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.)

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.)