The Skirmish at Sipsey Mills Bridge, near Pleasant Ridge, April 6, 1865
by Scott Owens

Summary Added 9/23/04:

Several separate actions took place at points between Sipsey Mills Bridge, adjacent to Jordan's and Lanier's Sipsey Mills ("Lanier's Mills") near Pleasant  Ridge, to a ridge just south of King's Bridge, south of Jena. Late on the morning of April 6, 1865, elements of the command of Brig. Gen. Wirt Adams, CSA, attacked the rear guard of the Federal brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton. Adams' troops included his brigade of Wood's Confederate Cavalry regiment, the 38th Miss. Mounted Infantry, Moorman's Miss. Cavalry regiment, with Scott's Louisiana Cavalry Brigade the 1st Louisiana Cavalry regiment, 3rd Louisiana Cavalry, 18th Louisiana Cavalry Battalion, and Ogden's Louisiana Cavalry regiment. Croxton's brigade was made up of the 4th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, 6th Kentucky Cavalry regiment, 8th Iowa Cavalry, and 2nd Michigan Cavalry.

Adams forces charged Federal dismounted positions, with some success early, later repulsed at King's Bridge-now known as "Bailey's Bridge." This area where most of the fighting took place is within present Greene County, but prior to 1867 and at the time of the fighting was part of Pickens County. Later Federal dismounted cavalry ambushed the head of the pursuing Confederate column in the dark just south of Romulus. This was the last success by Confederate forces during the Civil War in Alabama, and the only effective action by Forrest's cavalry against any of Wilson's forces. Beginning at a bridge over Sipsey two miles north of Pleasant Ridge, near the Pickens-Greene boundary, Adams cavalry began harassing attacks upon the Federal rear guard, the 6th Kentucky Cavalry. Driving the Yankees away from the bridge and nearby mills, which they had burned, after a few hours Adams got enough troops across the bridge to mount a serious attack on the Federals clustered around the brigade wagon and pack train, which was halted only a mile or so north of Pleasant Ridge. Adams' Mississippians drove the Kentuckians from the field in utter confusion. The commanding officer of the 6th Kentucky was separated from the retreating mass of men in the melee, and later captured by John D. Horton, civilian in the Pleasant Ridge area. At a ridge some miles north the 6th Kentucky may have attempted to hold back the Confederates, though unsuccessfully, and were driven further north. The 6th Kentucky was completely routed into a fleeing mass of fugitives.

As word of the attack reached Croxton, two other regiments were deployed against Adams. The 2nd Michigan Cavalry found a low ridge across the main road on which two dismounted companies were emplaced, with mounted companies on each flank. The 8th Iowa Cavalry was on the left flank of the Michigan position. Adams attacked the 2nd Michigan in a full mounted charge which was repulsed, then twice dismounted to no avail. Heavy rain and closing darkness prevented Adams from continuing this attack. Confederate attacks on the 8th Iowa drove these Federals from their positions, and they apparently fell back in some disorder. Twenty-six troopers of the 8th were missing and made prisoner as a result of this action.

After the 2nd Michigan had withdrawn from their position and continued the forced march northward Adams once again pressed the pursuit even as the rain fell and roads became impassable. About a mile south of Romulus, where the road ran along the base of a very high hill, the head of the pursuing column was ambushed by two dismounted companies of the 2nd Michigan from the hilltop. The Confederates had three killed and perhaps several wounded, halting the pursuit in confusion in the continuing rain and closing darkness.

The best sources to read about this are not easily found, and all  written by the Yankees. C.C. Andrews, The History of the Campaign of Mobile, 1867, has a final chapter which describes Croxton's raid and describes this action in some detail. Most of the information seems to come from officers of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. Marshall Thatcher's Hundred Battles in the West, 1884, a complete history of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, likewise treats this with much the same bias as found in Andrews, for the same reason.

