Xxxiii. The repossession of Alabama.
- Wilson at Eastport, Miss. -- crosses the Tennessee, and moves southward -- routs Roddy at Montevallo -- Hurries Forrest from Boyle's creek -- charges over the defenses of Selma, and takes 2,700 prisoners -- Montgomery surrenders -- Lagrange routs Buford -- Wilson takes Columbus, Ga., by assault -- Lagrange charges and captures Fort Tyler -- Wilson in Macon -- Cuxton captures Tuskaloosa -- zigzags to Macon -- Canby in New Orleans -- advances on Mobile -- Steele moves up from Pensacola -- routs Clanton at Mitchell's creek -- Spanish Fort besieged -- its garrison driven out -- desperate assault on Blakely -- the works carried, with 3,000 prisoners -- Mobile evacuated -- fate of the ram W. H. Webb.
Wilson — Canby. Gen. Grant's comprehensive plan of campaign for the Winter and Spring of 1864-5 embraced a combined demonstration from north and south upon Alabama; which State, save at its northern extremity, had thus far suffered less from the ravages of war than any part of the Confederacy but Texas. The movement at the south was impelled and directed by Gen. Canby, commanding at New Orleans; that at the north was led by Gen. James H. Wilson, under the direction of Gen. Thomas, whose cavalry Wilson had been detached by Grant from the Army of the Potomac and sent West expressly to command, with results that did credit to the Lieut.-General's sagacity and judgment.  Gen. Wilson's cavalry command, after the expulsion of Hood from Tennessee, was collected at Eastport, Miss. (the head of steamboat navigation on the lower Tennessee); whither Gen. Thomas at length proceeded,1 to give him his final instructions. It had been intended to employ but half his force in a raid on the chief towns of central Alabama, designed as a mere diversion in favor of Canby; but Wilson persuaded his chief to let him take all the cavalry he could readily muster — Cheatham's movement eastward, with the remains of Hood's force, having rendered disposable nearly our entire force on the Tennessee. Wilson was thus enabled to set out with nearly 15,000 men, whereof 13,000 were mounted, with six batteries. Prevented from starting at the time designated2 by incessant rains and tremendous floods, the expedition was not fairly over the Tennessee till March 18; when it set forth with light trains, carefully filled — each trooper taking 5 days rations in his haversack, 24 lbs. of grain, and a pair of extra shoes for his horse, with 100 rounds of ammunition; while 5 days rations of hard bread, 10 of sugar, coffee, and salt, were packed on mules; 45 days of coffee, 20 of sugar, 15 of salt, and 80 rounds of ammunition in the wagons--56 of which were laden with a light pontoon train of 30 boats. The train (of 250 wagons) was escorted by the 1,500 dismounted men. Most of the cavalry were provided with the highly valued Spencer carbine. The time allotted for the expedition was 60 days: men and animals to subsist, so far as possible, on the country they traversed. The rear of the column did not actually leave the Tennessee till the 22d. The general course pursued was south-east, through Russellville, Jasper, and Elyton; but the command was divided, and from time to time expanded and contracted; passing hurriedly over war-wasted north Alabama, and then spreading out so as to sweep over a broad stretch of the plenteous region watered by the tributaries of the Black Warrior and other main affluents of the Tombigbee river: thus menacing at once Columbus, Miss., Tuskaloosa, and Selma, Alabama. Forrest, commanding the chief Rebel force left in this quarter, was at West Point, near Columbus, Miss.; so that Wilson, moving rapidly on several roads, passed his right and reached Elyton3 without a collision; destroying by the way many extensive iron-works, collieries, &c., and pushing the few Rebel cavalry found at Elyton rapidly across the Cahawba at Montevallo; where the enemy was first encountered4 in force: Roddy's and Crossland's commands coming up the Selma road, but being routed and driven southward by a charge of Upton's division. The Rebels attempted to make a stand at a creek, after being driven 4 or 5 miles; but they were too weak, and were again routed by a headlong charge; losing 50 prisoners. Upton bivouacked 14 miles south of Montevallo, and early next morning rode into Randolph; capturing here a courier, from whose dispatches he learned that Forrest was now in our front; that W. H. Jackson, with one of Forrest's divisions, was moving E. S. E. from Tuskaloosa; and that his rear had been  struck at Trion by Gen. Cuxton, who had been detached by Wilson at Elyton, and who had interposed between Jackson's force and his train, and was to be attacked by Jackson this morning. Chalmers was at Marion, south of Tuskaloosa; and all were moving, under Forrest's direction, to concentrate upon and defend Selma. A note from Cuxton — who had been detailed to strike Tuskaloosa — now apprised Wilson that he should post-pone this enterprise, and fight Jackson, with intent to prevent