Selma, Alabama in the American Civil War

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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. [1]

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.

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Southern United States Cultural region of the United States

The southern United States, also known as the American South, Dixie, Dixieland, or simply the South, is a region of the United States of America. It is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the western United States, with the midwestern United States and northeastern United States to its north and the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico to its south.

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Importance of Selma to the Confederacy

The CSS Tennessee in 1864 CSSTennessee cropped.jpg
The CSS Tennessee in 1864

Because of its central location, production facilities, and rail connections, the advantages of Selma as a site for production of cartridges, saltpeter, powder, shot and shell, rifles, cannon and steam rams soon became apparent to the Confederacy. By 1863, most materiel was manufactured in Selma, employing at least ten thousand people.[ citation needed ] Selma, along with the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, was one of two sites producing the Brooke rifle, a rifled naval and coast defense cannon designed by John Mercer Brooke. The hulls for several Confederate ironclads, including the CSS Huntsville, CSS Phoenix, CSS Tennessee, and CSS Tuscaloosa were laid at the Confederate Navy Yard there. [2] [3] [4] [5] CSS Nashville was also partially outfitted in Selma. [1]

Potassium nitrate chemical compound

Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the chemical formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3, and is therefore an alkali metal nitrate.

Cannon class of artillery which fires at a low or flat trajectory

A cannon is a type of gun classified as artillery that launches a projectile using propellant. In the past, gunpowder was the primary propellant before the invention of smokeless powder in the 19th century. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees, depending on their intended use on the battlefield. The word cannon is derived from several languages, in which the original definition can usually be translated as tube, cane, or reed. In the modern era, the term cannon has fallen into decline, replaced by guns or artillery if not a more specific term such as mortar or howitzer, except for high calibre automatic weapons firing bigger rounds than machine guns, called autocannons.

Materiel military technology and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management

Materiel, more commonly matériel in US English and also listed as the only spelling in some UK dictionaries, refers to supplies, equipment, and weapons in military supply chain management, and typically supplies and equipment only in a commercial supply chain context.

Early Federal attempts to seize Selma

The capacities and importance of Selma, in its relation to the Confederate war effort, had been evident to Northern strategists and too great to be overlooked by the Federal authorities as early as 1862. But reaching it with a Federal force was not attempted early in the war, as its distance from the front lines made it an extremely difficult target. As Selma grew in importance to the Confederate forces, the greater became the necessity to capture it. Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, with a cavalry force from Memphis, was intercepted and returned in 1863. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman made an effort to reach it in February 1864, but after advancing as far as Meridian, within 107 miles (172 km) of Selma, he retreated to the Mississippi River. General Lovell Rousseau made a dash in the direction of Selma in 1864, but was misled by his guides and instead struck 90 miles (140 km) east of the city. [6]

Benjamin Grierson Union Army General

Benjamin Henry Grierson was a music teacher, then a career officer in the United States Army. He was a cavalry general in the volunteer Union Army during the Civil War and later led troops in the American Old West. He is most noted for an 1863 expedition through Confederate-held territory that severed enemy communication lines between Vicksburg, Mississippi and Confederate commanders in the Eastern Theater. After the war he organized and led the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment from 1866 to 1890.

Memphis, Tennessee City in Tennessee, United States

Memphis is a city located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Shelby County, Tennessee, United States. The 2017 city population was 652,236, making Memphis the 25th largest city in the United States. Greater Memphis is the 42nd largest metropolitan area in the United States, with a population of 1,348,260 in 2017. The city is the anchor of West Tennessee and the greater Mid-South region, which includes portions of neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi. Memphis is the seat of Shelby County, the most populous county in Tennessee. As one of the most historic and cultural cities of the southern United States, the city features a wide variety of landscapes and distinct neighborhoods.

William Tecumseh Sherman American General, businessman, educator, and author

William Tecumseh Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator, and author. He served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–65), for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the scorched earth policies he implemented in conducting total war against the Confederate States.

Battle of Selma

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest Nathan Bedford Forrest.jpg
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest
Gen. James H. Wilson James Wilson (soldier).jpg
Gen. James H. Wilson
Arsenal Place Memorial, erected in 1931 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to recognize the location of the Confederate ordnance works destroyed by the Union Army on April 6, 1865 Arsenal Place memorial, Selma, Alabama.jpg
Arsenal Place Memorial, erected in 1931 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to recognize the location of the Confederate ordnance works destroyed by the Union Army on April 6, 1865
Ruins of the Confederate States Naval Foundry at Selma in 1865 Ruins of Confederate States Naval Foundry at Selma.jpg
Ruins of the Confederate States Naval Foundry at Selma in 1865

Major General James H. 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 General Nathan Bedford Forrest describing the strengths and dispositions of his scattered forces, Wilson also sent a brigade to destroy the bridge across the Cahaba River at Centreville. This action effectively cut off most of Forrest's reinforcements. This began a running fight that did not end until after the fall of Selma.

James H. Wilson American Civil War Union major general

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.

John T. Croxton Union Army General

John Thomas Croxton was an attorney, a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and a postbellum U.S. diplomat.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Tuscaloosa is a city in and the seat of Tuscaloosa County in west central Alabama. Located on the Black Warrior River at the Atlantic Seaboard fall line of the Piedmont, it is the fifth-largest city in Alabama, with an estimated population of 100,287 in 2017.

On the afternoon of April 1, 1865, after skirmishing all morning, Wilson's advanced guard ran into Forrest's line of battle at Ebenezer Church, where the Randolph Road intersected the main Selma road. Here Forrest had hoped to bring his entire force to bear on Wilson. However delays caused by flooding plus earlier contact with the enemy enabled Forrest to muster less than 2,000 men, a large number of whom were not veterans but militia consisting of old men and young boys.