Croxton's O.R. report (Ser. 1, Vol 49, Prt. 1, p 422) does not appear to be entirely factual on several points, neglecting to mention the 8th Iowa Cavalry's involvement at all and grossly understating Federal casualties. Croxton states he had thirty-four men lost, and all wounded were taken off; in fact at least fifty Yankee casualties can be documented, perhaps more, and three wounded were left to the care of Adams' surgeons (one of which was a Capt. J. H. Wilson, ironically enough). Other representations of Croxton's report seem to be at odds with those found in diaries, letters, and the report of the brigade adjutant, Capt. Wm. A. Sutherland. Sutherland's OR report (Ser. 1, Vol. 49, Part 1, p 425), written shortly after the adjutant had returned to north Alabama following his detachment having been separated from the brigade. Sutherland quotes a dispatch from Croxton which contradicts some particulars of Croxton's own report. (Sutherland's detachment burned the Pickens County courthouse in Carrollton the same day of the Adams-Croxton engagement)

Naturally Adams left no report, but a letter written by a sergeant of the 18th Louisiana Cavalry Battalion, Scott's Brigade of Adams' command, described the action in detail as seen from Adams' rear (only Mississippi troops of Adams' brigade were engaged), as well as the command's movements of several days. Adams' losses were six killed and twenty-five wounded.

Nearly two thousand combatants were engaged in a series of cavalry fights over a distance of some twenty-three miles over impassable roads in heavy rain. Half of the Confederate force routed two Federal regiments, both armed to a man with Spencer carbines, and was only halted by a determined defense from well-prepared positions of a third regiment in growing darkness and heavy rain.

Federal losses were 50% greater than Confederate; southern cavalry held the fields of contest at the close of fighting. That Croxton was actually driven back northward, rather than his having decided to withdraw in that direction prior to the Confederate attack, would seem to be the case from close examination of the facts. Consequently this would be a tactical as well as strategic victory for Confederate arms.

This engagement is not described in most history books at all, and the works which do mention it usually do so as an aside to the destruction by Croxton's raiders of the University of Alabama. These usually call this the "Battle of Romulus," though little of the action took place near that community in Tuscaloosa County. Croxton's report seems to treat this as an inconsequential skirmish which just happened after he decided to leave Pickens County, inconvenienced by high rivers and rumors of Confederate forces twice his strength.

On March 18, 1865, from Pickensville, Alabama, Brigadier General James R. Chalmers, commanding a division of Lieut. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest’s Cavalry Corps ordered all Mississippi cavalry on outpost duty around Jackson and Vicksburg to report to Macon, Mississippi. This was in obedience to orders from Forrest’s headquarters in West Point of the same date. On March 22, 1865, Brig Gen. Wirt Adams, from Macon, informed Chalmers’ assistant adjutant general at Pickensville that his command would not reach Macon before the 25th or 26th. On the 23rd of March Forrest directed Chalmers to move Armstrong’s brigade with Hudson’s battery from Pickensville to Selma via Finch’s Ferry on the 25th. This column would have to pass over Sipsey Mills Bridge and through Pleasant Ridge. On the same day Chalmers directed Brig Gen. Wirt Adams at Macon to hold his command in readiness to move, with five days’ rations. On March 27, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor’s headquarters in Meridian expressed to Forrest, still in West Point, that Gen. Wirt Adams’ brigade was in need of artillery, at least a section. Forrest’s headquarters replied that "the Reserves" were then being inspected, evidently reserve artillery, and would be sent to Adams. Perhaps it was at this time that King’s Battery was attached to Adams’ command. At this same time, Chalmers was moving from Pickensville to Selma with two brigades, and Forrest himself was moving to Tuscaloosa with three brigades. All five brigades, and attached artillery, passed over Sipsey Mills Bridge and through Pleasant Ridge. It was Forrest’s intention to intercept the Wilson column from north Alabama from Tuscaloosa. On March 29 Forrest was on the march, his headquarters on this date being at Sipsey (Mills) Bridge, where two men, hastily convicted of desertion, were shot. From here he directed Brig Gen. Jackson, division commander of the force moving to Tuscaloosa, to guard that bridge and the ferries above and below, as well as bury the bodies after two days.

Evidently on March 26 Adams received orders from Gen. Forrest to move his command from Macon to West Point. Adams from Macon informed Forrest’s headquarters on this day that he and his staff would take the first railroad train up to make arrangements for encampment of the brigade. Adams indicated that two of his regiments, which had arrived at Macon by that date, and Colonel Scott’s command, Louisiana cavalry, began the march to West Point the evening of the 26th. By the 28th Adams had his command encamped at West Point; Lt. Gen. Taylor’s headquarters directed him on this date to report all enemy movements on his front to Taylor as well as to Forrest.

