Case Filed: 10/28/02 - Selma, Alabama
Executive Producer: Rick Garner
Civil Rights: The March from Selma to Montgomery
Over a century of amazing history has taken place in Selma. While one struggle ended there - the Civil War ended with the fall of Selma on April 2, 1865 - another struggle began almost to the day on March 7, 1965, with a violent beginning to the fight for voting Civil Rights of African-Americans.
Most African Americans did not have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote in many of the Southern states. Mississippi and Alabama were very repressive and ripe for change during the mid 1960s. Civil rights workers became active in gaining the right to vote for African Americans.
Outraged over the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper in Marion, Alabama, the black community of Marion decided to hold a march. Martin Luther King agreed to lead the marchers on Sunday, March 7, from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital. At the state capital they would appeal directly to governor George Wallace to stop police brutality and call attention to their struggle for voting rights.
When Governor Wallace refused to allow the march, Dr. King went to Washington to speak with President Johnson, delaying the demonstration until March 8. The people of Selma however, felt that they could not wait and began the march on Sunday March 7, which became known as "Bloody Sunday".
When the marchers reached the city line at Edmund Pettus Bridge, they found a posse of state troopers waiting for them. As the demonstrators crossed the bridge leading out of Selma, they were ordered to disperse, but the troopers did not wait for their warning to be headed. They immediately attacked the crowd of people who had bowed their heads in prayer. Using tear gas and batons, the troopers chased the demonstrators to a black housing project, where they continued to beat the demonstrators as well as residents of the project who had not been at the march.
Martin Luther King lead a march to the Selma bridge on Tuesday, March 9, during which one protester was killed. Finally, with President Lyndon Johnson's permission, Dr. King led a successful march from Selma to Montgomery on March, 25.
During the Selma marches hundreds of marchers were jailed and injured. The marches were marred by death as well, when two Northern whites participating in the march were murdered and a minister was beaten to death in the streets of the town. Over the next few months the aftermath of the March violence would continue for civil rights workers. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI announced that the FBI would not provide protection to civil rights workers in Mississippi.
Bloody Sunday received considerable national attention, and numerous marches were organized in response. As a result President Johnson gave a rousing speech to congress concerning civil rights which was instrumental in the passage of the Voting Rights Act within that same year.
Adapted From: Blackside, Inc. Eyes on the Prize:America's Civil Rights Years 1954 -1965 http://breakthrough.blackside.com/blackside/EducationOutreach/eyes1-guidetext6.h tml . (1996)
Western Michigan University. Time Line of American Civil Rights Movements http://www.wmich.edu/politics/mlk/.
Civil War: The Selma Campaignby Colonel William G. Rambo
In the spring of 1865, the fourth year of the War Between the States, Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson led 13,500 Union Cavalry and Mounted Infantry on a major raid deep into Alabama. His mission was to take the pressure off Union forces besieging the defenses of Mobile and occupying the attention of Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his Cavalry Corp. To accomplish this, Wilson planned to capture and destroy the vast Confederate arsenal at Selma. This this the traditional battle summary provided by the Alabama Division's own Col. William G. Rambo.
On March 22, Wilson's force left its winter camps in extreme northwest Alabama and headed southward to Elyton (present-day Birmingham). The Federal columns reached Elyton on March 30. The march had been uneventful other than the hardships of negotiating muddy roads and swollen streams caused by the heavy spring rains.
There was no opposition to Wilson's maneuvers because Forrest had been busy gathering his forces which numbered close to 10,000 but were scattered over parts of Alabama and Mississippi. The Federals had wisely launched a simultaneous cavalry raid from extreme southeastern Alabama which caused Forrest to delay committing his main forceuntil he could be sure of the real intentions of the invading Northerners. By the time Forrest was convinced that Wilson's force was his major threat and that Selma was his goal, the Yankees had a big advantage. Flooding streams and rivers seriously hindered the Confederate concentration of forces.
Even if Forrest could succeed in assembling the majority of his available troops, he would still have the disadvantage of facing superior numbers of Union Cavalry, who had brand new equipment, well-fed horses and seven shot Spencer repeating carbines. Forrest's men were armed with an assortment of single-shot rifles, shotguns and carbines. But they still had their Southern fighting spirit and they were led by one of the greatest generals of the war whose very name was "worth 10,000 men."
On March 30, Wilson detached Gen. John T. Croxton's Brigade to destroy all Confederate property at Tuscaloosa. After capturing a Confederate courier who carried dispatches from Forrest describing the strengths and dispositions of his scattered forces, Wilson also sent a brigade to destroy the bridge across the Cahaba River at Centreville. This action effectively cut off most of Forrest's reinforcements. Then began a running fight that did not end until after the fall of Selma.
On the afternoon of April 1, after skirmishing all morning, Wilson's advanced guard ran into Forrest's line of battle at Ebenezer Church, where the Randolph Road intersected the main Selma road. Here Forrest had hoped ot bring his entire force to bear on Wilson. However delays caused by flooding plus earlier contact with the enemy enabled Forrest to muster less than 2,000 men, a large number of whom were not veterans but militia consisting of old men and young boys.
