Compiled byLEWIS F. KNUDSEN, JR.
Gill's Battalion was created under the authority of an "Act to organize forces to serve during the war," passed by the Confederate Congress on 17 February 1864. This legislation required the enrollment of all white males between the ages of 17 and 18 years, and 45 and 50 years, and their organization into corps of State Reserves that could be called out for service as necessary within the borders of their respective states. The intent was to provide a force that would be used mainly for non-combatant duty at home, thereby freeing up men of conscription age (18-45 years) for service at the front.
In pursuance of this Act, Major C. Davis Melton, head of the Bureau of Conscription in South Carolina, issued orders on 6 April 1864, directing that all men and boys within the prescribed age ranges report to their District court houses on 16 April, to be enrolled, assigned to companies, and to elect company officers. Accordingly, enrollments and elections for Chester, Fairfield, Union, and York Districts were held as follows:
|Court House||# Companies||Drawn from|
|Chesterville||1||26th and 27th SC Militia|
|Winnsboro||1||24th and 25th SC Militia|
|Unionville||1||35th and 37th SC Militia|
|Yorkville||2||34th and 46th SC Militia|
On 30 April 1864, Brigadier General James Chesnut, Jr., was named to command of the South Carolina Reserves, and began the work of organizing the new companies into battalions. In June, it was announced that the five companies from Chester, Fairfield, Union, and York Districts would be formed into the 3d Battalion SC Reserve Infantry, and an election for major to command the battalion was scheduled for the 24th of that month. In this election, the winner was Captain William Perry Gill of the Chester company, who like other officers and men in the battalion had seen prior service with the 5th SC Reserve Infantry, State Troops, the previous year. As finally constituted, the 3d Battalion stood as follows:
|A||Captain John Sanders||Union|
|B||Captain John McLurkin||Fairfield|
|C||Captain Milton H. Currence||York|
|D||Captain William L. Brown||York|
|E||Captain John Hardin||Chester|
By 23 June 1864, General Chesnut could report to President Jefferson Davis that 37 companies of Reserves had been organized, and formed into eight battalions. Several of the new battalions were almost immediately called out and sent to the South Carolina coast at Charleston. Gill's Battalion, however, remained on alert until early September, when it received orders to proceed to camp at Hamburg, South Carolina, apparently in anticipation of the need for guards for the large numbers of Federal prisoners that were about to be transferred to South Carolina from Andersonville, Georgia. On 15 September 1864, the five companies proceeded by railroad from their respective court houses, and reached Hamburg on the 17th, where they joined the 6th Battalion SC Reserve Infantry, commanded by Major Robert Merriwether, in camp on Shultz's Hill, overlooking the Savannah River. The two battalions were placed under the command of Brigadier General Albert G. Blanchard of Louisiana, and spent the next several weeks in drilling and training. On 1 October 1864, Gill's and Merriwether's Battalions received orders transferring them to Florence, South Carolina. The battalions left Hamburg on the following day, and proceeded by railroad via Branchville and Kingsville, arriving in Florence early in the morning of 3 October. There, they established camp at the newly opened stockade for Federal prisoners, and assumed their duties as prison guards.
Initial living conditions for the soldiers were little better than those of the prisoners. No tents had been provided, rations were short, and water supplies insufficient. Yet, the men improvised as best they could and apparently soon made themselves as comfortable as possible, greatly aided by boxes of food and other supplies sent from home. Maintaining adequate troop strength was a constant challenge. The battalion was already under strength when it arrived at Florence, many men having been detailed to duty in civilian and government jobs, and others having simply ignored the orders to report for duty. Sickness and disease (mainly measles and mumps) made further inroads, as did the transfer of younger members to Confederate service as they reached the age of 18. Although new recruits from home were constantly sent forward, many were siphoned off by authorities at Columbia, and detailed for duties there. Thus, by 5 November, 1864, the battalion could report only 194 of a total of 246 men available for duty, and later that month, Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Eccles of Company D, observed that the entire battalion did not amount to three full-strength companies.
By the end of November 1864, more than 11,000 prisoners were being held in the Stockade, and Confederate authorities began efforts to exchange the sickest and most disabled of them. The first groups were sent to Savannah on 4 December, and subsequent contingents were sent to Charleston. By the end of the month, the prison population had been reduced to about 7,500, when further exchanges were suspended due to the approach of Federal forces under Major General William T. Sherman. As these forces moved into South Carolina, Confederate authorities hastily considered alternatives for evacuating the Florence Stockade, and at one point even contemplated sending the prisoners back to Andersonville, Georgia. However, when railroad communications with Georgia were interrupted by Sherman's forces, it was decided to move the able-bodied prisoners to the prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, and accordingly on 15 February 1864, Colonel Henry Forno, acting Commissary General of Prisoners, issued orders to begin evacuating the approximately 6,000 prisoners who were able to travel.