his junction with Forrest. Wilson hereupon directed McCook to move rapidly to Centerville, cross the Cahawba, and push on, via Scottsborough, to strike Jackson. McCook found Jackson well posted near Scottsborough, and, hearing nothing of Cuxton, did not venture to attack, but recoiled, after a sharp skirmish; burning the Scottsboroa factory and Centerville bridge, and rejoining Wilson near Selma. Wilson was moving eagerly and in force on Selma, driving small parties of Rebel cavalry, when he was brought to a halt by Forrest, strongly posted on Boyle's creek, near Plantersville, with a creek on his right and a high, wooded ridge on his left, with 4 guns planted to sweep the Randolph and 2 on the Maplesville road, whereon our troopers were advancing. He had in line about 5,000 men, mainly cavalry (Roddy's division, with Armstrong's and Crossland's brigades), with his front covered by rail barricades and abatis. Wilson had here Long's and Upton's divisions — perhaps 6,000 in all, but all veterans, of excellent quality, and admirably led. Long arrived first, on our right; when, dismounting and forming his men on the left of the road, he charged, breaking the Rebel line. Lt.-Col. Frank White, with 4 companies of the 17th Indiana (mounted), being ordered forward, rode over the Rebel guns, cutting his way out with a loss of 17 men; among them Capt. Frank Taylor, killed. Gen. Alexander, leading Upton's division, hearing the noise of the fight, came rapidly up on the Maplesville road; dismounting and deploying his brigade, and going right in on the left, with such energy that the enemy were soon in headlong flight, leaving 2 guns and 200 prisoners to Alexander, and 1 gun to Long. Winslow's brigade now took the advance, and pursued sharply to Plantersville, 19 miles from Selma; but the fugitives could not be overtaken. Forrest had been driven 24 miles that day. Long's division now5 took the lead, followed by Upton's; and all, by 4 P. M., were in sight of Selma. Forrest had here a motley force of perhaps 7,000 men; but many of them green conscripts — boys and old men — and not to be relied on. He was indisposed to attempt the defense of extensive works with such a force; but Dick Taylor, his superior, had been here, and ordered him to hold the town at all hazards — disappearing on a southward-going train directly afterward. Forrest, with a doubting heart, prepared to do his best. His works were good and strong; extending, in a semicircle of three miles, from the Alabama above the city to that river below it. Wilson had here 9,000 men. After carefully reconnoitering, he directed  Long to assault the defenses by a diagonal movement across the road whereon he was posted; while Upton, with 300 picked men, was to penetrate a dense, miry swamp on Long's left, break through the line covered by it, and turn the Rebel right — his whole division participating in the turning movement. But, before our preparations had been completed, word reached Long that Chalmers's Rebel cavalry from Marion were at work on his rear, where his horses and train were under guard; whereupon, sending a regiment to reenforce the six companies guarding his rear, he gave his men the order to follow him in a charge; and in 15 minutes, without a halt or a waver, they had swept over the Rebel intrenchments, and driven their defenders pell-mell toward the city. Long himself had fallen, shot through the head; Cols. Miller, McCormick, and Briggs, leading their respective regiments, had each been severely wounded; but Selma was won. The Rebels rallied on a new line, but partially constructed, in the edge of the city; where they repulsed a gallant charge of the 4th regular cavalry; and, as it was now dark, they evidently hoped to hold. But the impetuosity of our men could not be restrained. Upton's entire division advanced, supporting a charge of the 4th cavalry, 4th Ohio, and 17th Indiana; while the Chicago Board of Trade battery, from a commanding position, replied to the Rebel guns, dismounting two of them; and the city was soon taken, with 32 guns, 2,700 prisoners, and vast stores of all kinds. Forrest, Roddy, Armstrong, and perhaps 3,000 of their followers, had escaped under cover of tie darkness. Our total loss here was less than 500. The Rebel arsenal, great guns, warehouses, factories, founderies, &c., were thoroughly destroyed, and the town sacked without mercy by our soldiers. The Rebels had just burned 25,000 bales of cotton; Wilson found 10,000 more, and burned them. Several days elapsed before the bridge, 870 feet long, over the swollen Alabama, after being thrice swept away by the flood, was rebuilt, and our army crossed6--all but Cuxton's brigade, which was away south, and had had a fight with Wirt Adams several days before. Horses had been obtained in and around Selma to mount our last man; many of the negroes following our columns had been enlisted — the rest were forbidden to follow farther — the trains, including the pontoon, were reduced to their lowest dimensions; so that Wilson, rebuilding