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Wilson's raid through Alabama and Georgia.1

In the spring of 1865 the cavalry corps commanded by General James H. Wilson was encamped at Gravelly Springs and Waterloo, Alabama [see map, p. 414], on the north bank of the Tennessee, with a base of supplies at Eastport, Mississippi. The following condensation of General Wilson's report of June 29th, 1865, summarizes the final operations of his corps:
On the 23d of February, 1865] General Thomas arrived at Eastport with instructions directing me to fit out an expedition of five or six thousand cavalry for the purpose of making a demonstration upon Tuscaloosa and Selma in favor of General Canby's operations against Mobile and Central Alabama. [See p. 411.] . . . The instructions of Lieutenant-General Grant, transmitted to me by General Thomas, allowed me the amplest discretion as an independent commander.

The movement was delayed nearly three weeks by heavy rains, and on the 18th of March the command crossed the Tennessee.

At daylight on the 22d of March . . . the movement began. The entire valley of the Tennessee, having been devastated by two years of warfare, was quite as destitute of army supplies as the hill country south of it. It was therefore necessary to scatter the troops over a wide extent of country, and march as rapidly as circumstances would permit. This was rendered safe by the fact that Forrest's forces were at that time near West Point, Mississippi, 150 miles south-west of Eastport, while Roddey's occupied Montevallo, on the Alabama and Tennessee River railroad, nearly the same distance to the south-east. By starting on diverging roads the enemy was left in doubt as to our real object, and compelled to watch equally Columbus, Tuscaloosa, and Selma.

The command moved southward in three columns [see map, p. 414], General Emory Upton's division by Barton's Station, Russellville, and Mount Hope to Jasper, near the Black Warrior River; General Eli Long's, by Cherokee Station, Frankfort, and Thorn Hill to the same point; while General Edward M. McCook's, following Long's route as far as Bear Creek, continued southward to Eldridge, thence moving east to Jasper. From Jasper the whole command moved across the two forks of the Black Warrior and were directed on Montevallo via Elyton.

At Elyton, on the evening of the 30th, I directed General McCook to detach Croxton's brigade, with orders to move on Tuscaloosa as rapidly as possible, burn the public stores, military school, bridges, foundries, and factories at that place, return toward the main column by way of the Centreville road, and rejoin it at or in the vicinity of Selma. Besides covering our trains and inflicting a heavy blow upon the enemy, I hoped by this detachment to develop any movement on his part intended to intercept my main column.

While in the vicinity of Elyton, Upton's division destroyed the Cahawba Iron Works, including rolling-mills and collieries. After passing Montevallo, March 31st, Upton met a force under General P. D. Roddey disputing the road to Randolph. Two engagements ensued, and Roddey was driven back.

At Randolph General Upton captured a rebel courier just from Centreville, and from his person took two dispatches, one from Brigadier-General W. H. Jackson, commanding one of Forrest's divisions, and the other from Major Anderson, Forrest's chief-of-staff. From the first I learned that Forrest with a part of his command was in my front (this had also been obtained from prisoners); that Jackson with his division and all the wagons and artillery of the rebel cavalry, marching from Tuscaloosa via Trion toward Centreville, had encamped the night before at Hill's plantation, three miles beyond Scottsboro‘; that Croxton [Union], with the brigade detached at Elyton, had struck Jackson's rear-guard at Trion and interposed himself between it and the train; that Jackson had discovered this, and intended to attack Croxton at daylight of April 1st. I learned from the other dispatch that Chalmers had also arrived at Marion, Alabama, and had been ordered to cross to the east side [760] of the Cahawba near that place for the purpose of joining Forrest in my front, or in the works at Selma. I also learned that a force of dismounted men was stationed at Centreville, with orders to hold the bridge over the Cahawba at that place as long as possible, and in no event to let it fall into our hands.

Wilson now pushed on toward Selma, encountering several detachments of Forrest's cavalry on the way. At Ebenezer Church, Forrest's right wing was found in position, covering the roads from Randolph and Old Maplesville, with a force estimated by General Wilson at five thousand.2 Long's division advanced to the attack, and, reenforced by Alexander's brigade, of Upton's division, carried the position, the report says, “in less than an hour,” the enemy retreating toward Selma.

