Sipsey Mills-King’s Bridge
(or Pleasant Ridge-Romulus) Skirmish
The Skirmish at Sipsey Mills Bridge, near Pleasant Ridge,
April 6, 1865
by Scott Owens Anrkee@aol.com, Updated
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
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 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 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 Jordan’s and Lanier’s Sipsey Mills (Lanier’s Mill), the largest
grist mill in Pickens and Greene counties. This tall brick structure had been
built on a steep bank of Sipsey in the 1850s by William B. Jordan and Thomas C.
Lanier of Pickens County.
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 under strength, 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. This was the last command of
Maj. Fidler, as he was lost aboard the Sultana.
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 (photo at left), 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 to the story. Maj. Fidler 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
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 reconnaissance 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.
Summary of Action
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. 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-six (and perhaps 60) Yankee casualties can be documented,
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 O. R. 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.