.  Potter started the march that morning at 6 a.m.  The First Brigade, under Colonel Philip Brown, had the lead that morning.  The 107th Ohio Infantry marched by way of the railroad while the 157th New York and 25th Ohio lead the march on the main road to Manchester.  In the rear, the 54th Massachusetts formed the rear guard, supported by the iron 6-pdr and two field howitzers captured earlier in the campaign.

PotterRaidApr19

Potter’s column was barely out of camp when they encountered the first Confederate resistance of the day.  Confederate cavalry were posted at a rail breastwork with artillery support.  Major Edward Culp later recalled:

The 157th New York took the left of the road and the 25th Ohio the right. We advanced in line of battle, driving the rebels before us, until they reached higher ground, where, supported by several pieces of artillery, they intended to make a stand.  The 25th advanced steadily under a galling artillery fire until within one hundred yards of the enemy’s position, when [Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Haughton] ordered a charge, and the rebels retreated across Rafting Creek.

This was but the first round of the fighting of April 19. As the Federals passed through, they turned nearby Oakland Plantation into a field hospital.  Oakland had been Major-General Pierce M.B. Young’s headquarters the day before.  And the house had suffered damage from a stray cannon shot (either on April 18, as the marker says, or on April 19).

At Rafting Creek was a Confederate defense similar to that seen the day before at Boykin’s Mill.  The main road, on which the 157th New York and 25th Ohio advanced, crossed Rafting Creek near Dinkins’ Mill.  Potter recalled the position:

The mill dam had been opened and the swamp was not fordable, while in the road the water was waist-deep, and any force attempting to cross here was exposed to a fire from the enemy behind rifle-trenches and with two guns commanding the road.

Young’s force at Dinkins’ Mill consisted of the remainder of the Kentucky Orphan Brigade, 53rd Alabama Cavalry (or Partisan Rangers, as some prefer), 11th Georgia Cavalry, a couple sections of artillery, and South Carolina militia.

Potter had the two infantry regiments maintain a strong skirmish line along the creek, reinforced by the two Napoleon guns of Lieutenant Edmund Clark’s section from Battery F, 3rd New York Artillery. Clark’s gunners expended over thirty rounds that day including the fighting at the barricade earlier in the day.

Potter dispatched Colonel George Baird with four companies of the 32nd USCT to feel for a crossing downstream from the mill.  Meanwhile the 107th Ohio was pressing against the line at the railroad bridge a mile downstream from the main road.  But neither of those movements produced the desired effect for Potter. In the rear, the 54th Massachusetts reported sporadic fighting with Confederate cavalry, but was able to fend off the attacks.

Finally around mid-morning, Potter sent Colonel Henry Chipman with the 102nd USCT and four companies of the 32nd USCT upstream, about a mile to the left, to find a crossing.  Chipman accomplished this with the loss of one killed and two wounded.  Around noon, Chipman’s force engaged the right flank of the Confederate defenders on Rafting Creek.  With sound of that engagement, Potter ordered Brown’s brigade forward.  Within a short time, the Confederate position was carried.

With the position on Rafting Creek turned, Young withdrew most of his forces to the east toward Providence.  But the 53rd Alabama and 11th Georgia continued south towards Stateburg.  The Confederates formed another defensive line at the crossing of Beech Creek.

After breaking for lunch, Potter’s force continued the march south.  The march continued with the 157th New York on the right of the road, 25th Ohio on the left of the road, and the 107th Ohio still marching along the railroad line to the west.  Reaching Beech Creek, the Federals encountered the Confederate defense, as Brown reported:

Here quite a strong force of the enemy was encountered, but the determined men of the two regiments moved briskly forward and so completely routed the enemy that they made no further serious opposition to the march.

Culp was a little less complementary, stating, “In fact, it became hard work to keep up with them.”  Into the evening the Federals pursued the fleeing Confederates.  Under pressure from the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, the Confederates finally scattered some four miles beyond Beech Creek and turned east.

Potter opted not to continue pursuit of the Confederate force, and remained focused on his objective – the trains on the Camden Branch Railroad.  However, he also decided since those trains were going nowhere further on the line, he would wait until the next morning to descend upon them at the end of the broken line at Middleton Depot.  Captain Luis Emilio of the 54th Massachusetts later wrote, “Beyond Statesburg the resistance was slight, the column proceeding until 10 p.m., when the Fifty-forth reached its former camp at Singleton’s, having marched eighteen miles.” The 107th Ohio continued its march down the railroad until 3 a.m. the next morning, reaching the large Singleton Plantation once again.

The day’s fighting had cost the Federals ten casualties.  Confederate losses were not recorded in detail.   I know there are a lot of points to quibble over when identifying the last of this or last of that.  Indeed, at 7 a.m. on April 19, somewhere upstream in the Wateree watershed, a detail from the 12th Ohio Cavalry, part of Major-General George Stoneman’s raid, captured, and burned, the Nations Ford bridge of the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad without a fight.  But these casualties care considered the last in a “named battle” in South Carolina during the Civil War.

