History and Names of 32nd Regiment

The Thirty-Second Regiment U.S.C.T. – a history


The troops composing this regiment were principally raised in Pennsylvania, though detachments were received from several neighboring States. It was organized at Camp William Penn, the general camp of rendezvous for colored troops in Pennsylvania, in March, 1864, with the following field officers:

  • George W. Baird, Colonel
  • Edward C. Geary, Lieutenant Colonel
  • Benjamin W. Thompson, Major

The regiment was ordered to duty in the Department of the South, and arrived at Hilton Head on the 27th of April. It was here assigned to a brigade of colored troops, commanded by Colonel Bailey, in which it was associated with the First Michigan, and Ninth United States, and was posted beyond the intrenchments, where it was engaged in drill, guard, and fatigue duty. It was subsequently sent to Folly and Morris islands, where it participated in the operations against Charleston; but returned again to Hilton Head in November.

Towards the close of November, General Foster, in command of the Department, was directed by General Halleclk to make a demonstration in the direction of Pocotaligo, for the purpose of diverting attention from General Sherman’s front, who was now approaching the sea. Foster could spare but five thousand troops for this purpose, and with these, ascending the Broad River in transports to Boyd’s Neck, he landed and hurried forward a force under General J. P. Hatch, to break the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. The Thirty-second was in Hatch’s command. On the morning of the 30th, Hatch encountered a rebel force under command of General Gustavus W. Smith, at Honey Hill, three miles from Grahamsville, in a commanding position behind breast-works. Hatch immediately attacked, and though pushing his advance with obstinacy and bravery, he was compelled to fall back, sustaining heavy losses. The Thirty-second had nine killed and forty-two wounded. Lieutenant Robert D. Winters received a mortal wound, and died on the 22d of December. Lieutenant Colonel Geary was severely wounded, by which he was incapacitated from further duty.

Intent on the purpose of his expedition, Foster sent a force under General E. E. Potter, across the Coosawhatchie to Deveaux Neck, where, on the 6th of December, he seized a position commanding the railroad, which he began to fortify. Early on the following morning, the enemy approached stealthily and attacked, thinking to surprise the Union forces. The attack fell mainly on the right wing of the division, the Thirty-second holding the extreme right of the line, company A, standing upon the right of the regiment, receiving the first shock. The regiment was taken unawares, but rallied manfully and repulsed the attack, the position being held without further molestation until General Sherman, in triumph, entered Savannah. Companies A, F, and D, sustained the severest losses.

The loss in the regiment was nine killed, thirty-nine wounded, and one missing. Captains Robert W. C. Farnsworth, George M. Templeton, and Augustus A. Woodward were among the wounded, the latter mortally.

On the 14th of February, General Potter moved with his command for a diversion in favor of General Schimmelfennig, who was operating against Charleston. Landing on James Island, Potter charged and drove the enemy from his works. In this engagement Colonel Baird was wounded, and the regiment sustained, besides, considerable loss.
On the following morning, Potter re-embarked his troops, and proceeding to Ball’s Bay, landed under fire of the gun-boats, at a point on the coast fifteen miles north-east of Charleston, with the design of cutting off the retreat of the enemy from that city, but arrived too late to effect the purpose. Two days were spent in scouring the country, following the enemy along the railroad towards Cheraw, to the crossing of the Santee. Potter then marched down and entered the city on the evening of the 18th, the day of the surrender.

At the beginning of April, it was discovered that the enemy was moving his naval stores, and other property of the rebel government inland. General Potter was sent with his division to intercept them. Landing at Georgetown, on the Winyaw Bay, he marched to Florence, thence to Manchester Junction, and thence to Camden, the terminus of the railroad. Returning again to Manchester, he there came upon the trains, capturing twenty locomotives, and two hundred cars heavily laden with naval and military stores.
In this expedition, the Thirty-second was kept upon the march, skirmishing almost daily, for nearly three weeks, participating in brisk engagements at Sumpterville, and at three other points along the Wateree, between Camden and Statesboro. At two o’clock on the afternoon of the 9th, after having had a running fight during all the earlier part of the day, the joyful intelligence was received by flag of truce, of the surrender of Lee; but on the following morning, the joy was turned to mourning, by the sad news of the assassination of President Lincoln.

After the cessation of hostilities, the regiment performed garrison duty at Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head. About the middle of August, it was relieved from duty, and returned to Philadelphia, where, on the 22d, it was mustered out of service.

Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 , Harrisburg, 1868-1871.

Organized at Camp William Penn, Philadelphia, Pa., February 7 to March 7, 1864.
Ordered to Hilton Head, S.C., April, 1864, arriving April 27.
Attached to Bailey’s Brigade, District of Hilton Head, S.C., Dept. of the South, to June. 1864.
Morris Island, S. C, Northern District, Dept. of the South, to October, 1864.
3rd Separate Brigade, Hilton Head, S.C., Dept. of the South, to November, 1864.
2nd Brigade, Coast Division, Dept. of the South, to December, 1864.
2nd Separate Brigade, Dept. of the South, to June, 1865.
Dept. of the South to August, 1865.

Ordered to Hilton Head, S.C., April, 1864, and duty there till June.
Moved to Morris Island, S.C., and duty there operating against Charleston, S. C., till November.
Expedition to Boyd’s Neck November 28-30.
Battle of Honey Hill November 30.
Demonstration on Charleston & Savannah Railroad December 6-9.
Devaux’s Neck December 6.
James Island February 14, 1865.
Occupation of Charleston February 18.
Potter’s Expedition April 5-25.
Dingle’s Mills April 9.
Statesboro April 15.
Occupation of Camden April 17.
Boydkin’s Mills April 18.
Beach Creek near Statesburg and Denken’s Mills April 19.
Garrison duty at Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head, S.C., till August.
Mustered out August 22, 1865.

Regiment lost during service:
2 Officers and 35 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
113 Enlisted men by disease.
Total 150.

The 32nd USCT Regiment – They Were There – The Battle of Honey Hill, SC

November 30, 1864
CWSAC Classification – C

In early November 1864, Union MG William T. Sherman was in Atlanta, Georgia, which he had captured in early September, finalizing plans for his next campaign. He was determined to march his “army right through the South” as “proof positive that the North can prevail in this contest”. The plan Sherman proposed and won approval for was a route of march from Atlanta to “the seashore at Charleston (South Carolina) or Savannah (Georgia)”.

On 11 November 1864, Sherman requested support for his campaign by telegraphing Union Chief of Staff, Major General Henry W. Halleck in Washington, D.C. He stated, “I would like to have Major General John G. Foster, Commander of the Union’s Department of the South to break the Savannah and Charleston (rail) road about Pocotaligo, South Carolina about 1 December.” The Savannah to Charleston railroad was the line of supply and communication for the two objectives of Sherman’s campaign. The first objective was to break the 102-mile long railroad to interrupt supplies and reinforcements that could reach the enemy on his front and the second was to cut the rail line to prevent the escape of Confederate Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s 10,000-man force which was defending Savannah.

Unfortunately, Halleck muddled Sherman’s clear and succinct request when he passed it on to Foster. Writing to Foster, Halleck said, “Sherman wishes you, if possible, to cut the Savannah and Charleston Railroad” but then Halleck added the muddle, “at all events, a demonstration on that road will be of advantage.” A military demonstration implies a threatening move toward an enemy position but not necessarily the occupation of the position and is used to pin enemy forces in place and or draw reinforcements away from the true objective. The ever-cautious Halleck had subtly altered Sherman’s request, reducing it to a less ambitious and less decisive objective.

The battle of Honey Hill would take place in Jasper County, South Carolina. The County is the southernmost county in the U.S. state of South Carolina. Its county seat is Ridgeland. The county was formed in 1912 from portions of Hampton County and Beaufort County.

Jasper County is located in the Low country region of the state and is included in the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC Metropolitan Statistical Area. For several decades, in contrast to neighboring Beaufort County, Jasper was one of the poorest counties in the state.

Major General John Hatch

Foster, with the help of Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren, quickly organized a force that was given the name, the Coast Division, that included 5,000 soldiers and about 500 Sailors and Marines under the command of Union Brigadier General John P. Hatch. The division and brigades were provisional organizations made up of hastily assembled units stationed along the Atlantic Coast from Charleston to Florida. The Coast Division sailed on 27 November, 1864 from Morris and Folly Islands near Charleston and headed for Hilton Head, South Carolina. The division rendezvoused with other troops at Hilton Head and then departed in the early morning of 29 November up the Broad River. The plan was to disembark at Boyd’s Landing, march the nine miles to the Savannah and Charleston Railroad located one mile beyond Grahamville (present-day Ridgeland), South Carolina and then physically occupy the railroad, tear up the tracks, burn railroad buildings and destroy nearby railroad bridges.

