The following article by David A. Norris was copied from "THE NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL REVIEW," Volume LXXIII. Number 1. January 1996. Mr. Norris is an independent historian and writer living in Greenville, North Carolina. I am indebted to Larry Crane for transcribing the article and sending it to me for inclusion in the 12th NY Cavalry web site.
"The Yankees Have Been Here!":
The Story of Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter's Raid
DAVID A. NORRIS
his attention on defending Wilmington, which had become the South's busiest port as a result of the Union navy's blockade of Confederate shipping on the East Coast. Martin, the Confederate commander of the District of North Carolina, was responsible for protecting the vital Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, which supplied General Lee's army in Virginia with North Carolina foodstuffs and a variety of war materiel including weapons, ammunition, and medicine-that had been brought into Wilmington through the Union blockade. Cutting the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was a major objective of the Union army in North Carolina.
Judge Howard and his Tarboro neighbors were justified in their worst expectations of a Union raid. News of the disastrous Confederate losses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in early July was spreading, and North Carolinians feared that the Federal army would immediately seek to exploit its advantage by striking into the heart of the state from its stronghold in the east. Much of the eastern part of the state was either under Union control or within the range of Union raiders. The few regiments of Confederate troops in the region were too widely scattered to provide a proper defense against the sudden and swift attacks by Union troops.
Historians have underestimated the significant impact that such raids had on the conduct and outcome of the Civil War. Although the overall physical damage of the attacks to the Confederate war effort was minimal, they nevertheless had a profound tactical and psychological effect that weakened the Confederacy's ability to wage war. In 1863 Federal forays into the interior of North Carolina created panic, even among the state's leaders, who pleaded with the War Department in Richmond for protection. "Let me beg you to send every available man, as I am sure the crisis is upon us in North Carolina," Governor Vance wrote Sec. of War James A. Seddon in anticipation of a raid in January.5 That same fear depleted the morale of the state's citizens and undermined their support for a war of Southern independence. Responding to the threat of yet another raid, Vance on April 23 wrote to Gen. Daniel H. Hill, Confederate commander in eastern North Carolina, that "I have addressed a note to the City Editors urging them to avoid exciting any panic among the people.. ,"6 The panic among white North Carolinians was enhanced by the large number of potentially vindictive slaves liberated by the Yankee raiders. The Federal attacks also weakened the Confederate war effort by drawing troops away from battlefields and other vital areas in order to defend North Carolina's towns, railroads, and supply centers. "We are straining to send forces to you," Seddon replied to one of Vance's cries for help.7 From Goldsboro on another occasion General Hill informed Vance that "as we have a new
Maj. Gen. John Gray Foster served as commander of the Federal Department of North Carolina (December 24, 1862-July 11, 1863) and its successor, the Federal Department of Virginia and North Carolina (July 11-November 11, 1863). Encouraged by the outcome of a small Union raid on Kenansville and Warsaw in early July 1863, Foster planned the more extensive expedition that became known as Potter's Raid. Photograph of engraving from the State Archives, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh.excitement about immense [Union] reinforcement at Newberne, I am afraid to leave here."8 An examination of the planning, execution, and aftermath of Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter's raid on Greenville, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro in late July 1863 demonstrates the impact and importance of the raids that caused so much concern among Confederate and state leaders.
As of July 19, 1863, the dreaded Yankee troops had not been seen near Tarboro. Judge Howard wrote, "everything is more quiet here now than we have been for the past two weeks--less apprehension felt of a Yankee raid. We all feel relieved."9 He did not know that as he penned that letter to his wife a Union general and eight hundred cavalrymen were within a few miles of Tarboro.
Maj. Gen. John Gray Foster commanded the Eighteenth Army Corps, a force of 9,600 Union soldiers "present for duty" of whom about 7,000 were based in New Bern.10 Smaller
garrisons held Washington, Plymouth, Beaufort, and Morehead City. The Union forces generally stayed close to their fortified towns, while making scouting and foraging expeditions and an occasional cavalry raid.
Early in July 1863 General Foster had ordered his largest cavalry raid to date. Six hundred forty men of the Third New York Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. George Lewis, rode to Kenansville, the site of a Confederate arms plant, and Warsaw, a stop on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. The raid targeted places of minor importance to the Confederacy. General Foster planned a more extensive raid that would "traverse a circuit of 200 miles, and . . . do much damage."11 The targets of this new raid were Tarboro and Rocky Mount. Tarboro was an important regional river port with warehouses that held considerable stores of Confederate supplies. Perhaps most worrisome to the Union was an improvised shipyard across the river from the town, where the Confederate navy was building an ironclad gunboat similar to the famous CSS Virginia.
Rocky Mount was even more important to the Confederacy. The largest cotton mill in North Carolina, the Rocky Mount Mills, turned out great amounts of cloth for Confederate uniforms. Also, near the station was a long bridge over which the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad crossed the Tar River. Destroying this bridge would seriously disrupt the South's already tottering rail system and prevent General Lee's army from receiving desperately needed supplies following the Battle of Gettysburg.
Perhaps disappointed with Lieutenant Colonel Lewis's performance on the Kenansville-Warsaw expedition, General Foster appointed his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter, to lead the new raid.12Potter assembled a mixed force of cavalry and artillery for the expedition. A large number of his men were from New York cavalry regiments--the entire Third Regiment, Companies A, B, and F of the Twelfth Regiment, and two companies of the new Twenty-third Regiment. Also included among these cavalry companies was Company L of the First North Carolina Volunteers. Potter divided the cavalry into three battalions of six companies each. Maj. George W. Cole and Maj. Fenis Jacobs Jr. each commanded six companies of the Third New York Cavalry; Maj. Floyd Clarkson was in charge of the remaining six companies. The artillery contingent consisted of a two-gun section of the "Flying Battery" of the Third New York Cavalry, under command of Lt. James Allis, and another two-gun section from Battery H of the Third New York Light Artillery, under command of Lt. John D. Clark.13
To create a diversion to cover the Union plans, General Foster sent a brigade of infantry under Brig. Gen. James Jourdan ahead of the cavalry. On Friday, July 17, Jourdan and his men marched north toward Swift Creek Village (modern-day Vanceboro), where they captured
Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter was responsible for executing General Foster's planned raid on Greenville, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro. A native of New York, Potter enlisted as a captain (February 3, 1862), was appointed lieutenant colonel (October 1, 1862), and was then raised to brigadier general (November 29, 1862). Photograph from Massachusetts Commandery Collection, Militaty Order of the Loyal Legion United States (MOLLUS), U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.one soldier, several carts, some livestock, and a few guns. The Yankee infantry then settled in to wait for Potter's cavalry.'14
The cavalry expedition began slowly: the troops were ordered to prepare to leave New Bern on July 17, but they did not cross the Neuse River until the next morning. One soldier noted that they loaded their horses aboard flatboats at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, July 18, but it was noon before they stepped off on the opposite bank.15 The men landed near Fort Anderson, a Union outpost on the north bank of the river across from New Bern. From there they rode toward Swift Creek Village, where they joined Jourdan and his men that
evening. The cavalrymen posted guards and established camp for the night. That would be the last good night's sleep that Potter's men would receive for several days.16
At dawn on Sunday, July 19, the Union troops broke camp. The destination was at first a "mystery to all,"17 but the men soon learned that they were riding to Greenville, about twenty-five miles to the north. As the cavalry left, General Jourdan's infantrymen remained at Swift Creek Village with orders to return to New Bern the next day. One of Jourdan's men wrote ruefully of the march to and from Swift Creek, "I never suffered so mutch from the heat in my life."18
In the countryside Potter's men soon captured George Greene, an official in charge of distributing state relief funds to the needy families of North Carolina soldiers. The troops took $6,300 in North Carolina money from Greene, as well as his horse, saddle, bridle, and even his pocket knife.19
On the way to Greenville, Potter's men overran a small Confederate picket station at a place called "Four Corners," or "The Chapel." These pickets were from Capt. C. A. White's company of Maj. John H. Whitford's Battalion (First Battalion, North Carolina Local Defense Troops). The Union troops captured about fifteen Confederates, including one man who was shot through the thigh while trying to escape. Before riding on to Greenville, the Yankees paroled their Confederate prisoners and burned the pickets' tents and equipment.20
At two in the afternoon Potter's troops rode into Greenville, which the general noted in his report was "completely surrounded by a strong line of entrenchments, but there were no troops, excepting a few convalescents and sick in hospital."21 The raiders quickly took possession of the town. One group of soldiers seized the post office and the courthouse. Another group went to the jail, where they reportedly released "25 negroes . . . who had been imprisoned in attempting to get inside our lines, in order to join the colored regiment at Newbern."22
Southern accounts record much looting in Greenville on the raid. One observer alleged that the "enemy . . . gutted the place, taking twenty-eight hundred ($2,800) from Dr. Blow, and fifty-five hundred ($5,500) in bank notes from Alfred Forbes-destroyed the Commissary and Quartermaster stores, took the earrings and breastpins off the persons of ladies and the watches off of the gentlemen.23 A local historian pointed out another aspect of the raid
that is not mentioned in official reports--some of the cavalrymen looted the town's saloons and barrooms, and "many got drunk"24
About five that afternoon General Potter and his men left Greenville. They rode north and west along the Tar River Road, which passed through the villages of Falkland and Sparta. When the troops were crossing Tyson's Creek, just south of Falkland, some unknown Southerners fired on the column. No one was injured, and the Southerners escaped unseen.25 The Yankees pressed on into the night, raiding farms and plantations along their route. In a letter to Governor Vance, Mrs. Peyton Atkinson wrote of the Yankee raiders that "they stole all the horses they could get, robbed persons of all their money, watches, brandy, silver, (and) arms (and) rushed into houses at midnight, bursting open doors, into Ladies' bedrooms, whilst they were in bed, tied citizens & locked them up in Gin houses. . . . Many a lady & her helpless little children slept in the woods with the Green grass for their beds & the Canopy of Heaven for their shelter."26
When the cavalry reached Sparta, just past the Pitt-Edgecombe County line, General Potter ordered a halt and the weary men established camp. Capt. Rowland M. Hall of Company A of the Third New York Cavalry noted that he arrived at Sparta at midnight and that his men had been in the saddle for eighteen hours.27 At four the next morning, Maj. Ferris Jacobs Jr. led his six companies of the Third New York Cavalry toward Rocky Mount. Included in the detachment was a mountain howitzer commanded by Lt. James Allis. Major Jacobs's men charged into Rocky Mount at 8:30 A.M.28 Pvt. Andrew J. Mcintyre, a Confederate soldier on guard duty at Rocky Mount, wrote that the Yankees "dashed up to the depot with a shout, discharging their pistols in the air to create a panic. I had no chance to escape, and was soon taken into custody, together with about eight or ten other soldiers and two or three officers who were home on furlough, and about the same number of citizens."29 The Yankees missed capturing the southbound Wilmington mail train, which had passed through Rocky Mount at 8:00 A.M.; however, they did seize a train that had just arrived from Tarboro carrying a few soldiers, two carloads of ammunition, and several tons of bacon.30 Capt. Rowland Hall, of the Third New York Cavalry, described how his men captured the train. The engineer had seen the enemy cavalrymen and had started the train's engine "& was
