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Wilson's Raid

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Title: Wilson's Raid  
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Subject: Selma, Alabama, Columbiana, Alabama, Department of Arizona, Macon, Georgia, Alabama in the American Civil War
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Wilson's Raid

Wilson's Raid was a American Civil War. Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson led his Union Army Cavalry Corps to destroy Southern manufacturing facilities and was opposed unsuccessfully by a much smaller force under Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Background and opposing forces

After his victory at the Military Division of the Mississippi, but was attached to Thomas's army) to lead a raid to destroy the arsenal at Selma, Alabama, in conjunction with Maj. Gen. Edward Canby's operations against Mobile. Selma was strategically important as one of the few Confederate military bases remaining in Southern hands. The town contained an arsenal, a naval foundry, gun factories, a powder mill, military warehouses, and railroad repair shops.

Wilson led approximately 13,500 men in three divisions, commanded by Brig. Gens. James R. Chalmers and William H. Jackson, two partial brigades under Brig. Gen. Philip D. Roddey and Colonel Edward Crossland, and a few local militia.


Wilson was delayed in crossing the rain swollen Tennessee River, but got underway on March 22, 1865, departing Gravelly Springs, Alabama. He sent his forces in three separate columns to mask his intentions and confuse the enemy; Forrest learned very late in the raid that Selma was the primary target. Minor skirmishes occurred at Houston (March 25) and Black Warrior River (March 26), and Wilson's columns rejoined at Jasper on March 27.

View of the Quad at the University of Alabama in 1859. The Rotunda can be seen at center, with the halls visible in the background. All of these buildings were destroyed during Wilson's Raid on April 4, 1865.

On March 28, at Elyton, near present-day Birmingham, another skirmish occurred and the Union troopers destroyed the Oxmoor and Irondale iron furnaces. A detachment of General Emory Upton's division destroyed the C.B. Churchill and Company foundry in Columbiana[1] and the Shelby Iron Works in Shelby on March 31, 1865.[2]


Wilson also detached a 1,500 man brigade under Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton and sent them south and west to burn the Roupes Valley Ironworks at Tannehill and Bibb Naval Furnace at Brierfield on March 31. They then burned the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the site of a prominent military school, on April 4.[3] This movement diverted Chalmer's division away from Forrest's main force.


On March 31, Forrest was routed by the larger, better-armed Union force at Montevallo. The cavalrymen under Chalmers had not arrived to reinforce Forrest, but he could not wait. During the action, Forrest's headquarters were overrun and documents captured that gave valuable intelligence concerning his plans. Wilson dispatched McCook to link up with Croxton's brigade at Trion (now Vance) and then led the remainder of his force rapidly toward Selma. Forrest made a stand on April 1 at Plantersville, near Ebenezer Church, and was routed once again. The Confederates raced toward Selma and deployed into a three-mile, semicircular defensive line anchored at both ends by the Alabama River.

The Battle of Selma took place on April 2. The divisions of Long and Upton assaulted Forrest's hastily constructed works. The dismounted Union troopers broke through by afternoon, after brief periods of hand-to-hand combat; the inexperienced militiamen abandoning their positions and fleeing was the primary reason for the entire line breaking. General Wilson personally led a mounted charge of the 4th U.S. Cavalry against an unfinished portion of the line. General Long was severely wounded in the head during the assault. Forrest, who was also wounded, and whose tiny corps was severely damaged, regrouped at Marion, where he finally rejoined with Chalmers. Wilson's men worked for over a week at destroying military facilities. From there, Wilson's forces moved toward Montgomery, which they occupied on April 12.

West Point

Word reached the Union force Oscar Hugh La Grange's brigade attacked an earthwork defensive position named Fort Tyler. Although the Union men had to bridge a ditch under the fire of one 32-pounder gun and two 12-pounders inside the earthwork, the fort was captured. Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert C. Tyler, who was convalescing in West Point from previous wounds and who had mustered a small garrison of soldiers and local volunteers, was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter, becoming the last general officer to be killed in the Civil War. Tyler is buried at the Fort Tyler Cemetery.


Finally on Easter Sunday, April 16, Wilson was victorious in the William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina.

Aftermath and capture of Jefferson Davis

Wilson's Raid had been a spectacular success. His men captured five fortified cities, 288 cannon, and 6,820 prisoners, at a cost of 725 Union casualties. Forrest's casualties, from a much smaller force, numbered 1,200. The raid was done without the disastrous collateral damage that characterized [7]

Upon conclusion of the raid, and following the surrender of all of the Confederate forces east of the Chattahoochee by Johnston to Sherman, the hostilities ended. However, the pursuit of fleeing officials of the Confederate government commenced as Wilson's forces fanned out through the region. Confederate President Jefferson Davis was finally captured on May 10, 1865 near [8]


  1. ^ The story of coal and iron in Alabama - Ethel Armes - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Jones, p. 60
  4. ^ Jones, pp. 117-8
  5. ^ Civil War Times, April 2003
  6. ^ "The Last Battle of The Civil War," by Charles Swift.
  7. ^ Jones, pp. 92-96
  8. ^ Jones, pp. 170-176


  • Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
  • National Park Service battle description for Selma
  • Jones, James Pickett. Yankee Blitzkrieg, Wilson's Raid Through Alabama and Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0-8203-0370-3.

External links

  • Army of the Cumberland website on Wilson's Raid
  • Wilson's Raid article, Encyclopedia of Alabama

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