Surgery to the Heart of Dixie!
Gen. Wilson and his men begin to prepare for surgery to the Heart of Dixie with the advancing Confederate forces under the leadership of the revered and feared General Forrest. Wilson cited this occasion in rather eloquent terms: “…just as we were advancing (from Montevallo) we discovered the enemy on the Selma Road beyond the first field, with dense woods behind. Simultaneously our pickets reported him moving forward to the attack. As it turned out, Forrest was in our front. We were face to face at last.”
This first meeting of the two commanders turned out to be a relatively brief engagement, that ended with Forrest’s small forces falling back toward Selma.
By a stroke of luck, Wilson’s forces captured a courier who had three separate dispatches on his person which outlined the positions and sizes of Forrest’s forces. The dispatches indicated that the Confederate forces were widely dispersed, and this prompted Wilson to rationalize that by pushing on to Selma as quickly as possible he could be in Selma before Forrest’s forces could be consolidated to offer a strong defense. Wilson’s forces move on toward Selma.
The next resistance Wilson’s troops encountered was at Ebenezer Church on the afternoon of April 1, 1865. Here, Forrest had a strong position on the north bank of Bolger’s Creek, but his inadequate number of men permitted him to hold this spot for only a brief time. Nevertheless, the Rebels fought fiercely to maintain their position. The fighting became so intense that most were fighting hand-to-hand! Forrest was wounded during this action as Union Captain James Taylor slashed his arm with a sword (Forrest then shot and killed him with a revolver.) That evening, after the position, could no longer be maintained, Confederate troops were compelled to retreat to Selma.
The defensive works, which protected Selma, were well built. In Wilson’s report he describes a portion of the works assaulted: ” Height of the parapet, six to eight feet, thickness, eight feet; depth of ditch, five feet wide, 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… The distance which the troops charged, exposed to enemy’s fire of artillery and musketry, 600 yards.”
The flanks were anchored in the Alabama River, rendering it a very secure position. If Forrest would have had the troops to adequately man the works it would have been extremely difficult for the Union to take. Since he did not, he put up the best fight that his scant forces could offer, but was forced to abandon the city by dark. After the battle was over the union forces counted 40 killed, 260 wounded, and 7 missing. Confederate killed and wounded are not recorded, but Wilson estimates in his book that they were significantly lower than his own; Wilson does record having taken 2,700 prisoners. The loss of Selma on April 2, 1865, was surgery to the heart of Dixie and a major blow to the Confederacy’s plans for being able to continue the war effort. But, there remains hope as long as the industries in Columbus continue to function!
After a week of rest, Wilson’s troops began moving towards Montgomery. Wilson believed that the symbolic significance of the ” first capital of the Confederacy” meant that it would be strongly fortified and defended. As it turned out, the Confederate leadership had determined it to be more important to the war effort to consolidate all available forces in the region of Columbus. There, forces could defend the industries, arsenals, naval yard, and stores that now so vital to the Confederate cause. Columbus was second only to Richmond in its production of war-related supplies for the Confederacy. Consequently, Montgomery was surrendered on April 12, 1865; without a shot being fired! On the day before Wilson had been informed that Richmond had fell and its surrender was soon to come. At Montgomery Wilson’s troops burned foundries and factories that could be used in the aid of the expiring rebellion. To prevent any looting of homes Wilson gave even stronger orders against looting and forbid a soldier from entering a house unless accompanied by a commissioned officer.
With the Heart of Dixie beating ever slower with the loss of Alabama industry and Gen. Forrest’s manpower draining down; Columbus and the “Chattahoochee Valley” are all that’s left to help supply a prolonged war for the South. LOOK OUT COLUMBUS ” The Yankee’s are Coming!”
Research Help by Will Rollins and Melisa Rollins