The whole corps bivouacked at sundown about Plantersville, nineteen miles from Selma. With almost constant fighting the enemy had been driven since morning twenty-four miles. At daylight of the 2d [of April] Long's division took the advance, closely followed by Upton's. Having obtained a well-drawn sketch and complete description of the defenses of Selma, I directed General Long, marching by the flanks of brigades, to approach the city and cross to the Summerville [Summerfield] road without exposing his men, and to develop his line as soon as he should arrive in front of the works. General Upton was directed to move on the Range Line road, sending a squadron on the Burnsville road. Lieutenant [Joseph] Rendlebrock, with a battalion of the 4th United States Cavalry, was instructed to move down the railroad, burning bridges, stations, and trestle-works as far as Burnsville. By rapid marching, without opposition, the troops were all in sight of the town, and mostly in position, by 4 P. M.

General McCook had been detached at Randolph to guard the right rear and, if possible, connect with Croxton, who was still west of the Cahawba. Long and Upton, with their men dismounted, carried the works at a single charge.

The fortifications assaulted and carried consisted of a bastioned line, on a radius of nearly three miles, extending from the Alabama River below to the same above the city. The part west of the city is covered by a miry, deep, and almost impassable creek; that on the east side by a swamp extending from the river almost to the Summerfield road, and entirely impracticable for mounted men at all times. General Upton ascertained by a personal reconnoissance that dismounted men might with great difficulty work through it on the left of the Range Line road. The profile of that part of the line assaulted is as follows: Height of parapet, six to eight feet, thickness eight feet, depth of ditch five feet, width from ten to fifteen feet; height of stockade on the glacis, five feet, sunk into the earth four feet. The ground over which the troops advanced is an open field, generally level, sloping slightly toward the works, but intersected by one ravine and marshy soil, which both the right and left of Long's line experienced some difficulty in crossing. The distance which the troops charged, exposed to the enemy's fire of artillery and musketry, was six hundred yards. . . . General Long's report . . . states that the number actually engaged in the charge was 1550 officers and men. The portion of the line assaulted was manned by Armstrong's brigade, regarded as the best in Forrest's corps, and reported by him at more than 1500 men. The loss from Long's division was 40 killed, 260 wounded, and seven missing. General Long was wounded in the head, Colonels [A. O.] Miller and [C. C.] McCormick in the leg, and [Lieutenant] Colonel [Jonathan] Briggs in the breast. . . . The immediate fruits of our victory were 31 field-guns and one 30-pounder Parrott, which had been used against us; 2700 prisoners, including 150 officers; a number of colors, and immense quantities of stores of every kind. Generals Forrest, Armstrong, Roddey, and Adams escaped, with a number of men, under cover of darkness, either by the Burnsville and River roads, or by swimming the Alabama River. A portion of Upton's division pursued on the Burnsville road until long after midnight, capturing four guns and many prisoners. I estimate the entire garrison, including the militia of the city and surrounding country, at 7000 men; the entire force under my command, engaged and in supporting distance, was 9000 men and eight guns.

General Upton's division was dispatched from Selma, on April 3d, to open communications with McCook and Croxton, west of the Cahawba. McCook had found the Confederate Jackson between him and Croxton, and had returned east of the Cahawba. He reached Selma in company with Upton on the 6th. Nothing was learned of Croxton.

On the 6th of April, having ordered Major Hubbard to lay a bridge over the Alabama with the utmost dispatch, I went to Cahawba to see General Forrest, who had agreed to meet me there under a flag of truce for the purpose of arranging an exchange of prisoners. I was not long in discovering that I need not expect liberality in this matter, and that Forrest hoped to recapture the men of his command in my possession. During our conversation he informed me that Croxton had had an engagement with Wirt Adams near Bridgeville, 40 miles south-west of Tuscaloosa, two days before. Thus assured of Croxton's success and safety, I determined to lose no further time in crossing to the south side of the Alabama. I had also satisfied myself in the meantime that Canby had an ample force to take Mobile and march to central Alabama.