The outnumbered and outgunned Confederates fought bravely for more than an hour as more Union Cavalry and Artillery deployed on the field. Forrest himself was wounded in a charge by a saber-swinging Yankee Captain who he killed with his revolver. Finally, a mounted Federal charge with carbines blazing broke the Confederate militia causing Forrest to be flanked on his right. He was forced to retreat under severe pressure.
Early the next morning Forrest arrived at Selma, "horse and rider covered in blood." He advised Gen. Richard Taylor, departmental commander, to leave the city. Taylor did so after giving Forrest command of the defense.
Selma was protected by three miles of fortifications which ran in a semi-circle around the city. They were anchored on the north and south by the Alabama River. The works had been built two years earlier, and while neglected for the most part since, were still formidable. They were 8 to 12 feet high, 15 feet thick at the base, with a ditch 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep along the front. In front of this was a picket fence of heavy posts planted in the ground, 5 feet high, and sharpened at the top. At prominent positions, earthen forts were built with artillery in position to cover the ground over which an assault would have to be made.
Forrest's defenders consisted of his Tennessee escort company, McCullough's Missouri Regiment, Crossland's Kentucky Brigade, Roddey's Alabama Brigade, Armstrong's Mississippi Brigade, Gen. Dan Adam's state reserves, and the citizens of Selma who were "volunteered" to man the works. Altogether this force numbered less than 4,000, only half of who were dependable. The Selma fortifications were built to be defended by 20,000 men. Forrest's soldiers had to stand 10 to 12 feet apart in the works.
Wilson's force arrived in front of the Selma fortifications at 2 pm. He had placed Gen. Eli Long's Division across the Summerfield Road with the Chicago Board of Trade Battery in support. He had Gen. Emory Upton's Division placed across the Range Line Road with Battery I, 4th US Artillery in support. Altogether Wilson had 9,000 troops available for the assault.
The Federal commander's plan was for Upton to send in a 300 man detachment ater dark to cross the swamp on the Confederate right; enter the works, and begin a flanking movement toward the center moving along the line of fortifications. Then a single gun from Upton's artillery would signal the attack by the entire Federal Corps.
At 5 pm, however, Gen. Long's ammunition train in the rear was attacked by advance elements of Forrest's scattered forces coming toward Selma. Both Long and Upton had positioned significant numbers of troops in their rear for just such an event. However, Long decided to commence his assault against the Selma fortifications to neutralize the enemy attack in his rear
Long's troops attacked in a single rank in three main lines, dismounted with Spencers carbines blazing, supported by their own artillery fire. The Confederates replied with heavy small arms and artillery fire of their own. The Southern artillery, in one of the many ironies of the Civil War, only had solid shot on hand, while just a short distance away was an arsenal which produced tons of canister, a highly effective anti-personnel ammunition.
The Federals suffered many casualties (including General Long himself) but not enough to break up the attack. Once the Yankees reached the works, there was vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Many soldiers were struck down with clubbed muskets. But the Yankees kept pouring into the works. In less than 30 minutes, Long's men had captured the works protecting the Summerfield Road.
Meanwhile, General Upton, observing Long's success, ordered his division forward. The story was much the same for his men as on Long's front. Soon, US flags could be seen waving over the works from Range Line Road to Summerfield Road.
After the outer works fell, General Wilson himself led the 4th US Cavalry Regiment in a mounted charge down the Range Line Road toward the unfinished inner line of works. The retreating Confederate forces, upon reaching the inner works, ahd allied and poured a devastating fire into the charging Yankee column. This broke up the charge and sent General Wilson sprawling to the ground when his favorite horse was wounded. He quickly remounted his stricken mount and ordered a dismounted assault by several regiments.
Mixed units of Confederate troops had also occupied the Selma railroad depot and the adjoining banks of the railroad bed to make a stand next to the Plantersville Road (present day Broad Street). The fighting there was heavy, but by 7 pm the superior numbers of Union troops had managed to flank the Southern positions causing them to abandon the depot as well as the inner line of works.
In the darkness, the Yankees rounded up hundreds of prisoners, but hundreds more escaped down the Burnsville Road, including Generals Forrest, Armstrong, and Roddey. To the west, many Confederate soldiers fought the persuing Yankees all the way down to the eastern side of Valley Creek. They escaped in the darkness by swimming across the Alabama River near the mouth of Valley Creek (where the present day Battle of Selma Reenactment is held.)
The Yankees looted the city that night while many businesses and privat residences were burned. They spent the next week destroying the arsenal and naval foundry. Then they left Selma heading to Montgomery and then Columbus and Macon, Georgia, and the end of the war.
Forrest rejoined his divisions at Marion while General Buford's Alabama and Mississippi Cavalry harassed Wilson's columns as they moved across central Alabama. Forrest then moved his command to Gainesville, where he was informed of the collapse of the armies led by Robert E. Lee and Joseph Johnston.
National Voting Rights Museum and Institute
Voting Rights Act of 1965
Importance of Selma to Confederacy
Battle of Selma
Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce