Croxton’s Tuscaloosa Expedition
With his mind set on beating Forrest to Selma Wilson did not forget other important targets in the area. On 30 March he detached BG John Croxton’s brigade for a strike at Tuscaloosa. Croxton’s instructions “take the most direct route to Tuscaloosato destroy the bridge, factories, mills, university (military school) and whatever else may be of benefit to the rebel cause” and then link up with the main body at Selma. In a face to face meeting with Wilson, Croxton was given the secondary mission of tearing up “the railroad between Selma and Demopolis.”
With the plan established Croxton began his march on “wretched” roads on the 31st. Later in the day three companies of the 8th Iowa, under CPT Sutherland were sent to destroy Saunders Iron Works and rejoined the brigade near Burkville. Upon reaching Trion at sundown on the 31st Croxton gathered intelligence on the movements of Forrest’s command from local citizen and a prisoner. Realizing he was in the midst of the Confederate movements Croxton saw an opportunity and decided to quit his mission to Tuscaloosa and fall in on the rear of Jackson’s column. His decision was based on the belief that a major fight was brewing between Wilson’s main column and Forrest’s command and he felt he could have a major effect on the fight by by attacking in conjunction with Wilson’s troopers.Couriers were dutifully sent to inform Wilson of his decision as he changed course.
The advance of Croxton’s column trailed the Confederates down the Centerville Road until they struck vedettes. When further investigation revealed that the enemy position could be be bypassed Croxton became nervous about his own situation and “determined therefore, to avoid an engagement with a force of unknown strength.” Croxton had badly overestimated the strength of the Confederate position, reporting later that it had 5000 men when it probably numbered less than a third of that. Nevertheless, Croxton fearing that “the enemy were in strong force reconnoitering and moving to envelop my position” turned away and returned to the road heading west toward Tuscaloosa.
While Croxton turned timid the Confederate troopers did not. As the Union horsemen broke camp on the morning of April 1st his rear guard units, two companies of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry (US), were attacked and overurn. The remaining units of the 6th Kentucky were forced to turn about and reinforce the beleaguered rear guard. The fight lasted several miles before the the attack ran out of steam after causing 32 casualties to Croxton’s command. The running fight allowed the main body of Jackson’s command, again overestimated by Croxton at 2600, to win the race to Tuscaloosa and gain a position astride the Mud Creek in front of the advancing Federals. Claiming he could not “hope to run over this force and take Tuscaloosa” Croxton again turned away from a fight.The “stratgem” that Croxton employed was a forty mile march north of Tuscaloosa to the banks of the Black Warrior River. April 2nd was consumed crossing the command in a single flat boat while several horses were drowned swimming the river.
On the 3rd Croxton’s men marched on the city, arriving at 2100, to find that the bridge was being torn up. A mad dash by a detachment of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry gained the bridge which was quickly repaired. Dismounted elements of the 2nd Michigan, 8th Iowa, and 6th Kentucky secured the far side and fended off “several attempts to dislodge us” capturing 60 prisoners (mostly militia and cadets) and 3 artillery pieces. With the city now in his grasp Croxton spent the 4th destroying “the foundry, factory, two niter works, the military university, a quantity of stores” before resupplying themselves and resting the men and animals. Croxton had accomplished his mission but failed to do material damage to Jackson on at least two occasions and allowed Forrest free passage through the city by his delayed approach.
Advance on Selma
The main column of the Federal raiding force, led by MG Emory Upton’s division, arrived at Montevallo late on the evening of March 30th.Destruction of the Red Mountain Iron works, Cahawba Valley Mills, Bibb Iron Works and the Columbiana was completed as a portion of Forrest’s command made an appearance. As Upton moved his men from Montevallo at 1330 on the 31st they were confronted by “the advance of Roddy’s Division” comprised of about 300 members of Crossland’s Kentucky Brigade and a small party of militia under Dan Adams. BG Andrew Alexander’s 2nd Brigade troops were sent forward to disperse the enemy force. Three companies of the 5th Iowa Cavalry drove the Confederate advance back, killing one man, wounding two others, and taking fifteen prisoners. The main body of enemy troopers was found posted “behind a difficult creek.” Alexander dismounted his brigade and presented a strong enough front to convince the enemy to retire “after a slight skirmish.”
While the Confederate troopers and militia were being pushed back, Forrest and about 275 members of his escort came on to the road behind the Union troopers chasing the retiring defenders. In charaterisitic aggressive fashion Forrest ordered a charge up the road with pistols drawn. The two forces were immediately intermingled and a close quarters fight ensued. The unexpected appearance of the enemy in their very midst from an unexpected direction broke up the Union pursuit and allowed Forrest to capture several prisoners. With the intelligence gained from these men Forrest learned the details of Wilson’s approach. After a 9 mile ride to bypass the Union column Forrest arrived at Randolph and hatched his plan to defend Selma.
April 1st found the Union forces, Upton again in the lead, moving toward Randolph. At this point the column was split, Upton to move east via Maplesville and then south to approach Selma from the north, while BG Eli Long continued on the established route to approach from the west. During these movements Wilson became the beneficiary of an intelligence bonanza of his own. Upton’s men captured a Confederate courier with a full set of instructions for Forrest’s defense contained in three messages.
With full knowledge of the whereabouts of all Confederate forces, their plan of action, and expected routes of travel Wilson developed his own plan to counter the moves. Forrest’s plan was to hold the main advance (hopefully fortified by Chalmers) while Jackson’s division gained their rear and caught them in a vise. Wilson identified the Jackson move as the key to the plan and acted swiftly to deny that option. BG Edward McCook was ordered to take his remaining brigade (Croxton was still off on the Tuscaloosa raid), under COL Oscar LaGrange, and seize the bridge at Centerville, garrison it heavily, and move on to cover Jackson when he attempted to make his move. McCook hoped to reunite with Croxton and if so attack Jackson before any operations could begin. Unfortunately for the Union commander Croxton was giving the Confederate forces a wide berth and his march would not reunite him with the command until April 29th. The remaining divisions of Upton and Long were ordered to press Forrest to disrupt his efforts at consolidation.The Mobile Campaign (Campaign Series)