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Chapter 13: operations about Pocotaligo.

About Boyd's Landing on the morning of December 1, the wounded were being gathered for conveyance to Hilton Head. In the forenoon the division moved out to the cross-road, where with the other troops, the Fifty-fourth maintained a line of battle for some time. It was formed in the woods, a small stream and swamp covering a portion of the front. The Twenty-sixth United States Colored Troops having arrived, its colonel, William Silliman, assumed command of our Second Brigade. During the day Companies A and I with Captain Homans as brigade officer of the day went out on the skirmish line. A few of the enemy were seen, but they made no demonstration, though reinforced since the battle by Brig.-Gen. James Chestnut, with three hundred and fifty South Carolina Reserves and Baker's brigade of two thousand men. Their Georgia State troops returned to Savannah that day.

A quiet night followed; but at 7 A. M. on the 2d the enemy opened with field-pieces, forcing the skirmishers back and then shelling the centre of our line, to which our guns replied. An intrenchment was ordered constructed covering the cross-road, and the Fifty-fourth completed its allotted work rapidly. Trees were cut and laid to form a foundation for the parapet. As the ground was wet in places, large areas of the surface had to be taken to procure sufficient earth. Rations were not procurable; [255] but our quartermaster borrowed hard bread from the naval force, and secured three head of cattle. Good weather prevailed on the 3d, when the Fifty-fourth moved to the right for work on a prolongation of the fortifications. In the afternoon the Thirty-second and One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops and part of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and two guns went toward Bolan's church, and after light skirmishing returned with but one casualty. That night there was much wild picket firing by men of new colored regiments; and Capt. Alonzo B. Whitney, Twenty-sixth United States Colored Troops, was mortally wounded by our own people.

Except occasional shots from the outposts and gun discharges from the naval howitzers on the left to try the range, the forenoon of the 4th passed quietly. Later, a reconnoissance was made by the Thirty-fourth and Thirtyfifth United States Colored Troops, the One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York, and some artillery four miles toward Coosawhatchie, driving the enemy's skirmishers to a battery, with which cannon-shots were exchanged. That day the Twenty-fifth Ohio went by water to Blair's Landing, advanced on the Beaufort road, and flanking a work of the enemy, compelled its abandonment and captured two guns, one of which was brought away, and the other spiked. Our naval vessels were daily reconnoitring up the rivers and shelling hostile works when discovered.

From the cross-road on the 5th two reconnoitring parties went out,—the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and two naval howitzers to the left as a diversion, while General Potter, with part of his brigade, moved upon the battery found the previous day, which was again cannonaded. Important information was received from a ‘galvanized Yankee,’ [256] who deserted from the Forty-seventh Georgia to Potter's force. His regiment had a considerable number of men like himself,—Union soldiers who enlisted to escape starvation when prisoners-of-war,—numbers of whom deserted to us subsequently. That evening the outposts were drawn closer in, and dispositions made to hold the line with the Second Brigade only, as the remainder of our force, with a part of the artillery, moved at midnight to the landing. Just as daylight broke on the 6th the Fifty-fourth marched to the extreme right of the intrenchments near Merceraux's Battery B, Third New York Artillery. That day the cavalry made a short reconnoissance; and at sunset our guns shelled the woods vigorously.

Potter's and the Naval Brigade landed on the 6th at Devaux's Neck, and with the howitzers pushed toward the railroad, which, crossing to the Neck by means of a bridge over the Coosawhatchie, ran over the peninsula and left it by another bridge spanning the Tullifinny River. Potter, leading his skirmishers, forced back the enemy's light troops, making a few captures. Brig.-Gen. L. H. Gartrell, the Confederate district commander, sent the Fifth Georgia, supported by a body of Georgia Reserves and a battery, to oppose us. They took position in the woods along the State road, between us and the railroad, and delivered a sharp musketry fire as we advanced. After some preliminary movements, a charge of the Fifty-sixth and One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York was made, which nearly enveloped the Fifth Georgia, and secured some prisoners and its flag. The enemy, on retiring, left twenty killed and wounded, and partially destroyed the Coosawhatchie Bridge. Our loss was about twelve killed, and perhaps one hundred wounded. Potter, first destroying [257] Mason's Bridge on the State road, over the Tullifinny, and throwing out a skirmish line, intrenched, awaiting reinforcements.

