Battle of Selma

Last updated

Coordinates: 32°25′26″N87°01′25″W / 32.4240°N 87.0237°W / 32.4240; -87.0237


Battle of Selma
Part of American Civil War
DateApril 2, 1865 (1865-04-02)
Result Union victory
Flag of the United States (1865-1867).svg United States (Union) Flag of the Confederate States of America (1865).svg CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
James H. Wilson Nathan Bedford Forrest
Units involved
Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi Forrest's Cavalry Corps
9,000 4,000
Casualties and losses
359 [1] 2,700 [2]
James Wilson James Wilson (soldier).jpg
James Wilson

The Battle of Selma, Alabama (April 2, 1865), formed part of the Union campaign through Alabama and Georgia, known as Wilson's Raid, in the final full month of the American Civil War.

Union Army forces under Major General James H. Wilson, totaling 13,500, invaded southern Alabama, opposed by Confederates under Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who a force of only 2,000, with mainly boys and old men. After Forrest was defeated at the Battle of Ebenezer Church, he retreated into the city of Selma, whose fortifications were badly undermanned. Wilson's columns broke through at several points, forcing the Confederates to surrender the city. Wilson took many prisoners, although Forrest and Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor escaped. The arsenal and naval factories were destroyed by Union troops. The double defeat of the supposedly invincible Forrest signaled that the Union could move anywhere in the dwindling Confederacy.

Background to battle

On March 30, 1865, General Wilson detached Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton's brigade to destroy all Confederate property at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After capturing a Confederate courier who carried dispatches from Forrest describing the strength and disposition of his scattered forces, Wilson sent a brigade to destroy the bridge across the Cahaba River at Centreville. This effectively cut off Forrest from reinforcement. It also began a running fight that did not end until after the fall of Selma. Forrest had scattered his command through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, to refit his command following the Middle Tennessee Campaign, and Forrest spent several days in late March struggling to consolidate his force before Wilson's cavalry could advance south. [3]

On the afternoon of April 1, following skirmishing in the morning, Wilson's advance guard ran into Forrest's line of battle at Ebenezer Church, where the Randolph Road intersected the main Selma road. Forrest had hoped to bring his entire force to bear on Wilson. However, because of delays caused by flooding, plus earlier contacts with the enemy, Forrest could only muster less than 2,000 men, many of whom were not veterans but poorly trained militia consisting of old men and young boys. [4]

The outnumbered Confederates fought for over an hour, as Wilson deployed more Union cavalry and artillery on the field. Forrest himself was wounded by a saber-wielding Union captain, whom he killed with his revolver. Finally, a Union cavalry charge broke the Confederate militia, causing Forrest to be flanked on his right. He was forced to retreat under severe pressure. The battle failed to significantly delay or damage Wilson's force. [5]

Struggle for Selma

Map of Selma Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program. Selma Battlefield Alabama.jpg
Map of Selma Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program.

Early the next morning Forrest arrived at Selma, a town of about ten thousand inhabitants, [6] "horse and rider covered in blood." [7] He advised Gen. Richard Taylor, departmental commander, to leave the city. Taylor did so after giving Forrest command of the defense. Selma was protected by three miles of fortifications, which ran in a semicircle around the city. They were anchored on the north and south by the Alabama River. The works had been built two years earlier and, while neglected since then, they were still formidable. The defenses were from 8 to 12 feet high, 15 feet thick at the base, and had a ditch 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep along the front. Before this was a picket fence of heavy posts planted in the ground, 5 feet high, and sharpened at the top. At prominent positions, earthen forts were built with artillery in position to cover the ground over which an assault would have to be made. [8]

Forrest's defenders consisted of his Tennessee escort company, McCullough's Missouri Regiment, Edward Crossland's Kentucky Brigade, Phillip Dale Roddey's Alabama Brigade, Frank Armstrong's Mississippi Brigade, Bouanchaud's Battery, Darden's Battery, General Daniel W. Adams' state reserves, and citizens of Selma who volunteered to man the defenses. The total force numbered less than 4,000, barely half of whom were soldiers. Selma's fortifications had been designed to be defended by 20,000 men, and Forrest's outnumbered defenders had to stand 10 to 12 feet apart to cover their sectors. [9]