the bridges, now moved rapidly, in spite of the sodden earth; reaching, at 7 A. M. of the 12th, Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, which Wirt Adams had just evacuated, after burning 125,000 bales of cotton. The city promptly surrendered. Several steamboats, with great quantities of army supplies, were here destroyed. Wilson moved7 eastward from Montgomery toward Columbus and West Point, Georgia: Lagrange's brigade soon striking a Rebel force under Buford and Clanton, routing it, and taking 150 prisoners. Reaching8 the Chattahoochee, near Columbus, Ga., the lower bridge was found in flames. Accident preventing the arrival of Col. Winslow's brigade till  dark, Gen. Wilson ordered an attack; when 300 of the 3d Iowa cavalry moved forward, supported by the 4th Iowa and 10th Missouri, under a heavy fire of grape, canister, and musketry, pushed through strong abatis, and pressed back the Rebel line. Gen. Upton now sent up two companies of the 10th Missouri to seize one of the bridges leading into Columbus; which, under cover of darkness, was effected. And now Gen. Upton charged again, sweeping away all resistance; and soon the city was ours, with 1,200 prisoners, 52 field guns, and large quantities of small arms and stores, at a cost to us of barely 24 killed and wounded. Among the Rebels killed was C. A. L. Lamar, of Howell Cobb's staff, former owner and captain of the slaver Wanderer. We destroyed here the Rebel ram Jackson, mounting six 7-inch guns, burned 15 locomotives, 250 cars, 115,000 bales of cotton, &c., &c. Lagrange's advance reached West Point at 10 A. M. this day, and found the crossing of the Chattahoochee defended by Fort Tyler, a strong, bastioned earthwork, 35 yards square, situated on a commanding hill, and mounting 4 guns. At 1 1/2 P. M., this fort was bravely assaulted on three sides; but its ditch, 12 feet wide by 10 deep, stopped our men under a withering fire of musketry and grape. Lagrange, refusing to fall back, posted sharpshooters to tranquilize the Rebel gunners while he gathered materials for bridges, over which his men sprang at the sound of the bugle; rushing over the parapet, and capturing the entire garrison--265 men. Gen. Tyler, its commander, with 18 of his men, had been killed, and 27 more severely wounded. Simultaneously with this charge, the 4th Indiana cavalry dashed headlong through the town, secured both bridges over the Chattahoochee, drove out the slender Rebel force found there, and burned 5 engines with their trains. Early next morning, Gen. Minty, commanding (since Long's fall) the division, was on his way to Macon, as was Wilson on the Columbus road; both columns arriving on the 21st, after Wilson and Minty had both received assurances from Gen. Howell Cobb, commanding in Macon, that the war was virtually ended. Cuxton did not arrive till the 30th. Outnumbered by Jackson in their encounter near Trion,9 he had moved off swiftly to Johnson's ferry on the Black Warrior, 44 miles above Tuskaloosa, where he crossed and came down the west bank; surprising and capturing10 Tuskaloosa, with 3 guns and 150 prisoners; destroying the military school, public works, stores, &c. Hearing nothing from Wilson or McCook, he burned the bridge over the Black Warrior, and sped south-west nearly to Eutaw; where he heard that Wirt Adams, with 2,000 cavalry, was close upon him. Too weak to fight such a force, Cuxton turned and countermarched nearly to Tuskaloosa; thence by Jasper, Mount Benson and Trionsville, to Talladega; near which, he scattered a small Rebel force under a Gen. Hill; pushing thence by Carrollton, Ga., Newnan, and Forsyth, to Macon; having, with his small force, moved 650 miles in 30 days, in entire ignorance of the position or fortunes  of Wilson and his lieutenants, yet going whither and doing as he pleased; scarcely resisted at any town he chose to take. The ‘fireeaters’ had disappeared; the survivors were heartily sick of War. Gen. Canby, commanding in New Orleans, was kept inactive throughout the Summer and Autumn of 1804, by the exacted return of the 16th corps from his department, to serve on either bank of the Mississippi above. His remaining corps — the 13th, Gen. Gordon Granger--participated, as we have seen, in the reduction of the forts at the mouth of Mobile bay. During the year, Gen. Dick Taylor crossed the Mississippi and assumed command of the Confederate forces in Alabama. At length, after the overthrow of Hood, in Tennessee, the 16th was returned to Gen.Canby; who now proceeded, in concert with Wilson's demonstration from the north on central Alabama, to attempt the reduction of Mobile and its remaining defenses,11 now held, under Dick Taylor, by Gen. Maury, with a force estimated at 15,000 men. The forces employed by Gen. Canby consisted of the 13th and 16th corps aforesaid, with a division of cavalry and one of colored infantry — in all, from 25,000 to 30,000 men; and he was assured of the hearty cooperation of Porter's powerful fleet, now commanded by Rear-Admiral Thatcher, so