On the 8th and 9th the entire cavalry corps, excepting Croxton's brigade, crossed the Alabama, and General Wilson, believing that he had rendered Selma valueless by his thorough destruction of railroads and supplies, determined to march into Georgia by way of Montgomery. The mayor of Montgomery surrendered the city to Wilson's advance guard on the 12th of April. After destroying large quantities of stores, small-arms, and cotton, the command moved on the 14th, Upton in advance and striking for Columbus and West Point.

“About 2 P. M. of the 16th General Upton's advance, a part of Alexander's brigade, struck the enemy's pickets on the road and drove them rapidly through Girard to the lower bridge over the Chattahoochee at Columbus. The rebels hastily set fire to it, and thereby prevented its capture. After securing a position on the lower Montgomery road, General Upton detached a force to push around to the bridge at the Factory, three miles above the city. He then made a reconnaissance in person, and found the enemy strongly posted in a line of works covering all the bridges, with a large number of guns in position on both sides of the river. He had already determined to move Winslow's brigade to the Opelika or Summerville road, and assault the works on that side without waiting for the arrival of the Second Division. I reached the head of Winslow's brigade of the Fourth Division at 4 o'clock, and found the troops marching to the position assigned them by General Upton. Through an accident, Winslow did not arrive at his position till after dark; but General Upton proposed to make the assault in the night, and, coinciding with him in judgment, I ordered the attack. Three hundred men of the 3d Iowa Cavalry, Colonel Noble commanding, were dismounted, and after a slight skirmish moved forward and formed across the road under a heavy fire of artillery. The 4th Iowa and 10th Missouri were held in [761] readiness to support the assaulting party. At half-past 8 P. M., just as the troops were ready, the enemy, at a short distance, opened a heavy fire of musketry, and with a four-gun battery began throwing canister and grape. Generals Upton and Winslow, in person, directed the movement; the troops dashed forward, opened a withering fire from their Spencers, pushed through a slashing abatis, pressed the rebel line back to their outworks, supposed at first to be the main line. During all this time the rebel guns threw out a perfect storm of canister and grape, but without avail. General Upton sent two companies of the 10th Missouri, Captain [R. B.] McGlasson commanding, to follow up the success of the dismounted men and get possession of the bridge. They passed through the inner line of works, and under cover of darkness, before the rebels knew it, had reached the bridge leading into Columbus. As soon as everything could be got up to the position occupied by the dismounted men, General Upton pressed forward again, swept away all opposition, took possession of the foot and railroad bridges, and stationed guards throughout the city. Twelve hundred prisoners, fifty-two field-guns, in position for use against us, large quantities of arms and stores, fell into our hands. . . . The splendid gallantry and steadiness of General Upton, Brevet Brigadier-General Winslow, and all the officers and men engaged in this night attack, is worthy of the highest commendation. The rebel force was over three thousand. They could not believe they had been dislodged from their strong fortifications by an attack of 300 men. General Winslow was assigned to the command of the city.” 3

The brigade of Colonel O. H. La Grange moved toward West Point.

After much sharp skirmishing and hard marching, which resulted in the capture of fourteen wagons and a number of prisoners, La Grange's advance reached the vicinity of West Point at 10 A. M., April 16th. With [Captain M. M.] Beck's 18th Indiana Battery, the 2d and 4th Indiana cavalry, the enemy were kept occupied till the arrival of the balance of the brigade. Having thoroughly reconnoitered the ground, detachments of the 1st Wisconsin, 2d Indiana, and 7th Kentucky cavalry dismounted and prepared to assault Fort Tyler, covering the bridge. Colonel La Grange describes it as a remarkably strong bastioned earth-work, 35 yards square, surrounded by a ditch 12 feet wide and 10 feet deep, situated on a commanding eminence, protected by an imperfect abatis, and mounting two 32-pounders and two field-guns.

The fort was taken after a desperate fight, in which La Grange's men bridged the ditch, under fire. The Confederate commander, General R. C. Tyler, was killed.4 After destroying the bridges, railway equipment and stores, La Grange moved toward Macon.