As planned, Hatch disembarked at Boyd’s Landing and marched inland. Once ashore, the Union’s lack of accurate maps coupled with inept or devious local guides led to aimless marching and counter-marching throughout the day. Union soldiers, sailors and marines marched up to fifteen miles during the day and into the night only to advance a total of three miles toward the railroad, ending the day still seven miles short of their objective. The Coast Division had missed its best opportunity to reach the Savannah and Charleston Railroad virtually unopposed.

Fortune smiled on the Confederates throughout the 29th since the only units available to oppose the Union’s 5,500-man Coast Division were small vedettes of the 3rd SC Cavalry, about 246 men dispersed to guard possible landing sites and four batteries of artillery which comprised a total of 415 men. These troops were deployed to guard the three avenues of approach to Grahamville. The Confederates used this reprieve to organize a defensive force to oppose the Union incursion.

The defense of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad was the responsibility of the 3rd South Carolina Military District Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles J. Colcock. Alerted by the vedettes, the 32nd GA and 47th GA Regiments were ordered by Hardee (in Savannah) from Charleston to Grahamville via the Savannah and Charleston Railroad.

Brigadier General Charles Chestnut’s 350-man SC Reserve Regiment in Augusta, Georgia was ordered to Grahamville but would not arrive until midnight on the day of battle, while Brigadier General Lawrence S. Baker’s 1,960-man NC Brigade traveling from North Carolina would began arriving just before daybreak on the day after the battle. The nearest infantry units that could reach the area in time were the 1,880-man Georgia Militia Brigades and Battalions under the command of Major General Gustavus W. Smith, presently on a north bound train heading for Savannah. Smith’s entire Georgia Militia Division was scheduled to make the trip to Savannah from Macon, Georgia but a lack of rolling stock limited all but two brigades and two battalions from making the journey. The train carrying the Georgia Militia units arrived in Savannah at 0200 on the day of battle. Aware of the emergency, Hardee ordered the Georgia Militia units to continue with the 50-mile train ride from Savannah to Grahamville.

At first, Smith resisted sending his Georgia troops beyond the borders of his state to fight in South Carolina. Smith’s Georgia Militia Division had recently fought a disastrous battle on 22 November where they made a frontal assault on Sherman’s entrenched veteran rearguard at Griswoldville, Georgia. Smith’s Division suffered more than 600 casualties to the Union’s 95. His troops were exhausted, having traveled from Macon to Savannah. With the direct path blocked by Sherman’s forces, the circuitous route entailed a rail journey of 95 miles, a 55-mile road march in 54 hours and then another 200-mile rail ride to reach Savannah. After Hardee explained the situation, Smith consented and continued on the 50-mile train ride to Grahamville although without prior approval to move his Georgia Militia units from the state. Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown later approved of the deployment after learning the details.

Colonel Charles J. Colcock, CSA

On the morning of the battle, Wednesday, 30 November, 1864, Confederate forces formed around Grahamville and the nearby Savannah and Charleston Railroad Depot. Colcock had planned to be married this day but left his bride to be in Savannah the night before. Accompanied by elements of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry, he rode nearly 50 miles to arrive in Grahamville at 7.00 a.m. In addition, other elements of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry and artillery were arriving from various points and at 8:00 a.m., elements of Smith’s Georgia Militia began arriving by train from Savannah. The 47th Georgia also arrived by train from Charleston in time to march to Honey Hill and form on the Confederate right flank between 11:00 a.m. and noon. Brigadier General Robertson’s reinforcements arrived on the field at 4:30 p.m. as the battle sputtered to a halt. They were held as a reserve in case the battle resumed.

General Smith arrived at 8:00 a.m. and put Colcock in charge of selecting and preparing the most advantageous defensive position to engage the Coast Division. Colcock was an inspired choice. Before the war he was a local planter, and had founded the Savannah & Charleston Railroad which he was defending. He was intimately familiar with the area of operations.