far as the available depth of water in the shallow bay of Mobile would allow. Active operations awaited only the arrival of the 16th corps by water on Dauphine island12 which was the signal for a concentration on Mobile of Canby's entire disposable force. The cavalry, under Grierson, crossed Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, advancing to Mobile Point, whence the movement on Mobile commenced: the 13th corps marching thence around Bon Secours bay to strike Mobile from the east, where its defenses were deemed least elaborate; while Gen. F. Steele, with a division of Blacks, was impelled from Pensacola on Blakely, and a brigade of Smith's corps was transferred by water to Cedar Point, on the west side of the bay; landing under a heavy fire of shells from our iron-clads, and threatening an attack on the city from that side. Steele's advance was resisted by cavalry only, and not seriously, till, on reaching Mitchell's creek, a stand was made13 by some 800 of the 6th and 8th Alabama cavalry, under Clanton, who were promptly charged and routed--275 prisoners, including Clanton, being taken, and the residue of the force dispersed. Steele encountered no further resistance till he was in front of Blakely, which was strongly held by the Rebels; where lie halted and sent to Canby for supplies, which were promptly transmitted.14 Gen. Granger's march around Don Secours bay and up to Mobile was impeded by pouring rains and heavy roads; so that Smith's corps, which was embarked on transports and thus moved up and across the bay to their appointed rendezvous near Fish river, arrived first;15 but Granger's corps came up in the course of the two following days; and the joint advance on Mobile was resumed on the 25th. It was resisted only by skirmishers; but the roads were thickly  planted with torpedoes, which, unless cautiously sought out and exploded, were very destructive. Quite a number of men and horses were killed by them. “ Spanish Fort,” the strongest of the eastern defenses of Mobile, was thus approached and finally invested:16 the Rebel movable column retiring on Blakely. The 16th corps, on the right, threatened Blakely, while the 13th, on our left, more immediately invested Spanish Fort. Steele now joined hands with Smith, thus forming our extreme right. Our fleet had moved up the bay parallel with our army, making for Howard's landing just below Spanish Fort, with intent to aid in the reduction of that stronghold by bombardment, and by isolating it from Mobile. Notwithstanding the general shallowness of the bay, they were enabled to approach the shore so nearly as to deliver a very effective fire, which was seldom returned, and which ultimately cut off the fort from all communication with the city; but, in effecting this, the Metacomet first, afterward the Osage, were blown up by torpedoes, and destroyed. Their crews generally escaped, owing to the shallowness of the water. The gunboats Stockdale, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Albatross, Winnebago, and Genesee, with some smaller vessels, remained. After firing leisurely through the day, they usually dropped down the bay to Great Point Clear to anchor for the night. The siege of Spanish Fort was opened in due form on the 28th; our lines having been established during the preceding night, at distances of 300 to 400 yards. Up to this time, our total loss had not exceeded 400 men. The siege was pressed with great ardor, and with considerable loss from Rebel shells. On the morning of the 30th, Veatch's division of Gen. Granger's corps, while relieving guard, blundered into the Rebel lines, and were regarded as the head of an assaulting column; provoking a sally, whereby our skirmishers and working parties were hurled back, with some loss; but the enemy, advancing too far, were repelled in turn; whereupon, the artillery on both sides suddenly reopened and kept firing till daylight to little purpose. Still, the siege was steadily pressed forward; and, the investment being completed,17 the result was no longer doubtful: our troops having already built an earthwork and mounted siege-guns within 200 yards of the Fort Our losses were mainly from shells: many of them thrown by batteries whose location was concealed, and which could not, in consequence, be silenced. One of these shells killed or wounded 15 men; another 12. Our fleet, unable otherwise to get within effective distance of the fort, crossed the bar and engaged the Rebel fleet, which included several iron-clads; compelling it to move up toward the city. All being at length ready, a tremendous concentric fire at close range was opened18 at nightfall on the doomed fort, from siege-guns and field-pieces in battery, and from gunboats on the side of the bay; while our skirmishers and sharp-shooters, creeping up from ridge to ridge, and firing from the heads of our trenches, picked off the Rebel artillerists or  drove them from their guns; which replied at first briskly, then more and more feebly; until, by midnight, they