The first group of prisoners was sent out almost immediately, and by 17 February, only the sickest and most disabled were left in the Stockade. The prisoners were sent to Wilmington, North Carolina, in boxcars with the guards riding on top, via the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad, a trip lasting nearly two days. Under the original plan, they were to be transferred to the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad for shipment to Goldsboro, and then transferred again to the North Carolina Railroad for the final leg of their journey to Salisbury. The first groups had already reached Goldsboro, when on 18 February the Confederate Secretary of War directed that all further prisoners were to be held at Wilmington for exchange in accordance with an agreement just reached with Federal authorities. Orders were also issued that those prisoners already sent forward to Goldsboro were to be returned to Wilmington. However, news of the agreement was slow in reaching the commander of the Federal forces at Wilmington, Major General John M. Schofield, and on 20 February, Confederate Major General Robert F. Hoke reported that the Union commander was refusing to accept prisoners. Consequently, by 22 February when Confederate forces evacuated Wilmington, a large number of Federal prisoners had accumulated there, and were taken by rail to Burgaw, about 15 miles north of the city on the line of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. Schofield's forces pursued the retreating Confederates to Northeast Ferry, about nine miles north of Wilmington on the Northeast Branch of the Cape Fear River, where they halted in consequence of the Confederates having burned the railroad and pontoon bridges at that point. By 24 February, details regarding the exchange agreement had been finally worked out by both sides, and the Confederate exchange agent, Lieutenant Colonel William H. Hatch, began sending prisoners down the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad to Northeast Ferry for exchange. These exchanges continued until about the first of March, and included prisoners from Charlotte and Salisbury, as well as those from Florence.
The exact movements of Gill's Battalion during and after the evacuation of the Florence Stockade are not recorded. Based on the post-war recollections of Private Thomas W. Scoggins of Company D, men from the 3d Battalion escorted prisoners to Wilmington, and were apparently among the last to leave the city when it was evacuated on 22 February. They were also involved in the exchanges at Northeast Ferry through the end of February, after which they were apparently withdrawn to Raleigh. Except for those admitted to North Carolina hospitals, it seems that the men then returned to South Carolina by railroad via Greensboro and Charlotte. Most were apparently back in their home districts by mid March, when Brigadier General Chesnut ordered the South Carolina Reserve battalions to reassemble in early April "for whatever duty they may be assigned." Notices were placed by the company commanders in the Yorkville, Winnsboro, and presumably other local papers, ordering their men to report for duty at Chester in early April, and according to Private Scoggins, a number of the men actually did assemble there. On 25 March 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston asked Brigadier General Chesnut to send Gill's Battalion, along with several others, to join Blanchard's Brigade in North Carolina, but apparently no such orders were ever issued, as the battalion is not listed in a return for Blanchard's Brigade, dated 10 April 1865, and based on their service records, none of the men were included in the surrender of Johnston's forces at Durham Station, North Carolina on 26 April 1865. It seems most likely that, as Private Scoggins recalled, the men at Chester disbanded and went home when it became clear that the war was lost, while those who had already returned to their homes, on furlough or otherwise, simply remained there, thus ending the brief career of the 3d Battalion SC Reserve Infantry.
Note:This work is a compilation of items from The Yorkville (SC) Enquirer and other contemporary local newspapers, describing the service of the 3d (Gill's) Battalion SC Reserve Infantry, most of which was performed guarding Federal prisoners at Florence, South Carolina, during the fall and winter of 1864-1865. Included is a series of dispatches to the Enquirer signed by "E.," who was actually Second Lieutenant Thomas J. Eccles, of Company D. A printer by trade, and sometime newspaper publisher, Eccles used his reportorial skills and powers of observation to produce a remarkable series of weekly letters that provide a wealth of detail on conditions at the Florence Stockade, as viewed from the Confederate perspective. In a sad sequel to the battalion's history, Thomas J. Eccles survived the war, but died at his home in Yorkville on 26 November 1865, as the consequence of a service-related illness. He left a wife, Sarah, and a teen-age daughter, Mary, but nothing is known of their subsequent histories. (c) 2000-2003 Lewis F. Knudsen, Jr. Columbia, South Carolina. Fred Knudsen
If you have any information about these troops or these units, please email Fred (above) and/or Bil Brasington