March 6, 1865: An accident outside Cheraw

Carolinas Campaign map

Official Records:


HDQRS. FIRST DIVISION, FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Grant’s Mill, S. C., March 6, 1865.
Major MAX WOODHULL,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifteenth Army Corps:

MAJOR: I respectfully report that in compliance with orders received from you I left my camp beyond Cheraw at 6 o’clock this morning, and crossing the pontoon bridge over the Pedee River marched to my present camp on Phill’s Creek, a distance of five miles. While the rear of my division was passing through Cheraw there was a terrific explosion of powder and shell near my column, caused by some great carelessness on the part of men or officers, by which several in my division were killed and wounded. I have directed Brevet Brigadier-General Woods, commanding the First Brigade, whose command was in the immediate neighborhood when the unfortunate affair occurred, to make a report of the circumstance. My troops are facing eastward, division headquarters being near the mill. Inclosed please find complete list of casualties during the campign.

I am, major, very respectfully,
C. R. WOODS,
Brevet Major- General.

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HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, FIRST DIV., FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Phill’s Creek, S. C., March 6, 1865.
Captain FRED. H. WILSON,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General First DIv., Fifteenth Army Corps;

CAPTAIN: In reply to your communication of this date asking a detail of the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred near this command to- day, I have the honor to state that the explosion was caused by the accidental ignition of a large quantity of rebel ammunition which had been found in the town of Cheraw and hauled out and thrown in a deep ravine lying between the town and the pontoon bridge. The ammunition consisted of loaded shells and loose powder. The bottom of the ravine to the depth of four or five feet was filled with it, and powder was scattered up the banks of the ravine, and for several rods from the edge of the ravine. While the brigade was halting, having stacked arms to await the passage of the train, of which it was the rear guard, some of the men at a distance of several roads from the edge of the ravine are reported to have applied fire to some small cakes of powder found upon the ground. The fire immediately ran to the edge of the ravine, down the bank, and exploded the immense piles of ammunition in the bottom of the ravine. One man of this bridge was killed and 1 officer and 4 men wounded. After diligent inquiry I am unable to ascertain the names of the men who set fire to the powder, but have no doubt they were ignorant, as I was myself, that any explosive material was in the ravine. The following-= named officers an men were near the ravine when or shortly before the explosion occurred: Captain Edward H. Webster* and Lieutenant George H. Williams,* and Private John Werden, Company G, Seventy- sixth Ohio Infantry. Sergeants Clark and King, Company A, Twelfth Indiana Infantry, have been implicated by rumor in setting fire to the powder. Corporal Sergeant and Private Freemen, of the same company, and Thomas McPeak, of H. Company, all of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry, are reported to know who ignited the powder.

I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. WOODS,
Brevet Brigadier-General, Commanding.

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