were utterly silenced, and, an hour later, the fort was ours; Gen. Bartram's brigade entering unopposed at 2 A. M.19 Most of the garrison escaped under cover of darkness; but 652 prisoners and 30 heavy guns, with a large quantity of munitions, fell to the victors; who forthwith turned the guns, seconded by those of the Octorara, on the smaller forts Tracy and Huger near the mouth of the Tensaw; which were speedily abandoned by the Rebels, after spiking their 8 heavy guns. And now our fleet, enlightened as to the location of torpedoes by some of the captives, succeeded in picking up 35 of them unharmed, and was thereby enabled to run up almost within shelling distance of Mobile. Blakely had already been for four days invested by land; but its communication by water with Mobile remained open until the fall of the forts below. Our gunboats now moved up to invest it on this side; while Gen. Steele, in immediate command before it, formed his columns for a prompt, determined assault; which he appointed for 5 P. M., and which was actually delivered at 5 1/2. The position was a very strong one, heavily fortified with abatis, palisades, chevaux de frise, and a deep, wide ditch at the base of the fort. Its front extended nearly three miles--its right was near Bayou Minetta, its left on Blakely river; and it was garrisoned by 3,000 men, under Gens. Thomas and Cockrill. Its abundant cannon swept every practicable approach. The struggle opened on our left; where Gen. Garrard, under a fire of the 17th Ohio battery, sent forward one-third of his strong division to within 50 yards of the main works, defying a hail-storm of shell and shrapnel, to discover and indicate the safest ground over which to move up in force, preparatory to the decisive charge. Finding that there was no choice of ground — all being alike impracticable — a brief conference was held by the general officers, and closed with the word “Forward!” The whole division at once sprang forward with a shout; to which the Rebels responded with all their guns. For nearly an hour, our men struggled with obstructions that seemed insurmountable, under a fire of shell and canister that threatened their annihilation; sometimes recoiling for a moment, when the voice of their commanders would cheer and encourage them to rally; and thus at length the abatis and other obstructions were struggled through, and the Unionists leaped into the ditch and scrambled up the face of the defenses; while Rinnekin's and Gilbert's brigades, turning the fort by our right, gained its entrance and arrested there the flight of Gen. Thomas and 1,000 of his men, who were made prisoners. The conflict along the center, where the assault was delivered by Dennis's brigade of Veatch's division and Spiceley's and Moore's brigades of Andrews's, was far less sanguinary; yet Andrews's men, when but 40 yards from the fort, were plowed with grape from 8 guns; while our skirmishers, on reaching the brink of the ditch, were scattered by the  explosion under their feet of a dozen torpedoes; yet, under a furious fire of grape and canister, the assault was steadily persisted in till the victory was complete. On our right, the Blacks, led by Gen. Hawkins, were pitted against Mississippians, who specially detested them, but who found them foemen worthy of their steel. “Remember Fort Pillow! ” passed from rank to rank as, with set teeth and tightly grasped weapons, they went over the Rebel breastworks, hurling back all before them. By 7 P. M., Blakely was fully ours, with 3,000 prisoners, 32 guns, 4,000 small arms, 16 flags, and large quantities of ammunition. It had cost us fully 1,000 killed and wounded; while 500 Rebels lay stretched beside them. Mobile was lost and won. It could no longer be held; so its evacuation commenced on the 10th, and was completed on the 11th. Gen. Maury fled up the Alabama, with 9,000 men, leaving 4,000 prisoners in our hands; while 1,000 more were found in the city, when, at 2 P. M. of the 12th, the flag of the Union--already floating over every fort and battery that looked on the bay — was exultingly raised over the last important Confederate seaport. Its reduction had cost us 2,500 men; beside two iron-clads, two ‘tin-clads’ (or slightly shielded gunboats), and one transport — all sunk by torpedoes. The guns captured in the city and its defenses numbered 150. The powerful rams Huntsville and Tuscaloosa were sunk by Maury before the evacuation. The Rebel ram W. H. Webb, from Red river, freighted with cotton, rosin, &c., came down the Mississippi past New Orleans20 so wholly unexpected that she received but two shots in passing — our fleet being still mainly absent in Mobile bay. Being pursued by gunboats from above, she was making all speed toward. the Gulf, till she encountered the corvette Richmond, coming up the river; when her commander, seeing no chance of escape, terminated her brief but not particularly brilliant career, by running her ashore and blowing her up. Her crew escaped to the swamps, but were mainly captured.