December 7, orders came for the abandonment of the cross-road at Boyd's Neck. General Hatch directed the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, the cavalry, and some artillery to remain and hold the landing covered by the gunboat Pontiac. About midnight the pickets were drawn in by Captain Emilio, brigade officer of the day, and joined the Fifty-fourth, which had marched to the landing. From its arrival until nearly daylight, the regiment was embarking amid a heavy rain-storm on the steamer Mayflower, on which were General Hatch and Colonel Silliman. Our transport started out of the creek when day dawned, ran up Broad River, and into the Tullifinny, where she grounded. Small craft were brought, and the command was ferried to the lower landing, while rain still poured down. Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper without delay, soon after 2 P. M., marched to the front, where the regiment formed division column and bivouacked.

General Jones, upon receiving news of our invasion of Devaux's Neck, gathered a force to attack us. Col. A. C. Edwards, Forty-seventh Georgia, with his regiment, a battalion of the Thirty-second Georgia, Major White's battalion of South Carolina Cadets, and the German Artillery (four guns), was to move from the Tullifinny trestle-bridge, and give battle. General Gartrell, with the Coosawhatchie force, was ordered against our left. At 7 A. M. on the 7th, covered in their advance to within sixty yards of our front, by a heavy growth of timber and foggy weather, the enemy moved to surprise us. He first struck the Thirty-second United-States Colored Troops, causing severe losses; but [258] the regiment repulsed the foe. The attempt was renewed, but we were then better prepared, and our infantry and artillery beat them back with loss. Our left was then assailed by Gartrell's force, when the same result followed. After an action lasting about three hours the enemy called back his troops, with a loss which we estimated at one hundred; ours was about eighty. That day a detachment from the Coast Division landed at Mackay's Point across the Tullifinny, marched up, and took post opposite Gregory's plantation, where it intrenched. Gregory's was made the landing-place on Devaux's Neck for all our supplies and stores.

So near were the troops to the railroad that the rumbling of trains and whistling of locomotives could be heard. The position was in an open space surrounded by woods, the main body well intrenched, with pickets in the forest confronted by those of the enemy. Our attempts to reach the railroad on the Neck having failed, the purpose now was to destroy or command it with artillery. It was also important to keep as many of the foe in our front and from Sherman's as possible, for the coming of the Western army was daily looked for. No 'change occurred in the position of the Fifty-fourth from that first taken up until 6 P. M. on the 8th, when, carrying boards for intrenching, it moved to slightly higher ground in rear of the right of our line, and worked all night by reliefs.

Brig.-Gen. B. H. Robertson on the 8th assumed command of the enemy in our front, comprising some fifty-five hundred effectives.

It was determined to cut an opening through the woods before our right, to better cannonade the railroad. Accordingly, on the 9th, Colonel Silliman led forward with [259] the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh and One Hundred and Fifty-seventh New York, skirmishing. General Potter followed with the Fifty-sixth and One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York and One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops, constituting the main line; then came the Twenty-fifth Ohio with axes to execute the work, and a reserve of the Thirty-second, Thirty-fourth, and Thirty-fifth United States Colored Troops. The Naval Brigade also took part. In this order, on that cold, raw morning, the troops having formed at 8.45 o'clock, ten pieces of artillery opened fire for fifteen minutes to clear the woods in front. Colonel Silliman advanced the skirmishers about half a mile and became engaged just before 10 A. M., the enemy replying briskly. General Potter supporting with the main line, the woodsmen from the West followed, felling the trees. This novel operation of war caused the familiar sound of battle to be allied on this occasion with that of falling timber crashing down to earth. The path of the forest reapers, twenty yards wide, could be plainly seen from the rear as the axemen advanced.