Colcock chose to delay the Union forces by deploying two companies of his 3rd South Carolina Cavalry and two Napoleons of Lieutenant Zealy’s artillery section on the Grahamville Road east of Honey Hill. The Napoleon Gun Howitzer was the most popular, common, and deadly field piece of the American Civil War. Developed under the auspices of Louis Napoleon of France, it first appeared in the American artillery in 1857. In the North, the smoothbore Napoleon was officially designated the “light 12-pounder gun”. A Napoleon fired a 12.3 lb projectile and had a maximum effective range of about 1,600 yards. Union Napoleons had a slight swell at the muzzle of the 4.62 inch bore. The barrel with its carriage weighed 2,445 pounds, light enough to be hauled by men for short distances, however, the usual method of transportation was by a six-horse team with a driver aside one of each pair of horses. The Confederacy produced a great many Napoleons, the majority out of bronze. Confederate made pieces were generally tapered and some iron variants had a band-reinforced breech.

The troops of the Coast Division were advancing methodically along the Grahamville Road as they finally had discovered the correct route to the railroad. Fighting an inspired delaying action from three different defensive positions, the small Confederate force delayed the Union force for two and one-half critical hours, allowing the Georgia Militia and South Carolina Artillery units time to occupy and prepare the Honey Hill fortifications shortly before the arrival of the advancing Coast Division.

The site Colcock chose as his main line of defense was an old position of fortifications at Honey Hill, located three miles east of Grahamville. The mile-long fortifications were constructed when General Robert E. Lee commanded the area from November, 1861 through February, 1862. Two artillery redoubts were built, rifle-pits were constructed on both flanks and trees were cleared from the front of the improved positions to provide clear fields of fire. The fortification had not been maintained since 1862, but it had not deteriorated and was still viable.

Colcock ordered the bridge on the Grahamville Road over Euwah Creek dismantled as his troops finished preparing the fortified position just minutes ahead of the Union advance. He then informed Smith that all was in readiness and tendered his resignation from further command, as Smith was the senior commander on the field. Smith replied, “No, Colonel, you have prepared so fine an entertainment that you must receive your guests.”

The Confederate position was strong in the center but weaker on the flanks. The Honey Hill artillery redoubt was an open earthwork with embrasures for four guns and extended two hundred feet on each side of the Grahamville Road. The terrain immediately in front of the artillery redoubt was comparatively open. At 150 yards to the front, the shallow, and sluggish Euhaw Creek which was two feet deep and 20 yards wide, opened up into a marsh on both sides with a heavy growth of trees and dense underbrush that ran along the frontage of the entire position. The obvious approach to the Confederate position was by the Grahamville Road but the Union commanders were completely unaware of the existence of the earthworks despite the fact they had been built over two years before.

For the past day and a half, Hatch and the Coast Division were opposed by small skirmishing elements of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry and, at times, two guns. In each action, the Confederates were either repulsed as they skirmished along the line of communication leading to Boyd’s Landing or fought a delaying action as the Union troops advanced along the Grahamville Road. However, this situation was about to change.

The Grahamville Road approaching the Confederate position made a sharp turn to the left as it passed through the thick forest and swamp. The improved positions were nearly invisible to the Union troops as they entered the turn and advanced along the road in march column. At 11:00 a.m. the Union column rounded the turn and the Confederates opened fire on the column with canister and musketry. The Union troops were repulsed and the Battle of Honey Hill had begun.

Hatch spent the next hour forming a line of battle with Brigadier General Potter’s 1st Brigade on either side of the Grahamville Road and drove the Confederate skirmishers from the thick woods back into their improved position. Then at about noon, regimental commanders on their own initiative began to make uncoordinated and mostly unsupported attacks on the Confederate works. These attacks continued throughout the afternoon.

The 35th United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiment made one unsupported charge up the Grahamville Road to Honey Hill and was repulsed. The 55th Massachusetts (Colored) regiment then charged up the Grahamville Road to Honey Hill three times, each charge with 5 of 8 companies in field column. The second assault received a supporting charge on their left flank from the 127th New York regiment. All three of these charges were repulsed. The 25th Ohio regiment charged unsupported on the Confederate rifle-pits north of Honey Hill and was repulsed. Each assault was repulsed and defeated in detail as the Confederates were allowed to concentrate sequentially their fire on one

Union attack at a time. Between and during these assaults, the front line Union regiments engaged the Confederate position with small arms fire. The Confederates noted that the Union uphill fire usually passed over their heads and did little damage while their downhill fire was much more effective.

Other Union forces that participated in the Honey Hill encounter were the 32nd, 34th, 35th and 102nd USCT regiments. The widely known 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Infantry joined the 55th Colored Volunteer Infantry which was also from that state. Other forces involved were the 56th New York Infantry, the 144th New York Infantry and the 157th New York Volunteer Infantry. These units were supported by a Naval Brigade, 3 Artillery Brigades and 2 Companies of Cavalry.

