Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wilson's Raid through Alabama and Georgia

The last major campaign to conclude during the Civil War was a dramatic sweep through Alabama and Georgia carried out by thousands of Union soldiers under the command of General James H. Wilson.

Leaving the Tennessee River Valley, Wilson pushed south from North Alabama through the heartland of the state. Striking hard at the fledgling iron industry at the state, Wilson's men destroyed ironworks around today's Birmingham area including the furnaces at what is now Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park.

Leaving Tannehill and other ironworks in the area, Wilson drove on Montevallo and from there to Selma, battling the forces of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as he advanced. Forrest did all he could to stop the Federals, but he was unable to assemble enough men in time. The climactic battle of the Alabama phase of the campaign took place at Selma, where Wilson overran Confederate defenses forcing Forrest to withdraw his outnumbered men. The massive industrial complex at Selma was destroyed.

From Selma, Wilson turned east to Montgomery, the state capital, which fell virtually without the firing of a shot. Then, dividing his force into two columns, he struck the Georgia cities of West Point (Fort Tyler) and Columbus, fighting the last major battle of the Civil War on April 16, 1865. Robert E. Lee had surrendered one week earlier and while fighting would still take place at Palmitto Ranch in Texas and still later at Hobdy's Bridge in Alabama, the taking of Columbus represented the last major battle of a planned campaign.

The northern column of Wilson's command pushed on to LaGrange, Georgia, where Colonel O.H. LaGrange encountered unexpected resistance from the Nancy Harts, Georgia's famed all female militia company.

The two columns met again at Macon, where news was received of the formal end of the Civil War. The damage inflicted on the remaining industrial might of the South had been severe and the campaign witnessed the fall of Selma, Montgomery, Columbus and Macon, four of the few remaining untouched cities in the Confederacy.

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