Our skirmishers moved to within six hundred yards of the railroad. General Potter was at the extreme front. Capt. W. C. Manning of his staff, ascending a tall tree to make a sketch of the ground, could see the railroad, and a Rebel battery firing, to the left. It was 3 P. M. when the lane, five hundred yards long, was cut through the belt of wood to an opening beyond. Suddenly, as we were about to withdraw, the enemy became bolder, and a regiment out of cartridges fell back, exposing the woodsmen of the Twentyfifth Ohio. Lieutenant-Colonel Haughton of that regiment ordered muskets unslung, and as the foe came on with their [260] mobbish scream, gave them a costly repulse. All attacks along our whole line were successfully met; but when driven back, the enemy still maintained a brisk response. From the reserve, late in the afternoon, the Thirty-second United States Colored Troops relieved the One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York and Twenty-fifth Ohio, when their ammunition was expended. Our artillery, supplemented by Hamner's Third Rhode Island Battery, toward the close, was ably handled. At dark the enemy fell back, when our troops retired to their fortified camp. The enemy's loss was about one hundred in all, including General Gartrell wounded. Ours was about two hundred. Colonel Silliman, after displaying marked gallantry, was mortally wounded. His aid, Lieut. Edwin R. Hill, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, an able soldier of experience and valor, was also mortally wounded.

In this action the Fifty-fourth was in reserve, and throughout the day continued working upon the rifle trench, and a battery for guns to command the opening cut in the forest. All was in readiness for a call to the front, but the demand was not made. At 5 P. M. that day Colonel Hallowell arrived with five hundred men of the Fifty-fourth New York and Thirty-third United States Colored Troops. He took command of our Second Brigade, retaining Lieut. Geo. F. McKay, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, as acting assistant adjutant-general. At night Lieutenant Knowles was wounded on picket, and went to the rear.

Though foiled in further advance, we held on, not knowing where Sherman might strike the coast. Deserters reported his near approach. We were within good range of the railroad. Another battery was constructed in the [261] swamp on our left, mainly to command a culvert on the railroad. From that point four half-moons of the enemy could be seen near Coosawhatchie. General Hatch made his headquarters under canvas, while General Potter occupied Talbird's house.

From our camp of shelter tents pitched in an open field, details for picket and work on the intrenchments went out daily. Damp, rainy weather prevailed, causing considerable sickness, but it cleared, with sunny outbursts, on the 11th. The Seventy-fifth and One Hundred and Seventh Ohio joined the division on the 10th. Our brigade the next day was increased by the transfer to it of the Thirtyfourth United States Colored Troops. We were shelling the railroad through the cut whenever trains were heard, and also at intervals after nightfall. Firing in the direction of Savannah occurred on the 11th, and, as we hoped, proved to be Sherman's guns. On the 12th, Captain Duncan, Third Illinois Cavalry, and two men, drifted down past the enemy's batteries at Savannah in a boat, and brought a despatch that the Western army was confronting that city.

Frosty nights were now the rule, and the troops, lightly sheltered, thinly clothed, and in many cases without blankets, suffered. Supplies came regularly, and fresh beef in limited quantity was issued. The Sanitary Commission at Devaux's Neck did much for the sick and well. It was now a daily occurrence to bear Sherman's guns. Companies D and I, on the 14th, were detailed as guard at brigade headquarters. We had present at Devaux's Neck about four hundred and ninety enlisted men. News came on the evening of the 14th that Fort McAllister was taken, and Sherman and Foster in communication. As the news [262] spread through the camps the men turned out, giving repeated cheers, while the only band present played the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ These noisy demonstrations aroused the Johnnies, who set up the usual yelling. Captain Emilio, in command of the pickets, on the 17th made a reconnoissance with a few men to a point near the enemy's line on the Tullifinny.

In a letter from General Sherman to General Foster dated December 18, the former expressed his desire to have the railroad cut. As an alternative he suggested, ‘or it may be that you could diminish that force and use the balance in a small handy detachment east of Tullifinny over about old Pocotaligo.’