Commanding six companies of the Third New York Cavalry, Maj. Ferris Jacobs Jr. led the portion of the raid that targeted Rocky Mount. Jacobs and his men arrived in the town at 8:30 AM on the morning of July 20 and were responsible for widespread looting and destruction of both private and commercial properties. Photograph from the Massachusetts MOLLUS Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute.already making good headway toward the bridge . . . but Corporal [George] White of Company A, an old railroad man from Rochester who had been purposely placed in the advance jumped from his horse, swung himself pistol in hand upon the engine, seized the lever from the driver & brought back the train."31 The Confederate soldiers on the train were taken prisoner, and the conductor, Robert Watson, was robbed by the Union troops of "$1,000 in gold and his wearing apparel.32
Captured Private Mcintyre watched Major Jacobs's men destroy the train. He later wrote, "they run the engine off the track, and burnt the cars. While the car which was loaded with ammunition was on fire, an explosion took place which blowed one Yankee, who was plundering around inside, a-whizzing outside, but though badly burned, he was not killed, and was doing well when I saw him last; and when some of his comrades expressed sympathy with his mishap, said that was 'narthing.'"33
In addition to damaging the tracks, the Union troops set fire to the train depot, the telegraph and ticket offices, a woodshed, a water tank, and a nearby warehouse. Spreading out from the depot, some of the Yankees raided a nearby hotel and captured several Confederate soldiers at breakfast. One of the men had been wounded at Gettysburg and was on his way home for a furlough. Other raiders swept through the town, going from house to house, demanding that the residents hand over their firearms, which they "dashed into pieces against the trees."34
Major Jacobs sent parties to attack other points outside the town. A mile north of the depot one group of Union troops burned the railroad bridge over the Tar River. Jacobs himself led a detachment to the Rocky Mount Mills, about a mile northwest of the depot and a short distance west of the burning railroad bridge. The large stone mill building, a large flour mill, a thousand barrels of flour, "immense quantities of hard-tack," and factory storerooms filled with cotton and cloth goods were all burned. "The destruction of property," Jacobs later wrote, "was large and complete."35 Many houses and shops in and around Rocky Mount were looted. "Nothing seems to escape them," recorded a Charlotte newspaper. Some of the raiders "entered private dwellings, broke open bureaus and drawers, stole clothing, petty trinkets and jewelry, in one case known to our informant taking forcibly from a lady's finger her wedding and other rings." William E. Pope's home was "ransacked" by soldiers who took $20,000 in cash and bonds, "his bed-clothing, his own and family's personal clothing, including children's clothing," and even their toothbrushes!36
W. W. Parker, who lived a short distance east of Rocky Mount, was hit hard by the raid. The Yankees burned his stables and barns and "robbed him of money and bonds to the amount of $70,000, destroying thirty bales of cotton belonging to him and absolutely stealing his buggy." Private McIntyre, taken along as a prisoner, watched as the raiders "burned Mr. Parker's store, and broke into the bar rooms and took all the liquor." The raiders also burned "three trains" of Confederate army wagons--a total of thirty-seven wagons loaded with "all manner of stores and supplies."37
Major Jacobs's men worked quickly and left Rocky Mount by 11:00 A.M. They rode eastward along the River Road toward Tarboro. The raiders burned six cotton gins, several wagons, and, according to Jacobs, over eight hundred bales of cotton at plantations along the way.38 Private Mcintyre chatted with his captors as they rode. Some of them seem to have had a sense of humor, as McIntyre later wrote, "the most of us (prisoners) had mules and they asked us how we liked the cavalry service."39 At five in the morning, as Major Jacobs's detachment rode toward Rocky Mount, the remainder of Potter's troops broke camp at Sparta and began the march northward to Tarboro. Two companies of the Third New York Cavalry were ordered to remain at Sparta
The commandeering of horses and pack animals for the Federal war effort was one of the primary goals of the expedition. Although W. W. Parker lost more than $70,000 in cash and securities to Union raiders, he offered to pay a $500 reward for the return of three animals taken from his stables during the raid. This advertisement appeared in the Daily Progress (Raleigh), August 5, 1863.
Capt. J. B. Edgerton, an Edgecombe County man, with five soldiers to investigate the enemy's progress. The major and the rest of his men began preparing an ambush.42 General Potter's advance troops, led by Maj. Floyd Clarkson, galloped into Tarboro at 9:00 A.M. that morning. A few scattered shots were fired as a handful of Confederate pickets were driven across the Tar River bridge and out of town. Two Confederates--a lieutenant and a sergeant-were captured.43 A Southern witness described the blue cavalry's dash into Tarboro: "some (were) armed with sabres and carbines; most of them armed with Colt's large size pistols only. They rushed into town at a furious rate, and picketed every approach to it as soon as possible, which was the work of only a few minutes."44 The Union raiders quickly began their work of destruction in Tarboro. Maj. George W. Cole took four of his companies of the Third New York Cavalry to the train depot, where they burned a stockpile of medical supplies, "a large quantity of cotton," and "several" railroad cars.45 Major Clarkson stated that he sent two officers with parties of men to burn two captured steamboats, the General Hill and the Governor Morehead.46 The Yankees also burned the partially built framework of an ironclad gunboat under construction in the shipyard across the river from the town. The gunboat was to have been a sister ship to the ironclad, Albemarle, which was being built on the Roanoke River. The destruction of the Tarboro gunboat ended Confederate efforts to build an ironclad for the Tar-Pamlico region.47 From across the Tar River, Captain Edgerton's reconnaissance party sighted the Union raiders in Tarboro. The Confederates were not spotted until one of Edgerton's men, against orders, fired at the bluecoats. The small band of Rebels quickly galloped back toward Daniel's Schoolhouse while the startled Yankees organized a pursuit. The reconnaissance party had a good start and arrived at the schoolhouse well ahead of the Union troops. Edgerton reported that a large number of enemy cavalry had followed his men and were about two miles away. Major Kennedy ordered Edgerton to find the Yankees, keep in sight ahead of them, and draw them toward the schoolhouse, where he intended to ambush them.48 Major Clarkson asked Lt. Col. George Lewis if he could take some men and attack the Rebels that had been sighted across the river. Lewis consented, and Clarkson's detachment was soon riding toward Kennedy's trap.49 The force under Clarkson's command consisted of Companies A, B, and F of his Twelfth New York Cavalry and a mountain howitzer and gun crew commanded by Lt. John D. Clark of the Third New York Artillery. The Twelfth New York Cavalry had been in North Carolina only a few weeks; and, although Clarkson was a veteran officer, most of his men were poorly trained recruits.50
