An Illinois Soldier Remembers The Battle of Selma
Three days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, a further death blow to the Confederacy occurred at Selma, Alabama.
The following is a synopsis of the events at Selma composed by Second Lieutenant J. William Jones of Company E, 98th Illinois Infantry.
"Early in 1865-January, February, and March, we were stationed in the valley of Tennessee. The largest force of mounted men ever assembled west of the Allegheny Mountains. The east and west of the confederacy had been destroyed and we were to clean out the center. The cavalry corps was composed of four divisions; McCook, Long, Upton, and Hatch, under command of General Wilson, who had been sent out from the east to learn the army how to fight. While we were camped at Gravelly Springs we were 'stall fed' - that is, we received the same rations as our horses. Corn and oats were plentiful, but the other rations were not to be had, and the country was the most desolate we had been in.
"About March 17th, I think Hatch's division started west with the intention of drawing off all rebel forces possible after him. The other three divisions started through the confederacy. Went through Russellville, Jasper on down to Plantersville and there met Roddy's division of Forrest's army and had a hard fight, Seventy-second Indiana was in advance and fought them until they had them corralled. Seventeenth Indiana came up and as four companies are equipped with sabres, asked that they be permitted to charge the enemy on horseback. In the meantime Roddy had been reinforced, and a detachment was in line behind him. The 17th charged and went through their line, also on through their rear guard and then turned and charged back through both lines, losing 17 men killed; 72nd (Indiana) and 98th (Illinois) were sent to their relief. The 98th captured three hundred prisoners and two pieces of artillery...I think the 98th captured every piece of artillery ever pointed at them.
"On second of April, we marched on Selma with [the] 98th in advance; came to Cedar creek which was not fordable, steep banks, and 50 feet deep, and encircled the city on three sides; bridges all destroyed [with the] exception [of] Plantersville Road.....Command divided, part crossed on bridge and balance around the stream. After crossing, the 98th took position behind a small sand ridge and supported the Board of Trade battery. Laid there two hours while the other divisions were coming up and getting into position. We formed line with 17th on the right of 98th and 123rd (Illinois) and right of 4th Ohio cavalry. Fourth Michigan and 7th Pennsylvania (of Minty's Brigade) held in reserve. Seven companies of 72nd were sent back to guard the bridge. An error had been made in forming our line, the 4th Ohio getting in our front; our brigade had to move to the right behind a large sand ridge with the 123rd on the left. The woods was cleared out for a fourth of a mile in front of the rebel works and this space was filled with abattis, chevaux-de-firse (some people call the sheep racks) then a line of posts 6-8 feet high set 30 inches in the ground, then a ditch 6-8 feet deep and about the same width with sharpened rails sticking up, then the earthworks 8-16 feet high. We had to charge these works under fire.
"Directly in front of the 98th these obstructions had been moved aside for Chalmer's Division to come in, but being cut off failed to arrive in time; but the heaviest force of rebels was massed at this point and more men were killed there than any other part of the field. James Holmes (age 19 from Palestine, Illinois) was mortally wounded on top of the works, shot through the stomach; hole large enough to put my arm through; he died at 4 o'clock the next morning. Joe Van Eaton (age 26 also from Palestine), always a brave soldier seemed to have a presentiment; that morning he told Comrade Hope 'This is my last day.'
"When line formed he [Joe Van Eaton] was sent with horses. Our guidon flags seemed to draw too heavy fire from the enemy, and they were ordered back, he turned his horses over to guidon man and came to the front, and was almost immediately shot through the neck severing the jugular vein and wind pipe. I went to him, he tried to talk but could not; as he expired his last looks seem to say 'I told you so.'
"The rebels were driven out of their fortifications into some timber back of the city. About the middle of timber a man jumped from behind a tree and called "Halt!" and shot into our ranks wounding Rufus Lull (age 27 a school teacher from Robinson, Illinois-also wounded Chickamauga) as he tried to escape he was shot. We then camped in a cotton gin and could hear the Fourth Division still fighting, but finally the rebels fled in complete confusion and the battle ended. Our regiment lost nine killed; wounded; two mortally, fourteen seriously and thirteen slightly. Brigade lost twenty-nine killed and one hundred and forty wounded.
"Selma was of great importance to the South as everything that was needed to equip an army was manufactured there. The machine shops covered six acres. Aside from the thirty-two pieces of artillery captured in the works, we got 11 pieces of artillery in drills and two hundred pieces of unfinished artillery and two hundred and fifty wagons, together with hundreds of tons of other war material. We had four hundred negroes [for] four days hauling shot and dumping into the Alabama river."