December 19, at 11 P. M., the Fifty-fourth and Thirtythird United States Colored Troops moved to Gregory's Landing, whence the Thirty-third first crossed on the ‘General Hooker.’ The Fifty-fourth followed at 3 A. M. on the 20th, upon the same steamer. We ran up the river a short distance, and disembarked at Graham's Neck. Rain was falling, as was usual, seemingly, when the regiment moved. Marching about two miles to higher ground included in the ‘Mike’ Jenkins plantation, arms were stacked, and we rested. Near by were the Twenty-sixth and Thirty-third United States Colored Troops, which, with the Fifty-fourth, constituted the force under Colonel Hallowell. We perhaps made up the ‘small, handy detachment’ Sherman had suggested, as old Pocotaligo was in our front.

When morning came, preparations were made for an advance. About 4 P. M. the Thirty-third made a reconnoissance, and Companies H and I of the Fifty-fourth moved in support. The Thirty-third met some of the enemy's light troops after a march of two miles or more, drove [263] them, and then returned to camp. It is probable that Colonel Hallowell's force would have been called upon for an attempt against the enemy's works about old Pocotaligo had not Savannah fallen on the night of the 20th. Hardee evacuated the city after abandoning or burning immense stores and many guns, retiring to Hardeeville, S. C., across the river.

Graham's Neck, occupied by our brigade, is the point of land between the Tullifinny and Pocotaligo rivers. Along its length farther inland than our position was a road from Mackay's Point on the Broad to the State road, which crossed Graham's as well as Devaux's Neck. In our vicinity were the abandoned plantations known to us as the Dr. Hutson, Mason, Steuart, and Howard places. To our right front was an open country as far as Framton Creek; but in our immediate front bordering the Tullifinny were creeks, swamps, and heavy woods.

During the night of the 21st, the pickets of the Twentysixth United States Colored Troops captured three cavalrymen. In retaliation, the next morning the enemy attacked their line, killing one man and wounding another, forcing them back. Major Pope, with Companies C, E, H, and K, relieved the Twenty-sixth men later that morning, taking up the same badly run and dangerous line, which was given up for a better position the same evening.

Our brigade expected an attack the succeeding day, as Colonel Hallowell was warned to be on the alert. At night news came of the occupation of Savannah, causing great enthusiasm. Early each morning the brigade moved to and occupied an intrenched line beyond the Fifty-fourth camp. Daily scouting parties were sent out. Quartermaster Ritchie drew rations at Gregory's, ferried them [264] over in pontoons, and brought them to camp with details of men, as there were no teams. A commissary was established at Gregory's, but no sutler was with the troops.

Christmas was a cloudy day, and brought no festivities for the regiment. Some ‘Quaker’ guns were made and mounted to deceive the enemy, as we had no artillery. On the 26th a party of five deserters came in, bringing a false report that Wilmington was captured. Across the river on Devaux's Neck little was going on besides shelling the railroad. Such portions of Hardee's army as passed, did so on foot, but cars laden with guns and ammunition ran the gauntlet of our fire over the rails. General Beauregard expected that Sherman would make an immediate advance, and directed Hardee to oppose his progress behind the large streams, and secretly to prepare for evacuating Charleston. Governor Magrath of South Carolina and the newspapers were frantically but fruitlessly calling upon all men to arm and defend the State.

From Devaux's Neck, on the 28th, the Naval Brigade departed for Port Royal, where it disbanded two days later. A family of ten contrabands came in to us at Graham's on the 29th, reporting but few Confederates in our immediate front, and that they were taking up the railroad iron. Captain Tucker, the next day, with twenty men, went out on a scout, and exchanged shots with the enemy. The last day of the year was warm and springlike; but after sundown the temperature fell, ice formed, and large fires were found necessary for warmth. The chilly nights drove the officers to make huts of logs or slabs, first covered with straw and then with earth. Though cave-like, they proved warm. [265]

By this date the troops on Devaux's Neck were reduced by the departure of some regiments. January 3, at night, the Twenty-sixth United States Colored Troops left Graham's for Beaufort, and the Fifty-fourth the next morning took position at the former regiment's old camp close behind the intrenchment. With the shanties there, and boards brought from a plantation, the command found better shelter. Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper, with four officers and 125 men, reconnoitred that day toward Pocotaligo, returning at dark, having seen a few mounted men only.