The Confederate forces were those mentioned previously and batteries of artillery.

Adding to the confusion of battle, Colonel Arthur S. Hartwell’s 2nd Brigade of Colored troops arrived on the field and was thrown in behind Brigadier General  Edward E. Potter’s 1st Brigade as (unneeded) supports instead of being deployed as a tactical maneuver element to turn the Confederate position. Command, control and communication (C3) in the thick forest and swamp was difficult enough without further erosion of C3 by the intermingling the two brigades with one another.

The Union artillery was actively employed throughout the day. Battery B, 3rd NY was unlimbered at the “Crossroads” of the Grahamville and Wood roads, the only place from which Union artillery could easily target Honey Hill. The forest was thick and the Confederate troops were invisible until they fired.

Union guns, on lower ground, aimed at the discharge of smoke from Confederate guns firing from Honey Hill that were seen over the intervening trees, often firing over their own infantry. Battery F, 3rd NY later replaced Battery B, 3rd NY when Battery B began to run low on ammunition. Both

New York batteries were engaged from 1l:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., when their ammunition was nearly exhausted. At 4:00 p.m. they were replaced with the six-gun Naval Battery that continued to fire until dark.

At dusk, reported to be about 5:20 p.m. the Union retreat commenced. The Union forces skillfully withdrew by defensive bounds covered by infantry and artillery taking most of their wounded and equipment with them.

The 127th NY and 102nd USCT along with one section of the Naval Artillery formed the rear guard and remained at the front, keeping up a slow fire with artillery. By 7:30 p.m. the main body of the Coast Division was beyond pursuit and the rear guard withdrew. There was no Confederate attempt at pursuit. The troops were too exhausted from the long trip to the battlefield and the ensuing battle.

Determined attacks by the U.S. Colored Troops had failed to capture the Confederate entrenchments or to cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. When Major General Hatch retreated after dark, the Union forces returned to their transports at Boyd’s Neck.

The day following the battle, a Savannah newspaper, the Republican stated, “Our loss was between 80 and 100 killed and wounded.” In his after action report, Confederate General Smith wrote, “Our loss in every arm of service was 8 men killed and 42 wounded.” If a higher and more reasonable casualty figure is used, then the Confederate casualties represent 4%, 100 of the 2,680 of the committed force and 13% of the estimated Union casualties.

Hatch, the Coast Division commander, wrote, “The affair was a repulse owing entirely to the strong position held by the enemy and our want of ammunition.” Brigadier General Potter, commander of the 1st Brigade, wrote about his troops, “Nothing but the formidable character of the obstacles which they had to encounter prevented them from achieving success.”

Not surprisingly, Union Officers in junior commands held a different view. Captain Soule, 55th Massachusetts (Colored) in his account of the battle says, “The generalship displayed was not equal to the soldierly qualities of the troops engaged. There appears to have been a lack of foresight in the preparations.” Captain Luther B. Mesnard, commander of B Company, 25th Ohio wrote in his diary,

“Our troops were badly handled, no generalship, strategy or tactics. As a diversion in Sherman’s favor the fight may have amounted to a little, but nothing to what it would have if we had brushed the rebs away and cut the Savannah and Charleston Rail Road, as we could have done under an efficient commander.”

Confederate viewpoints reflect the positive outcome of the battle. General Smith praised his troops writing, “I have never seen or known of a battlefield upon which there was so little confusion, and where every order was so cheerfully and promptly obeyed, and where a small number of men for so long a time successfully resisted the determined and oft-repeated efforts of largely superior attacking forces.”

Looking back on the battle, Captain Luis F. Emilio wrote in his regimental history of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Infantry “It would seem with the light of the present that our position was as strong for us to hold as was the enemy’s. This granted, the natural criticism is, would not the battle have been better fought to have held the position with a portion of our troops and pushed out the main body well on one flank or the other, drawing the enemy from his work to fight us and preserve his communications?”

In January 1865, Sherman toured the battlefield with Hatch and asked him, “Hatch, why in hell didn’t you flank them on their right?” Major General Jacob D. Cox summed up the battle in his 1898 volume, Sherman’s March to the Sea-Campaigns of the Civil War series; “It was a fresh instance of the manner in which irresolute leadership in war wasted the lives of men by alternation between an ill-timed caution and an equally ill-timed rashness.”

William F. Chambrés
Company of Military Historians

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