Today in History – March 15, 1865, the CSS Pee Dee was scuttled in the muddy waters of the Great Pee Dee River.
Arguments persist as to the operational role envisaged for the CSS Pee Dee. She may have been built to protect several of the Confederacy’s greatest assets, the strategically important railroad bridges facilitating vital communication links over to the biggest river in the region. Three companies, the Wilmington and Manchester (Sumter), the Cheraw and Darlington and the North-Eastern railroads all passed through the area and all had key bridges over the river. Had any been destroyed, vital supply lines to the Confederate armies would have been cut. Others suggest the ‘Pee Dee’ was designed to protect the regular passenger and freight ships that ploughed the river at the time and, in the event the war had continued and with a full armament provisioned, she could have seen action at sea. Indeed, it appears orders issued late in the war but which were never carried out because of low river levels, called for the ship to head out into the Atlantic.
Protecting the bridges and river shipping would be reason enough to employ this powerful fighting ship, as in one instance, in a failed operation, a Federal gunboat sailed upriver to destroy the North-Eastern’s bridge over the Santee River.
In the CSS Pee Dee’s only recorded action of the war, she was used to support of the withdrawal of Gen. William J. Hardee’s army from that town of Cheraw in the face of the arrival of Gen. William T. Sherman’s vastly superior Union forces. Here the ‘Pee Dee’ was assigned to hold off Union forces so that Hardee’s troops would have time to destroy a railroad bridge in Cheraw in an effort to slow the enemy advance. Ironically, this was one of the very bridges the ‘Pee Dee’ had been designed to protect. The engagement at Cheraw took place between March 2nd and 4th but there is no record the CSS Pee Dee’s armament was actually used. Conjecture aside, a week later with the Confederate forces being forced to withdraw throughout South Carolina, the decision was made to scuttle the CSS Pee Dee. Its guns were pushed into the deep river and the ship partially dismantled before being set on fire within sight of the Marion Courthouse Naval Yard.