Monday, June 29, 2015

Elmore: "POTTER'S RAID THROUGH SOUTH CAROLINA: The Final Days of the Confederacy"

[Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy by Tom Elmore (The History Press, 2015). Softcover, 2 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:95/128. ISBN:978-1-62619-959-0 $19.99]

In the waning moments of the Civil War, a hastily assembled Union division under Brigadier General Edward E. Potter embarked on a destructive raid into the South Carolina interior, traveling 300 miles in three weeks (April 5 - 21, 1865). Given that it had essentially no impact on the course of the war, the operation has been relegated to obscurity. Though the occasional article has appeared here and there, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina: The Final Days of the Confederacy is the first serious study to be published on the subject. What prompted Department of the South commander Major General Quincy Gillmore to order another raid when the entire state of South Carolina was nearly devoid of Confederate troops was General Sherman's remembrance of an earlier failure to capture Florence, South Carolina and its large collection of trapped locomotives and rolling stock.

Elmore's brief narrative traces the entire raid, which began at Georgetown on the coast and rapidly drove inland to Manning. The only defenders available were local militia and a scratch force of mostly mounted Kentucky and South Carolina Confederate units. Potter brushed aside the Confederates at Dingle's Mill on April 9 and occupied Sumter. Moving on to Manchester, Camden and Stateburg led to other skirmishes at Spring Hill, Boykin's Mill, Dinkin's Mill and Beech Creek, as well as heavy destruction of cotton, gins, mills, and finally the targeted railroad assets. On the return trip to Georgetown the raiders learned of the end of hostilities and were directed to cease acts of destruction. Elmore crafts a solid narrative of these events that incorporates both military and civilian experiences, with many of the details related to the fighting contained in lengthy excerpts from firsthand accounts, mostly from the O.R..

Photographs are a prominent feature of most Civil War titles from the publisher and Elmore includes many modern images of the various sites mentioned in the text. The appendix section contains orders of battle and an event chronology. Wishlist items are few. The book definitely needed more maps, at least one good one tracing the entire path of the raid. Also, in an unfortunate oversight, General Gillmore's name is misspelled wherever it appears.

Much like George Stoneman's 1865 raid, Potter's Raid engendered some controversy, even among the Union soldiers that participated in it, over the question of whether the heavy destruction inflicted on economic and infrastructure targets was really justifiable at such a late stage in the war. There's certainly a reasonable argument to be made that the raid was conducted with excessive zeal but it should be recalled that the war was still going on and at the outset of Potter's Raid the armies of both Lee and Johnston were still in the field.

For students of the Civil War in the Palmetto State as well as those more generally interested in what happened militarily during the closing weeks of the conflict, Tom Elmore's Potter's Raid Through South Carolina is a recommended resource.

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