As Clarkson was riding out of Tarboro, Potter's men swept through the rest of the town, They burned two large government warehouses, the jail, the market house, and several caissons and gun carriages.51 Private establishments that were thought to have any sort of military application were also destroyed. Union troops burned the shop of Julius Holtzscheiter, a gunsmith, locksmith, and a maker of surgical instruments. Also burned were the blacksmith shop of Williams and Palamountain and a steam-powered gristmill owned by an Irish immigrant named Michael Cohen.52 General Potter had guards posted in front of some of the stores that lined Tarboro's Main Street; however, many of these shops were "extensively pillaged" by Union soldiers who slipped in through the back doors. The raiders entered a number of private homes and took money, jewelry, watches, and other valuable items. A bitter Tarboro resident charged that "appeals to General Potter were only answered evasively by saying to the complainant 'identify the man and I will redress you,' which was an impossibility in a crowd of licentious soldiers straggling promiscuously. And any one who dared to charge one with a theft would have been murdered."53
A band of the Union troops almost seized former North Carolina governor Henry T. Clark at his plantation home just outside of Tarboro. On the morning of the raid Clark was preparing to start his daily horseback ride when he spotted the approaching Yankee cavalrymen. The soldiers sighted the former governor, and what would have been just a peaceful ride on a summer morning became a desperate dash into the woods. Unable to catch Clark, the Union troops returned to loot his house.54 The State Journal reported that "Ex-Gov. Clark's residence, on the suburbs of the town, was shamefully abused. Mrs. Clark and her niece, Miss Bettie Toole, were compelled to leave their house and take refuge in the kitchen. They ransacked the house from top to bottom, breaking open trunks, chests, and drawers." Much of their food was stolen, thrown down the well, or otherwise ruined, and the raiders plundered Clark's "stock of wines and brandies."55
The Federal soldiers also raided the Branch Bank of Tarboro; fortunately, the valuables entrusted to the bank had been taken away and hidden. The bank cashier was robbed of his watch and clothing while the raiders searched the bank. The luckless cashier's home was also plundered that day.56
On the morning of Monday, July 20, former North Carolina governor Henry Toole Clark narrowly escaped being captured by Federal soldiers at his plantation outside of Tarboto. Later in the day, Clark served as a volunteer firefighter, helping to extinguish a fire that threatened to destroy the strategically important Tarboro bridge. Portrait ftom J. Kelly Turner and Jno. L. Bridgers Jr., History of Edgecombe County, North Carolina (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., 1920), facing p. 187.From Tarboro's Masonic lodge the raiders "carried off the fine regalia of the Chapter and all the jewels and emblems even to the common gavil, and damaged what could not be removed."57 It would take over a quarter of a century and a bizarre chain of circumstances before some of the lodge's stolen property would be returned. Judge George Howard had some harrowing moments but fared better than he had expected. Two days after the raid he quickly wrote to his wife, "the Yankees have been here. I left and kept about an hour ahead. . . . No damage done to us. They only took one horse and 6 or 700 segars. The Negroes behaved well--even Jane was faithful, not only in staying, but in making such representations that they did not trouble the hotel. Only two came into the house, and they took dinner and left."58
The anonymous Tarboro citizens who wrote accounts of Potter's Raid for Raleigh's State Journal summed up their accounts with differing attitudes. One growled that his report was
merely "a partial recital of the conduct of these fiends and hyenas." Another pleaded, "May heaven deliver our beautiful village from the painful anxieties of another such day as Monday the 20th July, 1863."59 As these incidents were taking place in Tarboro, Major Clarkson's New York cavalrymen were nearing Kennedy's planned ambush at Daniel's Schoolhouse. Clarkson later wrote that he was reading directions on a guidepost when his men were fired on by "six cavalrymen [probably Captain Edgerton's reconnaissance party] a short distance down the road." The Southern horsemen turned and galloped away, and Clarkson directed that Lt. John D. Clark's mountain howitzer be readied. Clarkson then ordered Capt. Simeon Church to lead Company B of the Twelfth New York on a charge toward the band of Rebel horsemen.60
Church's company had charged "half a mile" when Major Kennedy gave the order to fire. Aiming their guns low--at the stirrups--the Confederates hit six Yankees and seventeen horses. The surprised Union detachment quickly disbanded: some men dismounted, took cover, and returned fire; others went "tilting back to Tarboro."61 Major Clarkson then ordered Lieutenant Clark to shell the Rebel position. As Clark's gun fired, Clarkson committed the rest of his force into the fight. Company F, commanded by Lt. Thomas Bruce, and Company A, under Capt. Cyrus Church (Simeon Church's brother), thundered down the road to aid their Twelfth New York comrades. One participant remembered that they charged "with a stirring yell, discharging their pistols at the Rebels . . . taking their fire." Clarkson later wrote, "owing to the fact that it was the first time that any of these men or officers (with the exception of five or six) had been under fire, their horses also entirely unaccustomed to the report of firearms, very many pistols were discharged while at 'raise pistol,' and their fire lost. "62
The Confederate fire was deadly. Company A was badly cut up and lost all three officers, several sergeants, and numerous enlisted men. Lts. Henry A. Hubbard and Henry Ephraim Mosher, and Sgt. John Miller were shot from their mounts.63 Capt. Cyrus Church was also among the fallen. Confederate accounts detail two different stories of his demise. Several weeks after the skirmish a Raleigh newspaper described what was almost a duel between two enemy captains: "Capt. Church was killed by Capt. [William] Ellis [of the 62nd Georgia Cavalry] . . . each firing deliberately at the other, only a few paces apart with pistols. Several shots were exchanged before Capt. Church fell, Capt. Ellis escaping unhurt." Another version has Major Kennedy swinging his rifle to knock Church out of his saddle.64
