The Skirmish at Sispey Mills Bridge, near Pleasant Ridge, April 6, 1865 was submitted by Harold Wright, one of our volunteers with a great knowledge of the Civil War. Additional information and corrections should be directed to your hosts, Betty Miller and Betty Phillips.
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. It is possible that Forrst's column crossed Sipsey by all three of these crossings.
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. 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.
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 11:00 AM (Confederate Scouts, Official Records). They 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 Sutherland was sent on the Upper Columbus Road to extend the ruse of marching on Columbus. This detachment turned south to 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 brigade's 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 Saunders's Ferry not far from there. The brigade turned west toward Jena (in Pickens County at that time) and crossed Sipsey around the locale of Bailey's Bridge to Pleasant Grove, where they camped at King's Store, in Pickens County.
The next morning, the Federal brigade continued south from King's Store "on the Road to Pleasant Ridge" (Croxton, Official Records). After about six miles they came to Lanier's Mill, southeast of Benevola and a mile downstream of the Cotton Bridge site. After a brush with Confederate Cavalry scouts there, 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 from Pickensville toward Bridgeville that morning) Croxton reasoned that he just needed to go back to Northport and find out where Wilson was rather than continue his mission. After looting Sipsey Mills of flour, corn meal, and bacon, and burning it the brigade crossed the bridge there, Sipsey Mills Bridge (which is named such in at least two Confederate sources), 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 9:00 A.M., they stopped and fed their horses. The 6th Kentucky Cavalry was posted as rear guard, and from the report that the ensuing battle started at the Sipsey Mills Bridge, it would seem that elements of that regiment were in the vicinity of the bridge for the entire two hours of this halt. Undoubtedly other elements of this regiment were in foraging in Pleasant Ridge. Local legend is that the Yankees came through Pleasant Ridge and stole horses, so it was probably gentlemen of this military organization .
Adams' command had left Columbus on the morning of April 5 and arrived in Pickensville that afternoon where his 1500 cavalry camped. At 7 A.M. April 6 Adams' command left Pickensville, moving toward Finch's Ferry (over the Warrior near Eutaw). By midmorning of April 6 Adams occupied Bridgeville in Pickens County. No doubt by that time he had 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. The brush with Croxton's column by scouts, likely Henderson's Scouts of Forrest's command, near Benevola that morning, may have alerted Adams to the whereabouts of the Federal force reported moving toward Pickensville the day before. Certainly the smoke from the burning mills, visible by 10 A.M., would have revealed the Federal brigade. About 8-10 miles from Pickensville Adams set his command in motion at the double-quick (gallop) down the Selma-Columbus ("Lower Columbus") Road toward Sipsey Mills. At about 11 A.M. the lead squadrons, possibly of the 38th Mississippi Mounted Infantry, assaulted across Sipsey Mills Bridge against Company F of the 6th Kentucky Cavalry. The commander of the 6th, Maj. William H. Fidler, was organizing his frenzied troopers and steeds, who by this time were running among the wagon train of the brigade which was heavy with barrels of flour and corn meal as well as stacks of cured bacon. 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 45 at Trion a week earlier, and the Sutherland detachment was from this regiment as well. Further, the 6th evidently carried Sharps 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. As the 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. The remnants of the 6th Kentucky were able to pass through the ranks of the 2nd Michigan and reform. Adams evidently tried to charge the Federals again, who withdrew as soon as the wagons and wounded were moved on north along the road. Two ambulances and the headquarters baggage wagon were captured by the Confederates. Adams described the ambulances as "all" of Croxton's ambulances, and the wagon contained Croxton's dress uniforms and personal papers and effects.
Major Fidler and his pards, meanwhile, were hiding in the woods trying to elude Confederate horsemen. They evidently took to the swamps around Shambley Creek. John D. Horton, William's brother, became aware of their presence and gathered up his "runaway dogs," trained to execute the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act. He then returned to the skirmish site and the hounds found the trail. One source says that the three were literally treed by the hounds. 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 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 boat 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. Near dusk, evidently near 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. 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. Adams counted nine killed and twenty-five wounded.