Sherman was now transferring his right wing from Thunderbolt to Beaufort; his left wing was ordered to Robertsville. There seemed to be some uncertainty regarding the movements of the Fifty-fourth about this time, for it was rumored at Morris Island that we were to return there, and on the 5th our horses were ordered to Hilton Head. A deserter from the Fiftieth North Carolina came in on the 10th, reporting ten regiments in our front,making a total force of two thousand men.

January 14, Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper at 10 A. M., with four officers and 125 men, went out to the Stewart house, seeing but a picket of the enemy. Colonel Hallowell, about 4 P. M., with 225 men and officers of the Fifty-fourth and about the same number of the Thirty-third, marched out under instructions to find and engage any hostile force. We fully expected a fight, but at the Steuart house orders came from General Hatch postponing the attack. That evening there were cannon-shots in our front, and at Devaux's Neck the sound of moving wagons and artillery was heard. Those of the Fifty-fourth on picket very early on the 15th were first mystified and then elated by hearing drums and fifes far to our right and front, sounding [266] reveille and playing national airs. Captain Emilio, in charge of the line, at once sent word to brigade headquarters that a part of Sherman's army was near. Colonel Hallowell, at 11 A. M., with the Fifty-fourth and Thirty-third, moved to the Steuart house, and coming to the Mackay Point and Pocotaligo road, turned into it. Captain Tucker, with Companies A, G, H, and I, preceded the column, skirmishing. It was a fine bright day, and we moved on over high rolling land on the route pursued by Gen. J. M. Brannan's force, when, in October, 1862, he attacked the enemy at Pocotaligo. Remains of fires and the debris of picket posts were seen as we advanced. Coming near lower ground, we could see a strong line of works beyond a swamp with heavy woods in rear, the road running along the front of the low ground bordering Framton Creek. It had been fortified since Brannan's attack, and could have been held by a small force against an army. Halting our column on the higher ground, Colonel Hallowell sent the skirmishers forward, and they soon occupied the abandoned works. Moving onward past the intrenchment, we at last gained the State road, coming in from the left. A mile and a half farther on we arrived near a bridge and Pocotaligo, where the strong works were found in possession of a division of the Seventeenth Corps; near there we halted. The Fifty-fourth had formed a junction with Sherman's army, the first body of Eastern troops in the field to meet the stalwart Westerners.

On the morning of January 14, the larger part of the Seventeenth Corps, under Maj.-Gen. Frank Blair, crossed from Port Royal Island to the main on a pontoon bridge, and moved toward Pocotaligo, twenty-five miles from Beaufort. They encountered Colonel Colcock, our old [267] friend of Honey Hill, at Gardner's Corners, and drove him with loss to the works mounting twelve guns, at Pocotaligo, before which they bivouacked, intending to assault in the morning; but the enemy under Gen. L. McLaws during the night abandoned this and all his positions along our front, and retired behind the Combahee. Thus fell a stronghold before which the troops of the Department of the South met repeated repulses. It was the most important position between Charleston and Savannah, for there, over the Pocotaligo River, was a trestle of a mile in length, crossing a swamp over which the railroad ran. This trestle the enemy attempted to destroy; but it was only partially damaged. After resting, at 3.30 P. M. the brigade took up the return march for camp, where the regiment arrived, well tired out. At Devaux's Neck that morning the usual pickets of the enemy in front of the railroad were not seen, and our men soon discovered that their works were abandoned; several regiments at once occupied them.

It was a welcome change to be freed from the anxiety of the enemy's proximity and thus enabled to sleep until daylight, and relieved from all picket duty. With rest, supplies and drills the regiment was speedily brought into fine condition once more. It soon became manifest that we were to assist in refitting Sherman's troops. Pocotaligo was thoroughly strengthened as a base. Gen. O. O. Howard, commanding that wing, was directed not to demonstrate up the peninsula, but toward the Salkehatchie, as if preparing to advance directly on Charleston; and as early as the 15th he made such movements. Dense smoke-clouds over the railroad indicated its destruction along our whole front.