On April 3 Taylor’s headquarters in Meridian reported to Adams the fall of Selma. Taylor further directed Adams to move east, with his own brigade and Col. John Scott’s Louisiana brigade, by way of Pickensville, with every available man, taking only ordinance, cooking utensils, and hard bread; bacon would be furnished on the line of march. Adams was to send a scouting party toward Selma, through Greensborough and Marion, to locate the enemy and Forrest, Jackson, and Chalmers. Adams was to join Forrest’s forces when located. Adams’ route of march would pass through Columbus, Miss, where a Capt. Hough from Taylor’s headquarters, provided further instructions. On April 4 Adams marched his command from West Point to Columbus, arriving there at about 10 o’clock that night. Adams’ command, after drawing arms and ammunition from the arsenal there, left Columbus on the morning of April 5 and arrived in Pickensville that afternoon where his 1500 cavalry camped.

The Federal brigade of Brig Gen. John T. Croxton, 1500 strong, which had been sent by Wilson to Tuscaloosa to destroy the University with military factories and facilities, left Tuscaloosa on the morning of April 5, 1865, at about 11 A.M., being observed by Henderson’s Scouts operating out of Romulus in Tuscaloosa County. The Federals crossed the bridge into Northport, over which they had assaulted to capture Tuscaloosa two days before. Before a company of the 8th Iowa Cavalry could cross, however, the Yankees torched the bridge and unwittingly stranded their comrades (who had to cross at Saunders Ferry west of Tuscaloosa, further downstream). It was Croxton's intention to first feint toward Columbus, Miss., then turn south to do damage to the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad between Demopolis and Meridian, then join with Wilson's Cavalry Corps.

The brigade proceeded west on the Columbus Road for seven miles, when (at Coker) a detachment of 25 troopers and three officers under the command of Capt. William A. Sutherland was sent on the Upper Columbus Road to extend the ruse of marching on Columbus. This detachment turned south at Gordo toward Carrollton and burned the courthouse. Sutherland was left with orders to join the brigade at Jones Bluff on the Tombigbee.

Croxton, with the remainder of the brigade turned south to Romulus. Evidently between the dispatching of Sutherland and Company D, and the brigades arrival at Romulus later that afternoon, Croxton changed his mind about crossing at Jones Bluff, and decided to march for Vienna, in Pickens County, which was a closer ferry crossing, to gain the west bank of Tombigbee. The lost company of the 8th Iowa Cavalry joined the brigade at about the Romulus area, having crossed the Warrior at Saunderss Ferry not far from there. The brigade turned west toward Jena (in Pickens County at that time) and crossed Sipsey at King’s Bridge (later known as Bailey’s Bridge) to Pleasant Grove, where they camped at King's Store, in Pickens County.

At dawn the next morning, April 6, the Federal brigade continued south from King’s Store "on the Road to Pleasant Ridge". After about six miles they came to Lanier's Mill, southeast of Benevola and a mile downstream of the future Cotton Bridge site. After a brush with Confederate Cavalry, likely Henderson’s Scouts, the mill was burned and the brigade continued south. About six more miles further was Sipsey Mills, a gin and grist mills complex which was owned by William Horton (ancestor of most of the Hortons in Pickens and Greene counties). At this place, which Croxton says was eight miles from Vienna, he learned of a 3000-saber force of Forrest's cavalry (a gross overestimate) was moving down Tombigbee from West Point, and that Wilson had taken and destroyed Selma. (Actually a 1500 trooper brigade under Brig General Wirt Adams, CSA, had moved to Pickensville the day before) Croxton reasoned that he just needed to go back to Northport and find out where Wilson was rather than continue his mission against the railroad. After looting the Confederate Commissary Depot at Sipsey Mills of flour, corn meal, and bacon, and burning the mill, the brigade crossed the bridge there, Sipsey Mills Bridge, and marched "several miles." (I believe that this "several miles" is the position of the vanguard of the brigade column, at which point Croxton would have found himself, being the commander and all. The entire 1500 man brigade, marching in columns of twos as Wilson had trained his corps, would take up a minimum of three miles on these narrow country roads) At this point, about 9 A.M., they stopped and fed their horses. The 6th Kentucky Cavalry was posted as rear guard, and Company F of that regiment were in the vicinity of the mill and bridge for the entire two hours of this halt. Undoubtedly other elements of this regiment were foraging in Pleasant Ridge, securing the crossroads on the Selma-Columbus Road. During the next two hours, patrols may have ventured into Pleasant Ridge and from Hinton's Grove toward Clinton. Horses are known to have been taken in Pleasant Ridge, and two cousins who lived between Hinton's Grove and Clinton were made prisoner by Croxton's brigade: Phelan and Clement Eatman, both home on furlough from the 11th Alabama Inf. and 7th Alabama Cav, respectively. After two hours the column continued its northeast march back to Northport.