Skirmisher historical profession

Skirmishers are light infantry or cavalry soldiers in the role of skirmishing—stationed to act as a vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard, screening a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances. They are usually deployed in a skirmish line—an irregular open formation much more spread out in depth and breadth than a traditional line formation. Their purpose is to harass the enemy—engaging them in only light or sporadic combat in order to delay their movement, disrupt their attack, or weaken their morale. Skirmishers' open formations and smaller numbers can give them superior mobility over the regular forces, allowing them to fight on more favorable terms, taking advantage of better position or terrain and quickly withdrawing from any threat of superior enemy forces.

The outnumbered and outgunned Confederates fought bravely for more than an hour as more Union cavalry and artillery deployed on the field. Forrest himself was wounded by a saber-wielding Union captain whom he killed with his revolver. Finally, a Union cavalry charge with carbines blazing broke the Confederate militia causing Forrest to be flanked on his right. He was forced to retreat under severe pressure.

Early the next morning Forrest arrived at Selma, "horse and rider covered in blood." He advised Gen. Richard Taylor, departmental commander, to leave the city. Taylor did so after giving Forrest command of the defense.

Richard Taylor (general) Confederate general in the American Civil War

Richard "Dick" Taylor was an American planter, politician, military historian, and Confederate general. Following the outbreak of the American Civil War, Taylor joined the Confederate States Army, serving first as a brigade commander in Virginia, and later as an army commander in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Taylor commanded the District of West Louisiana and was responsible for successfully opposing United States troops invading upper northwest Louisiana during the Red River Campaign of 1864. He was the only son of Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States.

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 for the most part since, were still formidable. They were 8 to 12 feet (3.7 m) high, 15 feet (4.6 m) thick at the base, with a ditch 4 feet (1.2 m) wide and 5 feet (1.5 m) deep along the front. In front of this was a picket fence of heavy posts planted in the ground, 5 feet (1.5 m) 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.

Forrest's defenders consisted of his Tennessee escort company, McCullough's Missouri Regiment, Crossland's Kentucky Brigade, Roddey's Alabama Brigade, Frank Armstrong's Mississippi Brigade, General Daniel W. Adams' state reserves, and the citizens of Selma who were "volunteered" to man the works. Altogether this force numbered less than 4,000, only half of who were dependable. The Selma fortifications were built to be defended by 20,000 men. Forrest's soldiers had to stand 10 to 12 feet (3.7 m) apart in the works.

Wilson's force arrived in front of the Selma fortifications at 2 p.m. He had placed Gen. Eli Long's division across the Summerfield Road with the Chicago Board of Trade Battery in support. He had Maj. Gen. Emory Upton's division placed across the Range Line Road with Battery I, 4th U.S. Artillery in support. Altogether, Wilson had 9,000 troops available for the assault.

The Federal commander'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 signal the attack by the entire Federal Corps.

At 5 p.m., however, Gen. Long's ammunition train in the rear was attacked by advance elements of Forrest's scattered forces coming toward Selma. Both Long and Upton had positioned significant numbers of troops in their rear for just such an event. However, Long decided to commence his assault against the Selma fortifications to neutralize the enemy attack in his rear.

Long's troops attacked in a single rank in three main lines, dismounted with Spencers carbines blazing, supported by their own artillery fire. The Confederates replied with heavy small arms and artillery fire of their own. The Southern artillery, in one of the many ironies of the Civil War, only had solid shot on hand, while just a short distance away was an arsenal which produced tons of canister, a highly effective anti-personnel ammunition.

The Federals suffered many casualties (including General Long himself) but not enough to break up the attack. Once the Union Army reached the works, there was vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Many soldiers were struck down with clubbed muskets. But, in less than 30 minutes, Long's men had captured the works protecting the Summerfield Road.

Meanwhile, General Upton, observing Long's success, ordered his division forward. The story was much the same for his men as on Long's front. Soon, U.S. flags could be seen waving over the works from Range Line Road to Summerfield Road.

After the outer works fell, 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, upon reaching the inner works, all rallied and poured a devastating fire into the charging column. This broke up the charge and sent General Wilson sprawling to the ground when his favorite horse was wounded. He quickly remounted his stricken mount and ordered a dismounted assault by several regiments.

Mixed units of Confederate troops had also occupied the Selma railroad depot and the adjoining banks of the railroad bed to make a stand next to the Plantersville Road (present day Broad Street). The fighting there was heavy, but by 7 p.m., the superior numbers of Union troops had managed to flank the Southern positions causing them to abandon the depot as well as the inner line of works.

In the darkness, the Union rounded up hundreds of prisoners, but hundreds more escaped down the Burnsville Road, including Generals Forrest, Armstrong, and Roddey. To the west, many Confederate soldiers fought the pursuing Union soldiers all the way down to the eastern side of Valley Creek. They escaped in the darkness by swimming across the Alabama River near the mouth of Valley Creek (where the present day Battle of Selma Reenactment is held.)

The Union soldiers looted the city that night while many businesses and private residences were burned. They spent the next week destroying the arsenal and naval foundry. Then they left Selma heading to Montgomery.

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References

  1. 1 2 Herbert J. Lewis (September 23, 2011). "Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry". The Encyclopedia of Alabama. Auburn University.
  2. Gaines, W. Craig (2008). Encyclopedia of Civil War Shipwrecks. LSU Press. pp. 1–8. ISBN   978-0-8071-3274-6.
  3. "Tennessee". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. September 24, 2011.
  4. "Huntsville". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. September 24, 2011.
  5. "Tuscaloosa". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. United States Navy. September 24, 2011.
  6. Confederated Southern Memorial Association (1916). Confederate Veteran, Volume 24. S.A. Cunningham. pp. 215–216.