`Spirited little engagement` fought in SC days after Lee surrendered

`Spirited little engagement` fought in SC days after Lee surrendered

REMBERT, SC (WIS) - Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. But days after the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Confederate and Union soldiers continued to exchange fire in South Carolina.

They met near Rembert at the Battle of Boykin's Mill on April 18, 1865. It was less than a week after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

"It wasn't until a couple days after this battle that they learned that Lee had --that they got official confirmation that Lee had surrendered to Grant and that Joe Johnston was in the process of negotiating a surrender with General Sherman in North Carolina," Civil War historian and author Tom Elmore said.

He described the battle as a "spirited little engagement."

Elmore recently published a book about the Battle of Boykin's Mill and other battles related to Potter's Raid in South Carolina. It was part of a small Union cavalry expedition through central South Carolina to destroy railroad cars, infrastructure and war supplies that General William Tecumseh Sherman's army missed when it marched through more than a month before.

"Potter's Raid came about because one of the few failures of Sherman's march through South Carolina," Elmore said. "In March of 1865, Sherman's second in command, Major Oliver O. Howard, learned there was some railroad engines, equipment and rolling stock in Florence, which he was afraid would cause problems for Sherman's army as it went forward."

"This was the last one where troops were actually in a position for a fight," Elmore said. "Potter's men were coming from Camden. They were still trying to find all these railroad cars and equipment, which the Confederates had kept moving away from them. It was almost like a cat-and-mouse game."

The excursion was following the railroad lines back to Sumter, where south of the city in Dingle's Mill, a battle was fought 11 days previously. About 2,000 Union soldiers badly outnumbered the some "couple hundred" Confederates left to protect South Carolina. It didn't take long for the bluecoats to penetrate the CSA positions.

"The most notable thing about this battle is the last Union officer killed in the Civil War, Lt. Edward Stevens, a Harvard graduate and an officer of the famous Massachusetts 54th Infantry, which was the basis of the movie Glory, was killed in the battle," Elmore said.

Potter was riding a white horse in the battle, which, Civil War officers rarely did because they stood out in the melee. The trigger man was a 15-year-old Confederate courier.

"A Confederate officer spotted him and said -- and was just taken aback by this -- that this, like, you know, just galling to him," Elmore said. "And he asked the young soldier, named Boykin if he would kill -- if he could get that soldier off his horse and said yes he could and he shot him and killed him, giving Stevens the dubious distinction."

A memorial stands at the site commemorating Stevens' death, with his name on one side and Burwell H. Boykin's on the opposite. Years later, Stevens' fiancee came to South Carolina to see the site where he died. When she arrived in Camden and asked for someone to show her the battlefield, coincidentally that escort was Boykin -- the man who killed her fiancee.

"This monument is unique," Elmore said. "It honors the troops: the Confederate troops and the Union troops, Lt. Stevens, the last union officer killed in the war."

After forcing their way through the flooded mill pond and beyond the battle site, the Union troops progressed south on what is now South Carolina 261 toward Stateburg and continued on their mission.

Elmore's book, Potter's Raid Through South Carolina is available through Amazon. He has written several books on South Carolina's Civil War history, including A Carnival of Destruction: Sherman's Invasion of South Carolina. A Columbia native, Elmore lectures on the subject throughout the state.

The Sumter Convention and Visitors Bureau has identified a trail marking the historic sites of Potter's Raid. Maps of the sites and their significance are available by calling 1-800-688-4748 or sending email.

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