At 7 A.M. April 6 Adams’ command left Pickensville, moving southeast toward Finch’s Ferry (over the Warrior near Eutaw). About 8-10 miles out of Pickensville Adams set his command in motion at the double-quick (gallop) down the Selma-Columbus ("Lower Columbus") Road toward Sipsey Mills. . The brush with Croxton’s column by Henderson’s Scouts near Benevola that morning must have been reported to Adams about this time, indicating the whereabouts of the Federal force reported moving toward Pickensville the day before. Shortly Adams entered Bridgeville, on Lubbub Creek in southern Pickens County. No doubt by that time he had also received reports of Sutherland’s detachment having burned the courthouse and commissary depot in Carrollton; Adams may have been aware of no further movement against Columbus, however, and considered Sutherland to be the diversion for which it was indeed intended. Certainly the smoke from the burning mills, visible by 10 A.M., would have revealed the Federal brigade.

At about 11 A.M. the lead squadrons of Adams’ cavalry, possibly of the 38th Mississippi Mounted Infantry, assaulted across Sipsey Mills Bridge against Company F of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry. Those who were not captured scampered for the rear, precipitating a rout toward the wagon train of the brigade which was heavy with barrels of flour and corn meal as well as stacks of cured bacon. Among the wagons toward the rear of the column was the crowd of "contrabands," nearly seventy slaves who had left their plantations along Croxton’s march. While the 6th was still trying to organize for a defense, Adams got enough (probably two regiments) across the bridge to form a battle line and charge the demoralized and dismounted 6th Kentucky. About this time a severe thunderstorm began which continued into the night for most of central west Alabama. The 6th Kentucky was hampered by the fact that they were quite understrength, having lost some 35 at Trion a week earlier, and the 25-man Sutherland detachment was from this regiment as well. Further, the 6th evidently carried single-shot breech-loading carbines, rather than repeating Spencer carbines with which the rest of the brigade was armed. Having found themselves in a open field, dismounted with no cover, the harried troopers of the 6th pulled down bacon stacks from the wagons and piled them up to form field fortifications from behind which to fight. Major William H. Fidler, commanding the 6th Kentucky, attempted to concentrate his scattered companies near the brigade wagon train, full of bacon, flour, and corn meal from the mill, and incidentally surrounded by the crowd of "contrabands," slaves who had joined the Federal column as they left their plantations along Croxton's march. As the Confederate charge crashed into the rain-soaked Federal troopers, Maj. Fidler, who evidently was mounted, was unhorsed and along with two privates was separated from the remainder of the regiment. The three fled into the woods to the southeast of the melee to escape capture at the hands of the Confederate cavalrymen.

The 2nd Michigan Cavalry, which was ahead of the wagon train in the line of march, deployed four companies toward the commotion. With two companies dismounted on the edge of the field where the wagon train and the 6th Kentucky had been overtaken by Adams' charge, and two mounted companies on the flanks, the 2nd Michigan was able to halt the charge of the southern horsemen with the heavy firepower of their Spencer repeating carbines, which were much superior to the single-shot Sharps carbines or Enfield muzzle loading carbines used by the Confederate cavalry. No doubt the repeating carbines, with sealed rim-fire metallic cartridges, were more effectively worked in the falling rain than single-shot weapons. Three troopers of the 2nd Michigan were wounded in the fight with Adams. The remnants of the 6th Kentucky were able to pass through the ranks of the 2nd Michigan and re-form. Adams evidently tried to charge the Federals again, who withdrew as soon as the wagons and wounded were moved on north along the road. In addition to twenty Federal prisoners, Adams captured all the Federal brigade wagons including the headquarters baggage wagon with Croxton's personal effects, papers, and dress uniform. Fifty or 60 displaced slaves were taken by the Confederates, as well as numbers of horses and mules.