South Carolina was already feeling the mailed hand her [268] temper had invoked. Her sons made frantic efforts to convince others that the success of the Confederates depended upon meeting Sherman there even at the expense of Richmond. The newspapers also assailed their chosen leaders. The Charleston Mercury said on January 12:

‘Let old things pass away. We want no more Jeff. Davis foolery. . . . North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina are in no mood for trifling. . . . South Carolina don't intend to be conquered. She don't intend to be hampered or turned over to the enemy. When she is thus dealt with, there will be reckoning,—a reckoning where there will be no respecter of persons.’

By orders from the War Department received January 17, Lieutenant Swails was permitted to muster, thus ending a struggle waged in his behalf for nearly a year by Colonel Hallowell and Governor Andrew. He was one of the earliest if not the first colored officer mustered; and this decision, persistently solicited and finally granted, must rank high with the moral victories wrung from the general government by the regiment and its founders.

On the 18th the steamer ‘Wyoming’ landed the first supplies for Sherman's army at our wharf. That day news was received of the capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina, by our old commander, Gen. A. H. Terry, causing great rejoicing. Our horses were returned from Hilton Head on the 19th. Rainy weather seriously interfered with bringing up supplies. Daily details from the Fifty-fourth were sent out repairing roads or to the wharf unloading stores. All the enlisted men and eight officers were employed on the 21st making a corduroy road from the landing. Innumerable wagons of Sherman's army came and went over the roads, carrying supplies from various [269] landings on the Tullifinny and Pocotaligo rivers to the camp.

January 24 was cold but clear, after several days of rain. In accordance with orders received to move when favorable weather came, Colonel Hallowell that day transferred his command to Devaux's Neck. The Fifty-fourth moved at 8.30 A. M., and crossing the river on lighters, camp was established in a large field near the hospital. While in this location the regiment received clothing and camp supplies, long sadly needed.

Sherman was now ready for his ‘great next,’ and Hatch's Coast Division was ordered to Pocotaligo to relieve Gen. Giles S. Smith's division of the Seventeenth Corps. With the Second Brigade the Fifty-fourth moved at 8 A. M., on the 28th, through the old intrenchments to the State road, and along it to Pocotaligo. We passed through the Rebel fort there, and by the Seventeenth Corps, noting the immense train of wagons, ambulances, and pontoons parked thereabout. Keeping on to the extreme right front, after a march of some ten miles we halted at a point a mile and a quarter from Salkehatchie Creek. Brigade line was formed with the Fifty-fourth, Thirty-third, Thirtyfourth, and One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops and the artillery, in the near vicinity of some of Sherman's men. In a good position with low ground in front, the Fifty-fourth being in the woods, a rifle trench was made, shelters were pitched, and we camped.

Here we had a brief opportunity of seeing the Western troops. They were a seasoned, hardy set of men. They wore the army hat, instead of the forage-caps affected by most of our regiments. Their line-officers were generally clad in government clothes, with only shoulder-straps and [270] swords to distinguish them. Altogether they impressed us with their individual hardiness, powers of endurance, and earnestness of purpose, and as an army, powerful, full of resources and with staying qualities unsurpassed.

In letters to General Foster dated January 28 and 29, General Sherman expressed his wish that Hatch's force should not be reduced or moved until Foster ascertained the effect of his (Sherman's) appearance west of Branchville, upon the Charleston garrison. He said,—

‘My movement to the rear of Charleston is the principal, and all others should be accessory, merely to take advantage of any “let go.” ’

He did not wish the railroad broken until the latter part of the succeeding week. Should the enemy retire beyond the Edisto, then Foster was to cut the railroad on our side anywhere. Admiral Dahlgren should make demonstrations on February 1 and 2 in the Edisto and Stono, and the troops on Morris Island effect a lodgement, if possible, on James Island.

Colonel Van Wyck's brigade, of Hatch's division, came to our vicinity on the 29th. Sherman's men near us moved on the morning of the 30th, to get into proper position for advancing. When they departed, our men visited the deserted camps, finding much corn and rice, besides many useful articles. Four cannon-shots were heard in the distance that morning. The Salkehatchie Bridge had been burned by the enemy; and the high water which overflowed the banks made it difficult to reach the stream itself.