Wilson's force arrived at the Selma fortifications at 2 p.m. He placed Gen. Eli Long's division across the Summerfield Road, with the Chicago Board of Trade Battery in support. Maj. Gen. Emory Upton's division was placed across the Range Line Road with Battery I, 4th U.S. Artillery in support. Wilson had 9,000 well-armed and well-trained troops available to make the assault. Wilson's plan was for Upton to send in a 300-man detachment after dark to cross the swamp on the Confederate right, enter the works, and begin a flanking movement toward the center moving along the line of fortifications. Then a single gun from Upton's artillery would fire the signal for an attack by the entire Federal Corps. At 5 p.m., however, the ammunition train in Wilson's rear was attacked by advance elements of Forrest's scattered forces who were moving toward Selma. Long and Upton had both positioned significant numbers of the troops in their rear to guard against such an event. However, Long decided on his own to begin an assault against the Selma fortifications to neutralize the attack in his rear. [10]

Long's men attacked in a single rank in three main lines, dismounted and firing their 7-shot Spencer repeating rifles. They were supported by their artillery. The Confederates defenders replied with heavy small arms and artillery fire. In one of the many ironies of the Civil War, the Confederate artillery had only a solid shot on hand, while just a short distance away was an arsenal that produced tons of canister, a highly effective anti-personnel ammunition. The attackers suffered many casualties, including General Long himself, but the attack continued. Once the Union troops reached the works, vicious hand-to-hand fighting broke out. Many on both sides were struck down with clubbed muskets. Still, Union troops kept pouring into the works. In less than 30 minutes, Long's men had captured the works protecting the Summerfield Road from the hopelessly outnumbered defenders. [11]

Meanwhile, General Upton, observing Long's success, ordered his division forward. Soon, U.S. flags could be seen waving over the works from Range Line Road to Summerfield Road. Once the outer works had fallen, General Wilson, himself led the 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in a mounted charge down the Range Line Road toward the unfinished inner line of works. The retreating Confederate forces, having reached the inner works, rallied and poured a devastating fire into the charging Union column. This stopped the charge and sent General Wilson sprawling to the ground when his favorite horse was wounded. Wilson quickly remounted his injured horse and ordered a dismounted assault by several regiments. Mixed units of Confederate troops at the Selma railroad depot and the adjoining banks of the railroad bed tried to make a stand next to the Plantersville Road (present-day Broad Street). Fighting there was heavy, but by 7 p.m. the superior numbers of Union troops had allowed them to flank the Southern positions, causing the defenders to abandon the depot as well as the inner line of works. [12]


Union troops rounded up hundreds of prisoners, but hundreds more escaped in the darkness down the Burnsville Road. These included Generals Forrest, Armstrong, and Roddey. To the west, many Confederate soldiers continued to fight the pursuing Union soldiers to the eastern side of Valley Creek. They then escaped in the darkness by swimming the Alabama River near the mouth of Valley Creek (where the present-day Battle of Selma Reenactment is held.) During his escape from the city, Forrest killed another Union trooper, the thirtieth he had killed in personal combat in the war. Wilson lost 359 men in the battle, while Forrest lost over 2,700 casualties, mostly prisoners and 32 artillery pieces. [13]

Jubilant Union troops looted the city that night. Wilson's men spent the next week destroying the arsenal and naval foundry. Finally, they left Selma and moved on to Montgomery and fought the Battle of Columbus, Georgia on Easter Sunday, and finally marched to Macon, Georgia, when they learned of the war's end. On May 10, they captured Jefferson Davis in Irwinsville, Georgia. [14]