Captain Cyrus Church, commander of Company A of the Twelfth New York Cavalry, was one of the six Union soldiers who were killed in the skirmishing at Daniel's Schoolhouse on the afternoon of July 20. Photograph from the files of the U.S. Army Military History Institute.Major Clarkson rallied his remaining men about a quarter of a mile from the enemy. Believing that there were not more than forty Rebels firing on his position, he gave the order to advance. Since most of the men's pistols were either empty or "incapable of being fired," the troops were told to draw their sabers.65 The remnants of the three companies of the Twelfth New York Cavalry galloped toward the woods that concealed Major Kennedy's troops. But heavy Confederate fire from the woods turned back the Union saber charge. Lieutenant Clark hastily moved his howitzer from its original spot, which was now separated from the rest of Clarkson's force. Clark's horse, startled by the noise, threw him to the ground, and two of his men were wounded. Facing certain defeat if he continued to fight, Clarkson ordered his men to retreat back to Tarboro.66
After the battle Major Kennedy's men captured a number of Yankees who had been cut off from their units. The wounded bluecoats were brought to the schoolhouse, which was turned into a makeshift hospital. Captain Church and Sergeant Miller were captured and died later that day. Four enlisted men of the Twelfth New York Cavalry also died at Daniel's
Schoolhouse,67 Eighteen of Clarkson's men, including Lieutenants Mosher and Hubbard, were captured following the skirmish. Fourteen Union soldiers were wounded, and one Confederate report noted that "about twenty-five" horses were captured.68 Major Kennedy's troops were almost unscathed at Daniel's Schoolhouse: Capt. W. A. Thompson suffered a slight wound in one wrist, and one enlisted man was wounded.69 General Potter ordered Maj. George Cole to take three companies of the Third New York Cavalry across the river to help Major Clarkson. Cole's detachment crossed the bridge and traveled about a mile eastward along the River Road. Instead of finding Clarkson, Major Cole ran into another Rebel force--Lieutenant Colonel Lamb with Companies D and G of the Seventeenth North Carolina and a two-gun section of the Petersburg Artillery under command of Capt. Edward Graham. Lamb, who had left Fort Branch before dawn, held a good defensive position about a mile from Tarboro at the junction of the River Road and the Williamston Road. His right flank was anchored on the Tar River, and his left was protected by a swamp.70
Major Cole recorded that his men skirmished with the Confederates for about two hours. He sent for artillery support, and Lt. Jasper Myers of the Ordnance Corps brought a mountain howitzer to the scene. Lieutenant Clark, who had evidently been separated from his artillerymen and Clarkson's detachment in the fighting at Daniel's Schoolhouse, joined Cole and took command of the gun brought up by Lieutenant Myers.71 Capt. Thomas Norman and Company G of the Seventeenth North Carolina went forward and partially flanked Cole's line. When the Confederates opened fire, according to a Southern version, the Yankees "began to skedaddle and run for the bridge protecting themselves as well as they could by the dam or levee, which runs parallel to the river half or three-quarters of a mile."72
Major George W. Cole led three regiments of the Third New York Cavalry across the Tar River to assist Federal troops under the command of Maj. Floyd Clarkson who were involved in the skirmishing at Daniel's Schoolhouse. However, Cole and his men were intercepted by Confederate forces shortly after crossing the river and retreated back to Tarboro after two hours of brisk fighting. Photograph from the Roger D. Hunt Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute.The Confederates followed the fleeing Union troops. Captain Graham parked his two guns in a field and fired several shells at Major Cole's detachment. Graham's shells missed the Yankees but killed three grazing cows. Cole's men, and those of Clarkson's detachment who had escaped the conflict at Daniel's Schoolhouse, crossed the bridge back into Tarboro.73
General Potter thus found himself in trouble. He was deep in enemy territory and his troops were divided at one time into five separate groups. One detachment was still at Rocky Mount, and two companies were at Sparta. Potter's core force was established in Tarboro, and the separate units of Major Clarkson and Major Cole were under heavy attack in the countryside. Potter quickly reassembled his scattered forces. The Union troops began leaving Tarboro between four and five o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, July 20. To delay Confederate pursuit, they set the Tarboro bridge on fire shortly after the men under
command of Majors Clarkson and Cole had crossed the river. Cole stayed in Tarboro for a time to prevent the townspeople from putting out the fire on the bridge.74 When Major Jacobs and his men rode into Tarboro from Rocky Mount the entire Union force except for Major Cole's rear guard had already started for New Bern. Having heard that Jacobs was coming, Cole reportedly stayed behind to wait for him. Jacobs's men burned two warehouses and the ticket agent's office as they passed by the railroad depot on their way into town.75
Meanwhile, Major Kennedy's cavalrymen had reached the Tarboro bridge. Part of the bridge had been torn up, and the section on the Tarboro side was burning. The townspeople were rallied together to help fight the blaze, and former governor Clark was among the volunteer firefighters. By 8:00 PM. the fire was out and the bridge was hastily repaired to allow the cavalry to cross the river. However, Major Kennedy was denied permission to continue pursuit of Potter's force until the next day. 76
The Yankees rode as far as Sparta without incident. While passing through the plantation of Charles Vine, about a mile south of Sparta, General Potter's advance troops were attacked by about twenty men from the Seventh Confederate Cavalry. After killing only two Union cavalry horses, the Rebel horsemen turned and galloped down the road toward Falkland. Potter's advance troops followed and kept up a "running skirmish."77 Unknown to Potter, a detachment of 150 men of the Seventh Confederate Cavalry led by Maj. Thomas Claibourne was waiting to ambush the Union troops at the Otter Creek bridge near Falkland.78 While the Confederate advance party was scouting and skirmishing with Potter's troops, Major Claibourne ordered his men to destroy the bridge over Otter Creek. He also placed under cover between fifty and one hundred dismounted men as sharpshooters. The Confederates were in a good position to block the Yankee force, but Major Claibourne sprung his trap prematurely when he ordered his men to fire at first sight of the Union advance troops. The sudden fire gave General Potter ample warning that the road was blocked. The fighting that ensued continued for an hour before Col. William C. Claibourne, Major Claibourne's superior, arrived with reinforcements that included the Montgomery True Blues, a four-gun battery from Alabama. The True Blues, with larger, heavier field guns than the mountain howitzers employed by Major Claihourne, poured their fire into the Yankee position in the woods.79 Potter believed that Claihourne's men were "in considerable strength" and that "their position was a very difficult one to carry."80 He wanted an alternative to the delay and risk involved in a protracted fight at Otter Creek.