By General Sherman's order General Hatch sent the Twenty-fifth Ohio, on the 30th, to the forks of the wagonroad and railroad, from where a reconnoissance was pushed [271] to the stream, and shots were exchanged. Strong works were seen on the farther bank. Again the camp of the Fifty-fourth was changed, for on the 31st, we marched along the railroad track back to Pocotaligo. Passing around the fort there, we camped near the railroad station, on the extreme left of our line, upon ground formerly occupied by Sherman's men. From the debris strewn about and log foundations for shelter tents, we soon made this resting-place comfortable. Brigade headquarters were located at John A. Cuthbert's house, the mansion of a fine rice plantation previously occupied by Gen. Frank Blair. There the writer first saw the famous William T. Sherman. He was riding unattended upon a steady-going horse, and was instantly recognized from his portraits. His figure, tall and slender, sat the horse closely, but slightly bowed. Upon his head was a tall army hat covering a face long and thin, bristling with a closely cropped sandy beard and mustache. His bright keen eyes seemed to take in everything about at a glance. There was hardly a sign of his rank noticeable, and his apparel bore evidence of much service. He was on his way to General Hatch's headquarters. Captain Appleton relates what occurred there. He and others of the staff were playing cards when the door opened and a middle-aged officer asked for General Hatch. Without ceasing their card-playing, the young officers informed the stranger of the general's absence. Imagine their consternation when their visitor quietly said, ‘Please say to him that General Sherman called.’ They started up, ashamed and apologizing, but the general softly departed as he came. The next day he took the field with the Fifteenth Corps. February 1, a report came that the enemy had crossed [272] to our side of the Combahee River and intrenched. At noon, Colonel Hallowell with the Fifty-fourth and two guns moved to Gardner's Corners, whence, with the One Hundred and Seventh Ohio also, he proceeded. We arrived at Combahee Ferry about 6 P. M., where observations were purposely made quietly, after dark. Abandoned works were found on our side, and a foot-bridge crossing the stream. On the farther bank were posts of the enemy and their camp.

After Sherman departed, we picketed the front again. Our camp was near Daniel B. Heyward's plantation, in a rice country. It was rainy weather, with mud everywhere under foot. At this time Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper wrote,—

Sherman destroys everything that stands in his line of march,—rice-mills, houses, fences. All through this country, as far as it can be seen, pillars of black smoke rise. . . . The saying is that “when Sherman gets through South Carolina, a crow can't fly across the country unless he carries rations with him.” ’

The Western army had crossed the Salkehatchie and compelled McLaws to fall back upon Branchville. In the action at Rivers's Bridge, Brig.-Gen. Wager Swayne lost a leg, and with other wounded was brought back to Pocotaligo. Foster, on the 3d, made demonstrations with the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and One Hundred and Fortyfourth New York in the South Edisto, and with the Thirtysecond United States Colored Troops on Edisto Island. On the 4th, the Twenty-fifth Ohio crossed at Combahee Ferry, and after unsuccessful attempts to flank works beyond the rice-fields, recrossed with small loss.

News came of Lieutenant Webster's death, at Beaufort, [273] January 25, of fever. This faithful young officer was the only one the Fifty-fourth lost by disease. On the 5th a force went to a cross-road three miles in advance, from whence the enemy retired over a branch of the Salkehatchie, rendering the bridge spanning it impassable. We lost three men wounded in an attempt to cross.

February 7, at 8 A. M., Colonel Hallowell with the Fifty-fourth and One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops marched in a rain-storm over the destroyed railroad to Salkehatchie. The enemy had abandoned his extensive works on the farther side of the burned trestlebridge there. We were joined there by two guns of the Third New York Artillery and two companies of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry. An advance was then made simultaneously along both the railroad and turnpike. Crossing the river, the Fifty-fourth moved on the turnpike, Captain Emilio, with Companies E, H, and I, preceding the column skirmishing. Rain was falling, and continued nearly all day, drenching us to the skin, and making the road a quagmire. Soon the enemy, supposed to be of Cobb's Georgia Legion, was discovered in small force, mounted, with a piece of artillery. They halted on every bit of rising ground, or on the farther side of swamps, to throw up barricades of fence-rails against a rush of our cavalrymen, and delayed our advance by shelling us with their field-piece. But our skirmishers moved on steadily through water, swamp, and heavy under-growth, until their flanks were threatened, when, after exchanging shots, they would retire to new positions. About noon, the enemy were driven out of their camp in haste; and after a rest, the column moved, on again. At dark, orders came for Colonel Hallowell to retire about a mile, to a [274] cross-road, five miles from Pocotaligo, where his force halted and intrenched.