See also


  1. Trudeau, p. 160.
  2. Trudeau, p. 160.
  3. Trudeau, pp. 1112, 154.
  4. Trudeau, pp. 154156.
  5. Trudeau, pp. 156158; Wills, p. 309.
  6. Samuel Sullivan Cox, Three Decades of Federal Legislation, 1855 to 1885, Mills 1885, p. 402 (Based on testimony of Alabama's Provisional Governor, Lewis E. Parsons).
  7. Trudeau, p. 160.
  8. Trudeau, pp. 15962.
  9. Hurst, p. 251; Wills, p. 309.
  10. Trudeau, pp. 162164.
  11. Trudeau, pp. 16465.
  12. Trudeau, pp. 16566;Wills, p. 310.
  13. Trudeau, p. 166; Wills, p. 310.
  14. Trudeau, pp. 172, 186187, 293294.

Related Research Articles

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House Major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, sometimes more simply referred to as the Battle of Spotsylvania, was the second major battle in Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's 1864 Overland Campaign of the American Civil War. Following the bloody but inconclusive Battle of the Wilderness, Grant's army disengaged from Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army and moved to the southeast, attempting to lure Lee into battle under more favorable conditions. Elements of Lee's army beat the Union army to the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, and began entrenching. Fighting occurred on and off from May 8 through May 21, 1864, as Grant tried various schemes to break the Confederate line. In the end, the battle was tactically inconclusive, but both sides declared victory. The Confederacy declared victory because they were able to hold their defenses. The United States declared victory because the Federal offensive continued and Lee's army suffered losses that could not be replaced. With almost 32,000 casualties on both sides, Spotsylvania was the costliest battle of the campaign.

Battle of Cold Harbor Major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Cold Harbor was fought during the American Civil War near Mechanicsville, Virginia, from May 31 to June 12, 1864, with the most significant fighting occurring on June 3. It was one of the final battles of Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign, and is remembered as one of American history's bloodiest, most lopsided battles. Thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded in a hopeless frontal assault against the fortified positions of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Confederate Army general

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a prominent Confederate Army general during the American Civil War and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from 1867 to 1869. Although scholars generally acknowledge Forrest's skills and acumen as a cavalry leader and military strategist, he has remained a controversial figure in Southern racial history, especially for his main role in the massacre of over 300 black soldiers at Fort Pillow coupled with his post-war role in leading the Klan.

Siege of Petersburg Battles of the American Civil War

The Richmond–Petersburg campaign was a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia, fought from June 15, 1864, to April 2, 1865, during the American Civil War. Although it is more popularly known as the siege of Petersburg, it was not a classic military siege, in which a city is usually surrounded and all supply lines are cut off, nor was it strictly limited to actions against Petersburg. The campaign consisted of nine months of trench warfare in which Union forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Petersburg unsuccessfully and then constructed trench lines that eventually extended over 30 miles (48 km) from the eastern outskirts of Richmond, Virginia, to around the eastern and southern outskirts of Petersburg. Petersburg was crucial to the supply of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army and the Confederate capital of Richmond. Numerous raids were conducted and battles fought in attempts to cut off the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. Many of these battles caused the lengthening of the trench lines.

Selma, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Selma is a city in and the county seat of Dallas County, in the Black Belt region of south central Alabama and extending to the west. Located on the banks of the Alabama River, the city has a population of 20,756 as of the 2010 census. About 80% of the population is African-American.

Battle of Fort Stedman

The Battle of Fort Stedman, also known as the Battle of Hare's Hill, was fought on March 25, 1865, during the final weeks of the American Civil War. The Union Army fortification in the siege lines around Petersburg, Virginia, was attacked in a pre-dawn Confederate assault by troops led by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. The attack was the last serious attempt by Confederate troops to break the Siege of Petersburg. After an initial success, Gordon's men were driven back by Union troops of the IX Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke.

