The Mobile Campaign Part 5

by Dan O'Connell on April 22, 2012 · 0 comments

Ebenezer Church

McCook, acting on his knowledge of Forrest’s plan, dispatched a battalion in advance of his 2nd Brigade to seize the bridge at Centerville. Selected for the mission was MAJ Shipman with the second battalion and Company M of the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry. Shipman’s detail had no trouble running off the Confederate guard at the Centerville Bridge. The estimated 200 defenders were sent fleeing, leaving 15 prisoners behind, and a barricade was thrown across the road on the far side. The remainder of the brigade arrived at noon and McCook evaluated the situation.

McCook determined that “Jackson’s command of 3500 to 4000 men” was placed in such a way as to prevent direct communication with Croxton. Nevertheless, he challenged Jackson’s position with two regiments to test its strength. While “a short and severe skirmish” developed McCook learned that Croxton, in absence of other direction had moved away leaving him to face Jackson alone. McCook reconsidered his options under the new circumstances and determined that he “could hope to accomplish nothing by making a serious attack.” Accordingly he moved back, being closely followed by Jackson’s troopers. When the threat of being overwhelmed and losing control of the bridge became apparent McCook ordered the bridge fired and all boats “up and down the river” destroyed. Trapped on the wrong side of the river Jackson was effectively prevented from playing his part in Forrest’s grand strategy.

Camp Pope Publishing

Forrest, unaware of Jackson’s fate, suffered another blow to his design when he received a message from Chalmers announcing that he would be unable to unite with him on the timetable as planned. Without Chalmers assistance, Forrest adjusted his plan into a defensive position at Bogler’s Creek near Ebenezer Church. With around 2000 men the Confederates laid out some breastworks and placed the available artillery to cover the crossings. Forrest and his escort maintained the center of the line with the artillery. On the right were Crossland’s Kentuckians and the left was held by Adams and his militia. A small force of skirmishers was placed out front as early warning.

The Union column of Upton’s and Long’s divisions appeared at 1600 led by skirmishers from the 72nd Indiana. The four companies of the 72nd steadily pushed back the Confederate skirmishers with such rapidity that COL Abram Miller reported that “our column was scarcely halted.” When they they struck the main line of the Confederate defense they halted as the remainder of the 72nd was brought up and formed on the left of the road. The 17th Indiana, under COL J. G. Vail, also moved up and got orders from Miller to send four companies on a saber charge into the enemy line once the dismounted elements of his command started to break the Confederate line.

The dismounted 72nd gained some initial success and the mounted men, under LTC Frank White were released. The saber weilding troopers struck the Confederate line precisely at Forrest’s position, possibly drawn there by his headquarters flag. The Confederate troopers reserved their fire until the Union attack was within 100 yards and then sent a volley into them. Forrest then led his men into a close quarters fray with pistols blazing. The Federal effort was repulsed after a bitter struggle but the rest of the line was not faring nearly as well. Adams militiamen fled the field and fearing encirclement the Confederates retreated to Plantersville in haste. The plan for the destruction of Wilson’s column was a failure and Forrest reported to MG Richard Taylor for the final defense of Selma.

Selma

After the meeting with MG Taylor, Forrest assembled all the available troops and citizens to man the line of works around the city. He received help when Armstrong’s Brigade of Chalmers Divisionmade it through the Union screen with 1432 troopers. These were placed in thw works on the left, Roddey’s men filled the right, and the militia and impressed men filled the center.Behind the center sat Forrest with his escort and Crossland’s Kentuckians.

Long’s division of Union troopers led the advance of Wilson’s column on to the new position via the Summerfield Road. Upton’s Division was split off to approach on the Range Line Road. Not forgetting the the possibility that Jackson or Chalmers would make a belated appearance Wilson blocked the approach with one regiment and pack train. Wilson made a careful study of the Confederate works and made a plan to begin the assault with Long’s Division on the right, while Upton manuevered for a night attack on the on the left. Long kept his 4500 men concealed behind a low ridge until about 1600. When he got word that the blocking position in his rear was being assailed by Chalmers’ command in an effort to reach the Confederate defense he decided to initiatethe attack without waiting for the signal gun. The line surged forward over the crest of the covering ridge. The 600 yards remaining to the works saw a “rapid and destructive fire of musketry and artillery” being trained on his line. The Union troopers returned fire with their Spencers and battled through “fences and ravine, scaling the stockade and on the works.” Once the works were gained Armstrong’s Confederate troopers gave way after “fighting stubbornly, many of them clubbing their guns.” Despite the bitter fight the defenders were routed from the works and retreated into the city.

Hearing the premature firing on his right Upton’s “division was immediately ordered forward.”

They struck the militia who again fled the scene leaving a sizeable gap in the line. Upton’s Union troopers swarmed into the opening. Forrest, seeing the possibility of disaster, personally rushed his reserve into the gap trying to stem the tide. It was too late. The overwhelming force of the Union assault swept back the futile effort. Forrest and the remaining members of his command fought their way out of town. Selma was taken after a short fight and Forrest’s command nearly wrecked. Taken were 2700 prisoners,including 150 officers, dozens of artillery pieces of all sizes and “large quantities of military stores.” The arsenal and associated works were also destroyed.

Long’s command paid a heavy price for their success. Although he claimed that the loss was “slight compared with the work accomplished” the numbers told a different story. Long’s report of the attack claims that only 1550 of his men played a prominent role in the attack yet his division suffered 319 casualties (42K, 270W, and 7M) for the 45 minute fight. The work was done, however. The important works at Selma were lost to the Confederacy and Forrest was damaged to the point where he had no hope of contributing to the defense of Mobile.

The Mobile Campaign (Campaign Series)

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