Help came from an unexpected source. Sgt. H. A. Cooley and some of his men from the Third New York Cavalry were exploring a road that led west into the woods. After riding about half a mile, they stopped at a house where a local black man told them about a ford
across Otter Creek that the Confederates had left unguarded.81 Sergeant Cooley relayed this information to General Potter. The Union forces rode to the ford and crossed the creek. Capt. Rowland M. Hall said that his men crossed the ford "up to our horses'" ears in water. A few pickets were left behind to continue the skirmishing and to act as a screen for the Yankees' escape. By 11:00 PM., General Potter and his men were reported to be at the home of Col. Walter Newton, four miles away from Colonel Claibourne.82
"Scarcely a mile" from the ford the Union troops ran into an ambush. Three Union artillerymen were wounded in the fight. Sergeant Cooley and his men charged with drawn sabers through the dark woods; however, their opponents disappeared into the forest.83 Sources from Pitt County record that a local militia officer, Col. Walter Newton, and an individual only identified as W. B. F. Newton fired at the Union troops a short distance from the ford in Otter Creek. Their shots "did no damage," and the two men escaped. Later that night some of General Potter's men set fire to Colonel Newton's house, but his slaves quickly put out the fire.84 After "taking a very intricate path through a plantation," the Union troops reached a "piney woods road" and began an all-night march toward New Bern.85
"A while after midnight," Pvt. Andrew McIntyre, who had been captured at the depot in Rocky Mount, escaped. He rode through the night and reached Wilson the next morning.86 Also during the night, a few of Potter's men were taken prisoner. The Raleigh Daily Progress reported that "three Yankee stragglers, exhausted, drunk, and indifferent to their fate, were captured by citizens" near Otter Creek.87
Back at the Otter Creek bridge, Colonel Claibourne's cannon continued firing into the woods that had been abandoned by General Potter. A disgusted Southerner later wrote that the colonel shelled the empty woods all night, "to the destruction of nothing except the limbs of a few unoffending trees that couldn't retreat."88 At that point a Confederate heroine played a role in the events. "A patriotic and heroic young lady," named Mrs. Drake, "who resided not far from Otter Creek bridge, hastened at the dawn of day" to warn the Confederates that the Yankees had escaped. One writer noted that Mrs. Drake "passed through it all" as "the firing was going on and our shot [was] hurling through the trees." Despite Mrs. Drake's warning, Colonel Claibourne reportedly did not cease fire until 5:30 A.M. It was 9:00 A.M. before the colonel allowed any of his men to pursue the raiders.89 At daybreak Potter's force halted "to graze their horses and take a short rest" at Grirasley's Church, about three and a half miles north of Snow Hill and more than fifteen miles from
Otter Creek and Colonel Claibourne.90 An angry Greene County resident alleged that a number of "tories" (Unionists) living near Grimsley's Church received preferential treatment from General Potter. Supposedly two horses belonging to W. P. Grimsley were confiscated by the raiders; but, when Mr. Grimsley explained "his position" to the general, the Yankees gave him six horses to replace the two they had taken. The same source charged, "they told Mr. Grimsley's negroes to stay at home, while they took care to carry off all they could get belonging to rebels."91
By this time, early on the morning of Tuesday, July 21, reports of Potter's raid were alarming much of eastern North Carolina. Brigadier General Martin telegraphed Governor Vance that scattered forces of Confederate troops were converging on Potter. A force from Wilson, under command of "Col. Pool," was following the Union troops. Major Claibourne was between Sparta and Tarboro, and Colonel Claibourne was at Falkland--together the major and colonel commanded 350 cavalrymen and five cannons. "Maj. Saunders" was at Greenville with about 150 men and some artillery, and 600 infantrymen and six cannons had been dispatched from Kinston to intercept the raiders.92 The closest Confederate units to Potter were two companies of the Seventh Confederate Cavalry that were commanded by Capts. Franklin Pitt and Lycurgus Barrett. These companies fired on the Yankees but were ineffective. Major Cole, commanding the rear guard, later wrote that his men were "annoyed all day by the firing of a squadron of rebel cavalry."
Twice, the Confederates were driven off by grapeshot and canister fired from one of Cole's mountain howitzers.93 The Union forces were hemmed into a triangle of Greene County land marked off by Big Contentnea Creek to the south and Little Contenmea Creek to the north. A number of sources mention that July had been a month with heavy rains and that the creeks and rivers were running high making it difficult to ford large streams. To return to the guaranteed safety of New Bern, the Yankees would have to cross either Big Contentnea Creek at EdwardsBridge or Little Contentnea Creek at the Scuffleton bridge.94 The bridge at Little Contentnea Creek, near the village of Scuffleton, was along the most direct route back to Swift Creek Village and New Bern. The first troops to arrive at the Scuffleton bridge were some of Colonel Claibourne's Seventh Confederate Cavalry, part of Whitford's Battalion, and the Montgomery True Blues. Dr. W. J. Blow of Greenville, "a gentleman thoroughly acquainted with the country," was on the scene and "entreated" Colonel Claibourne to wait for General Potter at the Scuffleton bridge. Colonel Claibourne, however, decided to move most of the men to Edwards Bridge on Big Contentnea Creek.95
Colonel Claibourne left a few dozen soldiers from Whitford's Battalion at the Scuffleton bridge with orders to burn it. Inexplicably the men only pulled up some of the floor planks. At nightfall on Tuesday, July 21, General Potter's advance troops, under command of Major Jacobs, reached Scuffleton, The Rebels at the bridge exchanged a few shots with the enemy, and the Union troops lost two horses. The Confederates then scattered, but eleven of Whitford's men were captured.96 The Yankees used fence rails to repair the bridge flooring and then crossed Little Contentnea Creek. Although it was alleged that a soldier from Whitford's Battalion escaped and informed Colonel Claibourne that the Union troops were crossing the creek at Scuffleton, the colonel did not order his men to intercede.97
By the time General Potter crossed the Scuffleton bridge a large contingent of contrabands (fugitive slaves) had joined the march in order to cross Union lines and obtain freedom. Piled into a motley assortment of farm wagons and fine carriages or mounted on mules and horses captured from their former masters by Potter's men, the contrabands had grown to a great number by the time they reached Little Contentnea Creek.95 Until reaching Scuffleton, Major Cole's men had been protecting the rear of the entire column of Union troops and contrabands. Lt. Col. George Lewis ordered Cole to "pass the negro column" and rejoin the rest of the cavalry. Major Cole obeyed his orders and rode forward.99
