West Shore Diversion
In order to create confusion and the widest possible dispersion of defending troops 1700 troops of 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, XVI Corps departed Dauphin Island on steamers and were landed at Cedar Point on the Western shore of the bay on the 18th. The small Confederate force guarding the landing site was easily driven off by the 72nd Illinois and two Rodman guns of the 1st Indiana Artillery brought ashore by rafts. The badly deteriorated pier was repaired and the horses brought ashore at 1000 the following morning.
At 1400 on the 19th the brigade moved up to Alabama Point and the 95th Illinois confronted two companies of Confederate cavalry there. Once again the small group defending there was pushed away and the Union troops established camp. Once in camp, Colonel J. B. Moore, commanding the brigade, had the call sounded repeatedly to create the illusion of greater strength.On the morning of the 20th they again moved forward, reaching the Fowle River where he found the bridge ablaze and the far bank occupied by the enemy. He ordered up his two guns and threw across some skirmishers to move the Confederates off. There was no effort made to cross the main body of Union troops .
The Fowle River being the northern limit of his ordered advance Moore held his position there until the 22nd. On the 23rd, as boats became available, his brigade was shipped across the bay to join the rest of their division at the Fish River. The net result of this efforts was to produce exaggerated reports that as many as 6000 Union soldiers were advancing up the western shore.
The Steele Column
As the main Union column trekked north from Fort Morgan a secondary advance of 12,000 Union soldiers was begun from Pensacola. A cavalry advance comprised of the 2nd Maine, 2nd Illinois, and 1st Florida (847 total troopers) was moved by water to Creigler’s Mills to clear the way for the general movement and to strike against the Alabama and Florida Railroad. The brigade faced very little resistance as they moved toward Andalusia, Alabama. On the night of March 22nd a pair of couriers were captured bearing dipatches to the effect that “all the people capable of bearing arms be in readiness to make resistance.” The expected fight did not materialize, however, and LTC Andrew Spurling’s troopers gathered and destroyed all the weapons they could find in the town as well as any other goods deemed to be of military value. The march continued and on the 23rd the column came upon the rail line near Evergreen. The telegraph lines were cut and sections of track raised. At 0430 the next morning a train of seven cars was derailed and destroyed. Another train arrived at the break at 0700 and 100 soldiers bound for Mobile were captured. Moving on to Sparta the troopers burned six additional box cars, a trestle, and depot filled with “warlike material.” The march of Spurling’s command ended at Pollard on the 26th after seizing 120 prisoners, including LT Watts, the governor’s son and 250 horses and mules.
The main column, meanwhile, was struggling against the forces of nature. The advance made only eleven miles in a driving rain. It became “necessary to corduroy the roads” to allow passage of the artillery and wagons. The swollen Pine Barren Creek also presented a formible obstaclewhen it was reached on the 23rd. The bridge had been destroyed by the retreating Confederates and an entie day was spent “replacing it with one 300 yards long.” The new structure was constructed on pilings “which the men sunk by hand, diving under the water to start them.” BG Thomas Lucas’ cavalry led the way forward agaist light resistance until they approached Bluff Springs.
Arriving at Cotton Creek at 1000 the 1st Louisiana Cavalry (US) captured four Confederate troopers and learned that BG Clanton’s brigade of the 6th and 8th Alabama Cavalry held a line on the north bank of Canoe Creek. The 1st Louisiana gained the opposite shore of the creek and “swept down upon the enemy” positions. The Confederate line broke almost immediately and a wild chase began that lasted for seven miles. At the Escambia River the fleeing Southern troopers found the bridge destroyed and in desperation several men jumped “their horses off the broken end of the bridge” and were drowned.
The first significant action of the campaign netted 129 prisoners Including BG Clanton and the battle flag ofthe 6th Alabama Cavalry. The Union casualties for the affair consisted of 3 men killed and 3 wounded. The column moved without further resistance until it reached Sibley’s Mills after a march of 100 miles. Here they joined the main column for operations against Fort Blakely.The Mobile Campaign (Campaign Series)