Originally, Sumter County had an area of 1,672 miles, but that was reduced to 681 square miles due to the formation of Clarendon County in 1855, and then Lee County in 1902. The natural boundaries on the east of Sumter County are Scape 'Ore Creek, Black River, and Lynches River, and on the west are the Wateree and Santee, two sections of the same river system.
The need for a reorganization of counties and the court system was recognized. This led to the creation of counties and county courts with resident magistrates which would also relieve the overburdened dockets of the circuit courts. In 1783, a new law was passed and each of the seven great circuit court systems of the state were subdivided into counties of a convenient size. The former Camden District was divided to form seven counties. The boundaries of the seven counties were established, largely on natural lines. Created were York, Chester, Fairfield, Richland, Lancaster, Claremont, and Clarendon. The last two would be included in the area of what would become the future Sumter District. Under the constitution of 1790, Clarendon and Claremont elected one senator, and each had two representatives in the General Assembly. Two years after the counties were created, the county courts were set up. In 1792 some of the area of Clarendon and Claremont was used to form Salem County. The part taken from Claremont known as "Upper Salem" and the part from Clarendon known as "Lower Salem." The courthouse in the town of Salem was probably a log building as was the courthouse in Clarendon. (The Claremont County courthouse was located at Stateburg.)
But the new sytem did not suit every resident of the area. Among those learned men of the legal profession, the operation of the county courts was not proving to be satisfactory. They felt that justice was not being properly served by laymen. Thus, in 1791, the county magistrates were replaced by three county court judges who were "to handle all business that came before the court." With the opposition of lawyers to lay judges continuing, the county court system was finally abolished effective on January 1, 1800. The region was organized as Sumter District when the legislature of South Carolina united three of the counties of Camden District, namely, Claremont, Clarendon, and Salem; and on the first day of January in the year 1800, the district began to function in the administration of justice through circuit courts.
Rumors soon came to Sumter about another march from the sea. On the 5th of April 1865, Union Brigadier General Edward E. Potter left Georgetown with total of about 2,700 fighting men. He followed the path of the river road, burning mills, gins and cotton, and stripping the farms and plantations of their livestock and food supplies. Here at the very end, the war and its horrors entered the boundaries of Sumter District. An order came from headquarters in Sumter for the local militia to assemble. "In response to the order, came old men, teenage boys, and convalescent soldiers from the hospitals. With assistance from neighboring towns the Sumter force totaled about 575 strong. At the news of Potter's approach, everyone was busy hiding food and valuables in safe places. Those responsible for the courthouse and its contents, saved the public records by having them sent ten miles out into the country and hidden.
Potter left Manning in Clarendon County on Saturday morning, April 9, 1866, This was the same day of Lee's surrender in Appomatox, but no one in Sumter knew that the war had ended. Potter set out for Sumter and its defenders marched out the Manning Road to meet him at Dingle's Mill. About 2:00 p.m. the enemy came within range and the small force defending Sumter opened fire. Although Potter's first and second charges were driven back, further resistance became impossible and a general retreat was called. Potter did not pursue. He knew that he had opened up the road into Sumter and his men were weary. Late in the afternoon of the next day, Potter's cavalry rode up Main Street into Liberty Street and then to the depot where they camped.
The infantry camped on Liberty in the Catholic grove and a third camp was made on the road toward Providence. Party after party of Union soldiers went from house to house, supposedly searching for contraband and hidden Confederates, but they also took away food, clothing, and anything of value that they could find. The shops in town were broken into and stripped. Before leaving town, the Union soldiers ruined all of the printing press machinery and scrambled all of the type.
On Tuesday morning, April 11, Potter's army left Sumter, and marched the 12 miles to Manchester where Potter established his headquarters at the Richard Singleton plantation. Potter's mission was thoroughly accomplished. Systematically, any and all railroads, engines, cotton gins, lumber, governmental stores, bales of cotton and more were blown up or burned and destroyed. He took between 300 and 500 horses and mules and innumerable vehicles such as wagons and carts. On April 13, Potter sent a detachment to Stateburg and destroyed some stores. The next week was devoted by the Union army to destroying or confiscating whatever could be found.
A number of families had sought refuge at Milford Plantation. Milford stands to this day, located in the sandhills near Poinsett Park not far from St. Mark's Church. On April 21, Potter was nearing Milford on his way back to the boats at Wright's Bluff on the Santee River for his return to Georgetown on the coast. No injury was done to the estate. It may have been because former Governor Manning said to Potter, "It was built by a man from New England by the name of Potter and I suppose that a man from New York by the name of Potter will destroy it." Potter replied, "No sir, that is not my intention." Potter's army passed by Milford, doing no harm. Within twenty minutes of their departure, a Confederate courier arrived with the news that the war had ended. The courier was sent on under a flag of truce to give the news to General Potter who was only about a mile away by that time. Potter continued on to Wright's Bluff and he ceased to lay waste to the countryside but in the two weeks that he had been in residence, Sumter District was ruined and Potter's Raid became a swan song of the final day of the of theWar Between the States.
Come home to Sumter.
You'll be glad that you did
and we'll be happy to see you.
By James W. Simmons
When Carolina's hope grew pale,
Before the British lion's tread,
And freedom's sigh, in every gale,
Was heard above her martyred dead, --
When from her mountain heights, subdued,
In pride of place forbad to soar,
Her eagle banner, quenched in blood,
Lay sullen on th' indignant shore, --
Breathing revenge! invoking doom,
Tyrant! upon thy purple host;
When all stood wrapt in steadfast gloom,
And silence brooded o'er her coast, --
Stealthy, as when from thicket dun,
The Indian springs upon his bow,
Uprose, South-Mount, thy warrior-son,
And headlong darted on the foe!
Not in the pride of war he came,
With bugle note and banner high,
And nodding plume, and steel of flame,
Red battle's gorgeous blazonry!
With followers few, but undismayed,
Each change and chance of fate withstood,
Beneath her sunshine and her shade
The same heroic brotherhood!
From secret nook, in other land,
Emerging fleet along the pine,
Prone down he rush'd before his band,
Like eagle, on the British line!
Catawba's waters smiled again,
To see her Sumter's soul in arms;
And, issuing from each glade and glen,
Rekindled by war's fierce alarms,
Thronged hundreds thro' the solitude
Of the wild forest, to the call
Of him whose spirit, unsubdued,
Fresh impulse gave to each, to all!
By day the burning sands they ply,
Night sees them in the fell ravine;
Familiar to each follower's eye,
The tangled brake, the hall of green.
Roused by their tread from covert deep,
Springs the gaunt wolf, and flies -- while near
Is heard, forbidding thought of sleep,
The rattling serpent's sound of fear.
Before, or break of early morn,
Or fox looks out from copse or close,
Before the hunter winds his horn,
Sumter's already on his foes!
He beat them back! beneath the flame
Of valor quailing, or the shock;
And carved at length a hero's name
Upon the glorious Hanging Rock!
And time that shades or sears the wreath
Where glory binds the soldier's brow,
Kept bright her Sumter's fame in death,
His hour of proudest triumph -- now.
And ne'er shall tyrant tread the shore
Where Sumter bled, nor bled in vain;
A thousand hearts shall break before
They wear th' oppressor's bonds again.
Oh! never can thy sons forget
The mighty lessons taught by thee;
Since, -- treasured up the eternal debt, --
Their watchword is -- thy memory!
Sources for the above information are: The History of Sumter County by Anne King Gregorie, Historical Sketches of Sumter County by Cassie Nicholes, and personal knowledge.
This page was last updated on June 23, 2001
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