Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Sherman at Cheraw

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

Sherman at Cheraw

Article excerpt

"THE REGION OF COUNTRY HEREABOUT IS NOT OF MUCH VALUE to the enemy, either in a military or commercial point of view," wrote Brigadier General John H. Trapier from his headquarters at Georgetown, South Carolina, in the fall of 1863.1 The Confederate commander was speaking specifically of the port at the mouth of the Great Pee Dee River and the adjacent seacoast, but his generalization applied to the entire Pee Dee region of South Carolina. For most of the Civil War, the Pee Dee flowed unmolested from its origin at the confluence of the Yadkin River and the Uwharrie River in North Carolina along a southeasterly course through northeastern South Carolina until reaching the coast at Winyah Bay. The comparative tranquility of the region came to an abrupt end during the last few months of the war when the arrival of Sherman's army at Cheraw dramatically changed strategic imperatives all along the Pee Dee River. Throughout the Civil War, the principal military developments in the Pee Dee region and along the nearby seaboard were interrelated. The direct impact of the war fell first upon Georgetown and the coastal area at the mouth of the river where the Confederacy undertook defensive measures and where the routine of the Federal blockade soon began. The military situation at Georgetown contributed to the decision to locate a Confederate navy yard at Mars Bluff, about 100 miles upriver, where the C.S.S. Pedee was constructed. The apparent seclusion of the region from military events encouraged the establishment in 1864 of a prisoner of war camp at Florence, a few miles upstream from Mars Bluff. The port at Georgetown, the navy yard at Mars Bluff, and the internment camp at Florence attracted minimal Federal attention until early 1865 when Sherman's army began moving toward Cheraw, located on the Pee Dee just below the North Carolina border 170 miles above the river's mouth.' Sherman's advance changed everything. The Union navy moved against Georgetown; the commandant of the prison at Florence became anxious to move the prisoners out of Sherman's path; and the C.S.S. Pedee undertook its only combat assignment of the Civil War. The central events of Sherman's march through the Pee Dee region were the clash of Federal and Confederate forces at Cheraw and vicinity, the hurried withdrawal of the Confederates across the Pee Dee River, and the occupation of Cheraw while the Federals bridged and crossed the Pee Dee.

Georgetown, centrally located in the rice growing region of South Carolina, was a minor port with a peacetime population of about 1,500. Although ships of the Federal blockading fleet patrolled the seas off Georgetown and although blockade runners sometimes made daring runs in and out of the port, Georgetown was not well suited to the wartime needs of the Confederacy. The main ship channel at the entrance of Winyah Bay was only eleven and one-half feet deep at normal high tide, significantly restricting the size of vessels that could enter. Transportation above the port was difficult because Georgetown had no direct railroad connection and sharp bends in the lower Pee Dee generally prevented ocean going ships from passing upriver. Cargoes arriving in Georgetown for shipment into the interior usually traveled up the Pee Dee in smaller boats to the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad bridge at Mars Bluff.' For most of the war, Georgetown was poorly defended- In late 1861 engineers established shore batteries on islands near the entrance to Winyah Bay to repel invaders and to protect blockade runners using the port at Georgetown, but requirements for troops and for coastal artillery elsewhere in the Confederacy forced abandonment of these defenses in the spring of 1862. The Union navy soon discovered the lack of defenses in the lower bay and dominated the entrance for the remainder of the war. To command upper Winyah Bay, the Confederates constructed Battery White. Although never quite completed, the battery was well designed, admirably located, and eventually equipped with sufficient artillery to make it formidable, but the size of the garrison was inadequate. …

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