Battle of Franklin (1864)

The Battle of Franklin was fought on November 30, 1864, in Franklin, Tennessee, as part of the Franklin–Nashville Campaign of the American Civil War. It was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate States Army. Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee conducted numerous frontal assaults against fortified positions occupied by the Union forces under Maj. Gen. John Schofield and was unable to prevent Schofield from executing a planned, orderly withdrawal to Nashville.

Battle of Nashville Major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Nashville was a two-day battle in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that represented the end of large-scale fighting west of the coastal states in the American Civil War. It was fought at Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15–16, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood and the Union Army of the Cumberland under Major General George H. Thomas. In one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army during the war, Thomas attacked and routed Hood's army, largely destroying it as an effective fighting force.

James H. Wilson

James Harrison Wilson was a United States Army topographic engineer and a Union Army Major General in the American Civil War. He served as an aide to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan during the Maryland Campaign before joining Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army in the Western Theater, where he was promoted to brigadier general. In 1864, he transferred from engineering to the cavalry, where he displayed notable leadership in many engagements of the Overland Campaign, though his attempt to destroy Lee’s supply lines failed when he was routed by a much smaller force of Confederate irregulars.

Overland Campaign

The Overland Campaign, also known as Grant's Overland Campaign and the Wilderness Campaign, was a series of battles fought in Virginia during May and June 1864, in the American Civil War. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all Union armies, directed the actions of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, and other forces against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Although Grant suffered severe losses during the campaign, it was a strategic Union victory. It inflicted proportionately higher losses on Lee's army and maneuvered it into a siege at Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, in just over eight weeks.

Battle of Chaffins Farm

The Battle of Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights, also known as Laurel Hill and combats at Forts Harrison, Johnson, and Gilmer, was fought in Virginia on September 29–30, 1864, as part of the Siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War.

Appomattox campaign

The Appomattox campaign was a series of American Civil War battles fought March 29 – April 9, 1865, in Virginia that concluded with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to forces of the Union Army under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, marking the effective end of the war.

Franklin–Nashville Campaign

The Franklin–Nashville Campaign, also known as Hood's Tennessee Campaign, was a series of battles in the Western Theater, conducted from September 18 to December 27, 1864, in Alabama, Tennessee, and northwestern Georgia during the American Civil War.

Wilson's Raid was a cavalry operation through Alabama and Georgia in March–April 1865, late in the 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.

The Second Battle of Deep Bottom, also known as Fussell's Mill, New Market Road, Bailey's Creek, Charles City Road, or White's Tavern was fought August 14–20, 1864, at Deep Bottom in Henrico County, Virginia, during the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign of the American Civil War.

Selma, Alabama, during the American Civil War was one of the South's main military manufacturing centers, producing tons of supplies and munitions, and turning out Confederate warships. The Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry complex included a naval foundry, shipyard, army arsenal, and gunpowder works. Following the Battle of Selma, Union Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson's troops destroyed Selma's army arsenal and factories, as well as much of the city.

Forrests Cavalry Corps

Forrest's Cavalry Corps was part of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War and commanded by Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Formed during the summer of 1862, it took part in the various battles in the Western Theater during the second half of the war. At first serving as part of the Army of Tennessee, both Forrest and the corps were then transferred to northern Mississippi and often launched independent raids into Union occupied western and central Tennessee.

The Battle of Columbus, Georgia, was the last conflict in the Union campaign through Alabama and Georgia, known as Wilson's Raid, in the final full month of the American Civil War.

This is a list of battles and skirmishes of the American Civil War during the year 1865, the final year of the war. During the year, Union forces were able to capture the last major Confederate ports still open to shipping, along with the Confederate capital, and forced the surrender of the four major Confederate commands.

Battle of Ebenezer Church 1865 battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Ebenezer Church was a battle that was fought near Plantersville, Alabama between Union Army cavalry under Brigadier General and Brevet Major General of volunteers James H. Wilson and Confederate States Army cavalry under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest on April 1, 1865 during Wilson's Raid into Alabama in the final full month of the American Civil War.