Before leaving Columbus General [Edward F.] Winslow destroyed the rebel ram Jackson, nearly ready for sea, mounting six 7-inch guns, burned 15 locomotives, 250 cars, the railroad bridge and foot bridges, 115,000 bales of cotton, four cotton factories, the navy yard, foundry, armory, sword and pistol factory, accouterment shops, three paper mills, over 100,000 rounds of artillery, ammunition, besides immense stores of which no account could be taken. The rebels abandoned and burned the gun-boat Chattahoochee twelve miles below Columbus.

On the 18th the command was on the march to Macon, the Second Division, under General R. H. G. Minty, who had succeeded General Long (wounded at Selma), having the advance. On nearing Macon, April 20th, Wilson received a communication from General Beauregard, dated April 19th, informing him of the truce between Johnston and Sherman. [See p. 755.] The advance had already dashed into the city and received the surrender, and Generals Gustavus W. Smith, Howell Cobb, and W. W. Mackall, of the garrison, were held as prisoners of war. On the 21st a communication from General Sherman reached Wilson directing him to suspend hostilities until notified of the result of the negotiations then pending. General Croxton reported at Macon with his brigade, on May 1st.5 His operations since his separation from the main column, at Elyton, March 30th, covered a skirmish at Trion, Alabama, April 2d; the capture of Tuscaloosa, April 5th, and the destruction of the Military School, together with military stores and public works, at that place. From Tuscaloosa he had returned northward as far as Jasper, recrossed the Black Warrior, and, after destroying the iron works and factories along the route, reached Carrollton, Georgia, on the 25th of April, and soon opened communications with Wilson.

“On the 13th of April I received notice of the final capitulation of the rebel forces east of the Chattahoochee, and the next day, by the hands of Colonel [F. B.] Woodall, the order of the Secretary of War annulling the first armistice, directing a resumption of hostilities and the capture of the rebel chiefs. I had been previously advised of [Jefferson] Davis's movements, and had given the necessary instructions to secure a clue to the route he intended following, with the hope of finally effecting his capture. I directed General Upton to proceed in person to Augusta, and ordered General Winslow, with the Fourth Division, to march to Atlanta for the purpose of carrying out the terms of the convention, as well as to make such a disposition of his forces, covering the country northward from Forsyth to Marietta, so as to secure the arrest of Jefferson Davis and party. I directed General Croxton, [then] commanding the First Division, to distribute it along the line of the Ocmulgee, connecting with the Fourth Division and extending southward to this place. Colonel Minty, commanding the Second Division, was directed to extend his troops along the line of the Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers as far as Jacksonville. General McCook, with about five hundred men of his division, was sent to Tallahassee, Florida, with orders to receive the surrender of the rebels in that State and to watch the country to the north and eastward. In addition to this, troops from the First and Second divisions were directed to watch the Flint River crossings, and small parties were stationed at the principal railroad stations from Atlanta to Eufala, as well as at Columbus and West Point and Talladega. By these means I confidently expected to arrest all large parties of fugitives and soldiers, and by a thorough system of scouts hoped to obtain timely information of the movements of important personages.”6

1 see General James H. Wilson's article, “the Union cavalry in the Hood campaign,” p. 465.--editors.

2 General Thomas Jordan, in “Campaigns of Forrest's cavalry,” states that the Confederate force at Ebenezer Church numbered 1500.--editors.

3 “At Columbus the Union loss was 6 killed and 24 wounded; the Confederate, 1200 captured.”--editors.

4 The Union loss was 7 killed and 29 wounded; the Confederate, 19 killed, 28 wounded, and 218 missing.--editors.

5 General Croxton says in his official report:

During this time we marched 653 miles, most of the time through a mountainous country so destitute of supplies that the command could be subsisted and foraged only by the greatest efforts. Swimming four rivers, destroying five large iron works,--the last in the cotton States,--three factories, numerous mills, immense quantities of supplies, capturing four pieces of artillery and several hundred small-arms, near 300 prisoners rejoining the corps; the men in fine spirits and the animals in good condition, having lost in all but four officers and 168 men, half of the latter having been captured at various points, while straggling from foraging parties and not in line of duty.

6 For an account of the movements of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, see notes pp. 763 and 766.

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