However, that would not mean the fighting was done.  Potter still had some trains to destroy.  And after accomplishing that, he had to find his way back to the coast.   Although driven and scattered, the Confederate forces in the area were still around to contest Potter’s movements.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1029; Part III, Serial 100, pages 1030 and 1035;  Culp, Edward C., The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Union, Topeka, Kansas, George W. Crane & Company: 1885, page 131 ;Emilio, Luis F.,  History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865, Boston: Boston Book, 1894, page 306.)

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

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

PotterRaidApr18

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

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

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

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

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

BoykinsMill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boykin Mill

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

Potter’s Raid, April 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.)

April 9-13, 1865: Hartwell’s Expedition complete; Missed opportunity to aid Potter

At this time (April 13) 150 years ago, Brigadier-General Edward Potter was waiting the return of his supply trains from Wright’s Bluff.  Downstream from that point on the Santee River, Brigadier-General Alfred Hartwell continued his expedition out of Charleston.  As of April 8, Hartwell had made no contact with Potter, and apparently had made no effort to do so despite the close proximity of forces at that time.

HartwellApril13a

On April 9, Hartwell moved his force, consisting of the 54th New York Infantry, the 55th Massachusetts Infantry, and a section of artillery, to Eutaw Creek, near Eutaw Springs (a site of significance, if you know your Revolutionary War history).  “Some skirmishing occurred; but dispersed the enemy with a few shells.” At that point, Hartwell sent two companies to Nelson’s Ferry in an attempt to reach Potter.  Aside from burning fifty bales of cotton, the detachment found that Potter was past that point and on the way to Sumter.

While waiting the return of the detachment, Hartwell held a parlay with a Confederate cavalry officer:

A certain Lieutenant Pettus, commanding some rebel cavalry in our vicinity, came in on a flag of truce at my request.  I told this officer that he would not quarter in or near houses, or fire from houses, if he cared to save them from destruction. I also sent this officer a note to General Ferguson, suggesting the propriety of his recalling his scouts from attempting to coerce the slaves to labor.

Again, we see the damage wrought on South Carolina is not as clear cut to say the Federals just burned everything.  Furthermore, emancipation was, even at its arrival, not translated to complete freedom.

Hartwell remained at Eutaw Creek on the morning of the 10th, sending a party to Vance’s Ferry to gather corn and rice.  At 5 p.m., he resumed the march.  Along the way to the State Road, the column encountered a party of Confederate cavalry, dispersing them with no casualties.  Hartwell camped at midnight on the State Road.

The next day, Hartwell took up the march back to Charleston.  After a pause to repair the causeway over Cypress Swamp, the column reached Twenty-Five Mile House on the evening of the 11th.  On the 12th, Hartwell marched to Goose Creek.  There he left two companies with the refugees trailing the column.  The rest of the force marched to Four-Mile Tavern to close the expedition.

But there was another Federal column operating out of Charleston at the same time.  And remarkably, this column, ordered to link up with Hartwell and direct the whole on to support Potter, completely missed contact with Hartwell’s force. This was a column commanded by Colonel Henry Chipman and consisting of the right wing from the 102nd USCT.  Recall a detachment of that regiment was already with Potter.

Chipman came up from Savannah with the rest of the regiment and received orders on April 8 to proceed out of Charleston.  His orders were to reach Hartwell.  From there, Chipman was to communicate with Potter as to further movement.  Specifically, the orders, as communicated through Brigadier-General John Hatch, stressed that Major-General Quincy Gillmore, “thinks it desirable that General Potter’s force be increased by this addition, and desires to impress upon you the necessity of a prompt and hearty cooperation by General Hartwell with General Potter, in case the latter is pressed and compelled to fall back toward the Santee.”  This intent nearly led to a disaster for Chipman.

Chipman departed Charleston on April 11 and took the road towards Monk’s Corner, reaching that point on April 12. Let me overlay the general route taken by Chipman (in light blue) onto the map of Hartwell’s movements to illustrate just how close these columns would have been on April 12:

HartwellApril13

Chipman continued his march towards Nelson’s Ferry, presuming the boats supporting Potter’s column were there.  After skirmishing sharply throughout April 13th, Chipman arrived at the ferry that afternoon only to learn Hartwell had returned to Charleston.  Keeping with the intent of his mission. Chipman sent a messenger to Potter then in Manchester.  Potter called for Chipman to join his force “without delay at Statesburg or beyond.”

This sent Chipman and his portion of the 102nd USCT, unsupported, on a trip up the Santee:

ChipmanApril13

The first order of business was to cross the Santee.  By chance, the long-serving tug USS Daffodil, under Lieutenant James O’Kane, appeared coming down the Santee at just the right time.  O’Kane transported Chipman’s force to Wright’s Bluff, where they arrived at 8:30 p.m. on April 15. Along the way, Chipman reported Confederate “guerrilla parties” fired on the tug.

Chipman marched the 102nd USCT to Manning on April 16 and thence to Stateburg on April 17. But he arrived behind Potter’s advance to Camden and was all alone, deep in Confederate territory.  I’ll pick up that part of the story in relation to Potter’s movements and the Battle of Boykin’s Mill.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 1040 and 1043; Part III, Serial 100, page 138.)