The roots of Potter’s Raid are found in Sherman’s march out of South Carolina on his way to North Carolina.  As Sherman’s forces departed Columbia, South Carolina, he ordered his troops to take a line of march to the northeast.  His intention was to convince the confederate command that he was headed to Charlotte, North Carolina while his real intention was to move toward eastern North Carolina.  Kilpatrick’s Cavalry was ordered north toward Charlotte and the infantry moved in a northeastern direction with Camden and Bishopville as the southern most points on the line of march.  The confederate command took Sherman’s bait and shifted forces to defend Charlotte and western North Carolina. With confederate troops out of his path he ordered the federal troops to move east through Cheraw and toward Bentonville and Raleigh.


Sherman’s maneuvers meant that the current day counties of Sumter, Clarenden, Lee and most of Kersaw remained untouched by Sherman’s main force.  Large amounts of rail road locomotives and rolling stock were moved to that area on the lines of the South Carolina R.R. and the Wilmington and Manchester R.R. In addition, large amounts of military stores had also been stockpiled in the same region as Sherman’s troops approached Columbia.  News of the trapped trains and supplies reached Sherman and he sent orders to his South Carolina Coast garrison commanders to destroy the confederate railroad equipment and war supplies.


Major General Q.A. Gillmore ordered a provisional division assembled under the command of Brigadier General Edward E. Potter.  Potter was ordered to destroy the railroads in the area between Florence, Sumter and Camden.  The importance of the mission was pointedly made by Sherman’s statement that “Those cars and locomotives should be destroyed if to do it costs you 500 men.”  Potter took command of the provisional division on 1 April 1865 at Georgetown.  The division numbered 2,700 men composed of two infantry brigades and auxiliary troops.


The First Brigade commanded by Col. Philip P. Brown commander of the 157th N.Y consisted of:

157 N.Y. Volunteer Infantry augmented by a detachment of the 56th N.Y. Veteran Volunteer Infantry

25th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry

107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


The Second Brigade commanded by Col. Edward N. Hallowell commander of the 54th Massachusetts consisted of:

54th Massachusetts

32nd   U.S. Colored Troops

102nd U.S. Colored Troops


In addition small detachments of the 1st N.Y. Engineers, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry and two guns of Battery B 3rd N.Y. Artillery accompanied the two infantry brigades.


The entire operation was supported logistically by the armed transport Savannah and light draft transports, Hooker and Planter escorted by U.S. Navy tin-clad tugs and launches on the Santee River.


Potter marched out of Georgetown on 5 April 1865.