General Edward E. Potter’s raid into lowcountry and central South Carolina in April 1865 was neither massive nor particularly crucial to Union victory.
(April 5–21, 1865). General Edward E. Potter’s raid into lowcountry and central South Carolina in April 1865 was neither massive nor particularly crucial to Union victory. But coming as it did on the heels of William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and his destruction of Columbia, the raid witnessed some of the last engagements of the Civil War. The raid also underscored the unchallenged ability of the Union army to reach any part of the Confederacy. Among South Carolinians, the raid produced a rich collection of folklore and reminiscence that still resonates in the state.
In March 1865, while the rest of Sherman’s army marched into North Carolina, a detachment of Union soldiers drove toward Darlington in hopes of breaking the area’s railroad connections. Meeting resistance, they fell back. The failure irked Sherman, who called for a heavier force to finish the job. “[T]he food supplies in that section should be exhausted,” he wrote Major General Quincy A. Gillmore. “I don’t feel disposed to feel overgenerous. . . . Those cars and locomotives should be destroyed if to do it costs you 500 men.” Gillmore obliged, ordering Potter with 2,500 men, including detachments from the 32d and 102d U.S. Colored Troops, to move inland from Georgetown and “make all the display possible.”
Although hampered somewhat by Confederate guerrillas and slowed by supply difficulties, Potter encountered little to stop him. He raided as far as Sumter District before news of Sherman’s armistice with Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston brought a cease-fire that eventually resulted in Confederate surrender. By then, Potter reported the destruction of trestles, lines, rolling stock, and 51,000 bales of cotton. When Potter returned to his base on the coast, according to one authority, five thousand newly liberated slaves followed him.
Thigpen, Allan D., ed. The Illustrated Recollections of Potter’s Raid, April 5–21, 1865. Sumter, S.C.: Gamecock City Printing, 1998.