Maj. Newcomb Clark, One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops, on the 8th, with four companies of his regiment, made a reconnoissance toward Cuckwold Creek, and after light skirmishing, destroyed a part of the railroad. Our force at the cross-road was joined by the Twenty-fifth Ohio and two guns. Lieut. P. McLaughlin, quartermaster of the One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops, was killed by guerillas on that date. February 9, the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York and Twenty-fifth Ohio advanced with some artillery and cavalry, driving the enemy from positions about the rice plantations, and damaging the railroad. The Fifty-fourth was now divided up and stationed on picket at several points.

General Gillmore had returned and relieved General Foster, whose old wound required attention. This change gave great dissatisfaction to Admiral Dahlgren, who disliked Gillmore, and he asked to be relieved. Our naval vessels were engaging the enemy's batteries in the Edisto. General Schimmelfennig on the 10th landed the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York, and Thirty-second and Thirty-third United States Colored Troops on James Island, and drove the enemy from some advanced works, effecting captures. He withdrew his force on the succeeding day. General Hatch, on the 10th, with a portion of the division, attempted to pass Cuckwold Creek, but desisted after finding the bridge burned and the enemy in strong position. This force bivouacked ten miles from Salkehatchie that night, and retired the next day.

February 12, Captain Homans had a man wounded, while [275] foraging. A scouting party of the One Hundred and Seventh Ohio was fired into that morning, having one man wounded and another missing. Guerillas, or small parties of the enemy, were about, and Captain Emilio with Company E and Lieutenant Reed with Company G scoured the region for them without success. At dark the Fifty-fourth, except Companies E and G, left on picket, moved back from the cross-road in company with the Twenty-fifth Ohio, our regiment bivouacking inside the fort at Salkehatchie.

On the evening of the 12th, word was received that the enemy had abandoned Combahee Ferry. The Twenty-fifth Ohio, by a night's march, crossed the river the next day, and took station at Lownde's plantation. The effect of Sherman's advance was being felt in our front, for the Western army was across the North Edisto near Orangeburg. Gen. A. R. Wright retired from Ashepoo across the Edisto, and McLaws from Branchville to Four Hole Swamp. Hardee was also concerned for Charleston, as General Potter, with the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York, and Thirty-second United States Colored Troops entered Bull's Bay on the 12th, shelled the enemy's batteries at Owendaw Creek, and landing on the 16th, intrenched. General Schimmelfennig was again making demonstrations on James Island.

We received early news of this retirement, for on the 13th a party of thirteen contrabands arrived and reported, ‘De Rebs clean gone to Ashepoo.’ During the night Company H joined the others on picket, and two escaped Union prisoners came in, one of whom, unfortunately, our pickets wounded. General Hatch pushed the One Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops along the railroad, and the Twenty-fifth Ohio through Green Pond, to [276] Ashepoo, on the 14th, where the bridges were found burned. A force crossed the river in boats, and drove a few of the enemy away.

Meanwhile, during our field service, the following changes had occurred in the Fifty-fourth: Lieutenant Duren, having broken a leg by falling from his horse at Morris Island, went North, and never returned. Lieutenant Littlefield resigned, and Lieutenant Hallett took charge of the camp. Lieutenant Rogers re-joined the regiment from there. Lieutenant James, recommissioned, reported; but his old wound soon forced him to return to Hilton Head. Captain Pope was made major, Lieutenant Howard captain of Company I, and Second Lieutenants Stevens and Charles Jewett, Jr., were promoted first lieutenants. Lieutenants Charles F. Joy and William L. Whitney, Jr., newly appointed, joined.

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