At dawn on Wednesday, July 22, far behind Potter, the rear of the contraband column was at a plantation in southern Pitt County known as the Burney Place. There they collided with the Fiftieth North Carolina Infantry, which was in pursuit of the Union troops. Pvt. Kinchen John Carpenter of the Fiftieth wrote that "on reaching the Burney Place, we opened fire on the column with a small brass cannon mounted on the back of a mule, the shock being so unexpected to the enemy that the effect was indescribable." Another account stated that "the great cavalcade, composed of men, women, and children, perched on wagons, carts, buggies, carriages, and mounted on horses and mules . . . was suddenly halted by our fire upon the bridge. . . . In the excitement and confusion which ensued many of the vehicles were upset in attempting to turn around in the road and many others were wrecked by the frightened horses dashing through the woods."100
While the Fiftieth North Carolina was occupied with recapturing the fugitive slaves at the Burney Place, the Yankees were moving closer to New Bern. In a successful effort to buy more time for escape, Potter's men scattered some of their booty along the road. The Confederate troops, influenced by wartime scarcities and greed, frequently stopped to help themselves to the plunder they found. Even after the raid citizens looking for their stolen property were held back until Colonel Claibourne's men had taken their pick of the plundered goods. The soldiers reasoned that their regiment had "frightened the enemy, and
Taking advantage of the chaos caused by Potter's Raid, many slaves in the area escaped, joined Federal troops returning to New Bern, and crossed into Union-controlled territory and freedom. In New Bern a number of "contrabands" (fugitive slaves) found employment with the Federal government as teamsters, laborers, craftsmen, or soldiers, Pictured here is a group of contrabands, probably in New Bern. Photograph from the Massachusetts MOLLUS Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute.the men should have whatever they wished before the owners should be allowed to assert their rights."101
General Potter reached Swift Creek Village on the morning of Wednesday, July 22. The men had ridden without rest since crossing the Scuffleton bridge the previous evening. After a four-hour halt, the exhausted cavalrymen pushed themselves and their mounts for a final ride along the road west toward Street's Ferry on the Neuse River. Street's Ferry was a midpoint--eight miles from Swift Creek Village and eight miles upstream from New Bern, which lay on the opposite side of the Neuse. Immediately upon his noon arrival at Street's Ferry General Potter sent to New Bern for help.102 Shortly thereafter the Union troops were attacked by about fifty men of the Seventh Confederate Cavalry under the command of Major Claibourne. The skirmishing continued through the afternoon and centered around the Union mountain howitzers, which were positioned to guard the road to Street's Ferry.103 During one stage of the fighting Major Cole was surprised to discover that the men from part of his right line had withdrawn from the front. The men said they had been ordered
to pull back, but Cole never gave such an order. The Opposing lines were so close together that a creative Confederate soldier had simply shouted the order to retreat to Cole's troops. Major Cole sent the men forward to their old position. Two Union soldiers were captured before the fighting ceased at nightfall.104
Additional Confederate troops joined those besieging the Union forces. Major Kennedy's men rode in from Tarboro and entered the skirmishing. About seventy men from the Fiftieth North Carolina straggled in after dark "broken down with fatigue, heat, and hunger." Private Carpenter thought that perhaps a quarter of his regiment arrived at Street's Ferry that evening after marching forty-eight miles in the previous twenty-four hours. The others had fallen behind or collapsed as a result of the oppressive July heat.105
The Confederate officers planned a morning assault on the enemy camp. These plans were dashed at midnight when two gunboats, accompanied by a pair of steamboats carrying pontoon bridge materials, landed at Street's Ferry. General Potter's men were safe. When word of the Union reinforcements reached the Rebel authorities they ordered their men at Street's Ferry to leave their campfires burning and fall back toward Kinston.106 There were at least two schools of thought explaining the Confederate withdrawal. For Maj. John T. Kennedy it "was a blow entirely unexpected and well calculated to vex and perplex troops who had been doing faithful duty." On the other hand, Private Carpenter was not too upset. Reasoning that the Rebel troops were exhausted and outnumbered, he wrote that "if the enemy had turned upon us we would have been in a poor position for giving battle."107
The Union troops quickly began building a pontoon bridge across the Neuse River. At 7:00 A.M. on Thursday, July 23, Potter's men and the refugee column began crossing to the south bank of the river. By noon almost everyone was safe. Sergeant Cooley and his relieved comrades felt that they "could now laugh at the Rebs and their pieces." When the last Union soldiers had crossed the river, the troops dismantled the bridge and loaded bridge pieces back onto the steamboats, along with the Confederate prisoners, the contrabands, and the captured horses.108 As the bridge was being taken apart a few Confederate soldiers "began to show themselves" on the north bank of the river. On the south bank, Major Cole forbade his men to waste any ammunition on the distant Rebels. Potter's Raid drew to a quiet finish as the
Many of the Federal troops who participated in Potter's Raid returned to Grove Camp, near New Bern. The camp served as a base for the Third New York Cavalry and the Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry. Photograph from the Massachusetts MOLLUS Collection, U.S. Army Military History Institute.frustrated Confederates watched the Yankees disappear across the Neuse and head for their camps at New Bern.109 Potter's men were weary, but proud of their achievements. Sergeant Cooley perhaps spoke for many of his comrades when he wrote, "by noon, we were back at Camp Grove, nearly worn out, where we got a chance to look back and see through what we had passed and it made me shudder to think ........ six days and five nights of marching with only two feed of oats and three days' rations for the men . . . only 8 hours sleep the whole time." Cooley concluded his letter to his father by writing, "this I consider the greatest cavalry raid ever made by so small a force in this war."110
Capt. Rowland M. Hall of the Third New York Cavalry lamented, "my old horse, I think, will never recover. I had to leave him to be walked home five miles from camp. He was reeling under me--almost all our horses are spoiled, I fear permanently." Yet Hall was pleased
with the results of the raid. "Our raid to Rocky Mount was eminently and gloriously successful," he wrote to his father.111 Reflecting on the raid General Potter wrote, "the behavior of the officers and men of the command was excellent. They bore with cheerfulness the fatigue of long marches, and the loss of food, sleep, and rest. They displayed great dash and courage in all our encounters with the enemy."112 Potter's Raid had been successful--the Union cavalry had inflicted great damage on important Confederate targets in the Tar River region. Traffic on the vital Wilmington and Weldon Railroad was badly snarled by the burning of the bridge at Rocky Mount. The Southern war effort was deprived of badly needed rolling stock and equipment by the destruction of the engine, cars, and railroad buildings at the Rocky Mount depot. The burning of the Governor Morehead and the Colonel Hill ended Confederate steamboat traffic on the Tar River for the remainder of the war. The unfinished gunboat in the Tarboro shipyard was destroyed and was to be the last attempt to build a Confederate ironclad on the Tar River. The Rocky Mount Mills, North Carolina's largest cotton mill, was a smoking ruin, as was a great variety of important stockpiles of Confederate war materials and provisions. A large number of horses and mules, scarce in the war-ravaged South, were either taken to New Bern or killed along the way. And lastly "over 100" prisoners were brought back to New Bern, along with three hundred newly freed slaves."113
Potter's casualties were quite low--only six Union soldiers lost their lives on the raid. A total of seventy-five were either wounded, missing, captured, or killed.114 General Potter later stated that forty-three of his men were missing; except for the four who died at Daniel's Schoolhouse, these men were presumably captured and sent to Confederate prisons.115 Various accounts present conflicting totals for the number of fugitive slaves recaptured by Confederate troops from the fleeing Union column. One report claimed that more than 160 contrabands were being held in Kinston following the raid.116 The Confederate troops captured by Union forces during the raid were sent to prison camps in the North. The enlisted men were paroled after a few weeks, but the four Confederate
officers taken on the raid were to spend the remainder of the war imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Ohio.117 Furious blasts of print poured forth from outraged North Carolina newspapermen in the weeks following the raid. Confederate anger at the "depredations" by Yankee "barbarians" was equaled only by the resentment and fury directed at the Confederate government and military for not catching the raiders. The "scoundrels" had been permitted to escape "back to their dens without punishment."118 One typical lament asked, "how can the brave boys of Carolina, scattered over the whole Confederacy, be but despondent, when they see her perfectly denuded of troops, their homes left open to every little chicken-stealing party of the enemy that stick their heads out of Newberne?"119
Several officers were accused of incompetence and cowardice. Col. William C. Claibourne of the Seventh Confederate Cavalry received the greatest criticism. Public opinion condemned him for allowing the Union troops to cross Otter Creek and for remaining at Edwards Bridge while Potter's forces crossed Little Contentnea Creek at Scuffleton. Colonel Claibourne was arrested on August 17, but he was allowed to resign rather than face a court of inquiry.120 Although the Confederate commander of the District of North Carolina, Brig. Gen. James G. Martin, was criticized for his actions, he retained the confidence of his commanding officer. Brig. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting, the Confederate commander of the District of the Cape Fear, wrote to the Confederate secretary of war that General Martin "was directed to cut off their retreat, if he could not prevent their reaching the railroad. But this is difficult with infantry against cavalry, and when accomplished, is due either to great good fortune in striking the road of retreat, or great blundering on the part of the enemy." In the same letter Whiting made another of his repeated requests for more cavalry to help protect North Carolina. General Martin was also defended in print by Maj. John Whitford, who asked one of Martin's critics, "I wonder if the writer was in the advance after the enemy to Street's Ferry?"12l
Although Potter's Raid was a Union success, it had some positive effects for the Confederacy. Brig. Gen. Matt W. Ransom was sent by train from Virginia with a regiment of infantry to repel Potter from Rocky Mount. Ransom arrived too late to interfere with Potter but was able to turn back a large Union force that threatened the vital rail center at Weldon a few days later. Subsequently the Confederate government strengthened its forces in the region, especially along the Roanoke River where the armored gunboat Albemarle was under construction. These forces helped to dissuade the Union from launching a raid to destroy the gunboat. In April 1864 the completed Albemarle sailed down the Roanoke and helped Brig. Gen. Robert E. Hoke capture the Union garrison of almost three thousand men at Plymouth in what was the South's greatest victory in North Carolina.122
Echoes of Potter's Raid continued to sound for many years. In 1898 a man in Ithaca, New York, wrote a query to the Greenville newspaper, the Eastern Reflector. The man owned a "complete Shakespeare" that had belonged to a Confederate officer, Capt. T. S. Barton, and the man wanted to return the volume to its original owner. The book contained a notation- "Captured July 19, 1863 at Greenville, N.C., from a Rebel [orderly?] by E. B. W"12 The odyssey of the regalia looted from the Tarhoro Masonic lodge eventually came to an end. In 1886 the Masonic lodge in Delhi, New York, returned one of the silver objects that had been taken during the raid. The Delhi Masons also returned another Masonic item, which came from an anonymous donor.124 Strangest of all, a final Tarboro Masonic piece was found in Arizona in 1891 among the possessions of a man who had been killed by Apache warriors. The piece was given to a Mason who traced the piece's origin to the Tarboro lodge.125
The final reminder of the threats of Union raids in eastern North Carolina during the Civil War, Greenville's Confederate earthworks, survived decades of wind and rain, until they were destroyed in the early 1960s by the building of new dormitories at East Carolina University.126 The raid undertaken by Brig. Gen. Edward E. Potter was one small incident that was soon overshadowed by far larger battles and campaigns. But it should be remembered that such small actions were as much a part of the Civil War as the famous epic battles and were perhaps more typical of the experiences faced by soldiers and civilians. A close look at this raid in a relatively quiet part of the Confederacy serves to shed light on a heretofore neglected aspect of America's great sectional conflict.
Mr. Norris is an independent historian and writer living in Greenville, North Carolina.
"Danielhurst" was the home of planter and minister John Daniel, who donated the land for an "old field school" that was a small one-room schoolhouse and the site of the skirmish at Daniel's schoolhouse.
"Danielhurst" is on U.S. 64 a few miles east of Tarboro, but David Norris does not know the exact location of the schoolhouse.
See http://www.edgecombearts.org/historic-trails-program.htm for files (off this site) to discover how Tarboro and Edgecombe County have recently been included in the National Civil War Trails program, through the North Carolina Division of Tourism and the National Civil War Trails system. Information is given about the raid on Tarboro and the Battle at Daniel's School House. (Thanks to Larry Crane email@example.com for alerting me to this link in June 2008.)