Major Fidler and his men, meanwhile, were hiding in the woods trying to elude Confederate horsemen. They evidently took to the swamps around Shambley Creek. John D. Horton, whose brother William owned Sipsey Mills, visited the skirmish site and became aware of their presence in the swamps of Shamblee Creek. He gathered up his "runaway dogs," trained to execute the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act, and returning to the scene of the engagement, the hounds found the trail. One source says that the three were literally treed by the pack. At any rate John D. Horton apprehended one officer and two privates of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry, and, according to some sources, with the aid of the local home guard, delivered the three to the Sheriff in Eutaw to incarcerate them in the Greene County Jail. It is possible that these were the last Federal soldiers captured and confined as prisoners-of-war, at least east of the Mississippi. (There is more the rest of the story of Maj. Fidler, but he made it aboard the Sultana in Vicksburg, on which he was the ranking POW, and was lost with the steamer north of Memphis)

After the 2nd Michigan was able to withdraw, Adams reorganized his bloodied regiments, brought up reinforcements, saw to his wounded, secured what prisoners he could take, and carried on the pursuit, albeit in a heavy rain, described in several sources as a "downpour" which lasted all afternoon and all night. One primary source, a trooper of the 2nd Michigan, indicates that Adams "pitched into" the rear of Croxton's column throughout the afternoon, so there must have been some contact from time to time as the running fight moved north, along the Pleasant Ridge-Romulus Road, which became increasingly impassable in the rain. Near dusk, evidently around Romulus (though no source names the location) a "very advantageous position" was found and two companies of the 2nd dismounted and formed a line on the "brow of a hill.'" From this position the heavy fire from the repeating carbines allowed this small force to withstand three charges, mostly made in the dark and in this heavy rain, before Adams discontinued his attacks. This Federal rear guard squadron fell back through swamps further north, delivering a final volley in the dark to end contact, about eight o’clock.

Both brigades camped in the rain in the area, supposedly in the Romulus vicinity. Croxton is known to have occupied a particular dwelling in Romulus on the night of April 6. Casualties amounted to 34 on each side for the whole day: Croxton says he had thirty-two wounded and one killed, with one MIA, altogether two officers and thirty-two enlisted; actually only two killed in action have been documented and three wounded. Adams counted nine killed and twenty-five wounded, including Captain Luckett and two privates of Wood’s 1st Mississippi Cavalry killed in action in the last charges near Romulus. Both opposing forces camped around Romulus that night. Squadrons of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry, which were engaged much of the day did not finally go into, camp until after midnight. Adams’ command bivouacked south of Romulus.

The next morning, Adams moved his brigades some fifteen miles south down the Vienna-Northport Road to the vicinity of Hinton’s Grove. Undoubtedly the command’s field hospital, ordnance train, and provost with prisoners had remained in this area after the initial skirmish the day before. Here the Mississippi and Louisiana troopers could dry out and rest their jaded mounts. Scouts were kept out north of Romulus, meanwhile, to keep the Federal brigade under observation as it moved back to the Northport area. Adams issued orders for his command to move at 7 A.M. on April 8, likely to continue toward Finch’s Ferry to join with Forrest’s corps in the Marion area, as ordered. Croxton’s men took most of the day to move the thirteen miles back to Northport.

Late in the afternoon of April 7 some detachment of the Federal brigade must have undertaken a reconnaisance toward the west on the Upper Columbus Road. Adams’ scouts reported that Croxton was making forced marches on Columbus, and at 8:30 P.M. the Confederate post at Columbus reported to Taylor’s headquarters in Meridian some enemy forces within thirty miles of Columbus. After midnight Adams decided he needed to immediately move his command back to Columbus, and at 2 A.M. on April 8 the Confederate brigades were saddling up and racing to Columbus at the gallop, over Sipsey Bridge again and up the Selma-Columbus (Lower Columbus) Road. The command began to arrive in the Mississippi town about one o’clock that afternoon, awaiting the Federal advance which never came.

Croxton, finding little left in Northport to sustain his troops or mounts, moved his command north on the Byler Road, where his horses were able to graze on the pastures along the

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