By Erick Bush
The Civil War in Alabama has many significant attributes which do not receive the attention they deserve by most American historians. This article touches on several of the high points from my recent lecture on the subject for the American Civil War Round Table (UK).
A fiercely debated Secession Convention exposed sometimes deep divisions between pro-Union sentiments in Alabama's northern portion, and the state's more secessionist southern section. Due to its central location, Montgomery was selected as the initial Confederate capital. Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the Confederacy's President on the steps of Alabama's Capitol Building on February 4, 1861. While the capital city was in Montgomery,the initial Confederate government was formed and its provisional constitution was approved. The Confederacy's first national flag, the "Stars and Bars" was adopted. This flag was designed by Nicola Marschall of Marion, Alabama.
Montgomery's infrastructure proved inadequate to serve the long term needs of the Confederacy's national capital. Therefore, the capital was eventually moved to the larger city of Richmond as part of the political arrangement to bring Virginia into the Confederacy.
With its lack of indigenous industry, the Confederacy immediately undertook a large program to develop its own war manufacturing capability. Key to this effort, Selma became home to a ship yard, arsenal, cannon foundry, and related large scale war logistics activities. The iron fields of Alabama fed significant iron foundries such as Tannehill (pictured), Brierfield, Irondale, and Shelby to provide raw materials for Selma. The city was responsible for production of the Brooke cannon and ironclads such as the CSS Tennessee. During 1864 and 1865, Selma produced half the cannon and two thirds of the fixed ammunition for the Confederate war effort.
Alabama was the stage for several large scale Union cavalry raids. Considered by some to be the most exciting raids of the war, Streight's Raid across northern Alabama in 1863 ended with the surrender of 1,400 Union cavalry to Nathan Bedford Forrest. Rousseau's Raid cut a critical Confederate line of communication from Alabama to Atlanta in 1864. The largest cavalry force of the Civil War was led by General James H. Wilson through central Alabama in March and April 1865. This operation included the capture and destruction of Selma and its war manufacturing capacity. Croxton's Raid led to the destruction of many ironworks in west Alabama, as well as the burning of the University of Alabama.
The state of Alabama produced between 75,000 and 125,000 troops for the Confederate military. This included 65 infantry regiments, 15 cavalry regiments, and over 20 artillery batteries. There were nearly 2,700 white and 10,000 black Alabamians that served in Union forces, including the First Alabama Cavalry (Union). In addition, there remained considerable Union sentiment in parts of Alabama even after secession, illustrated by the "Free State of Winston".
There was a significant prison for captured Union troops established at Cahaba, Alabama. "Castle Morgan" was designed to hold 500 prisoners, but eventually swelled to almost 2,200 as the program of prisoner exchange was halted in 1864.
The largest naval battle of the Civil War occurred at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August of 1864. Admiral David G. Farragut closed off the most important remaining port to the Confederacy with the capture of Fort Gaines, Fort Morgan and the ironclad CSS Tennessee.
The last major battle of the Civil War took place in Alabama at the Battle of Blakeley on April 9, 1865. This battle, along with the previous Battle of Spanish Fort, was part of Union operations under General Edward Canby to capture Mobile. The final substantial engagements of the Civil War on Alabama soil took place at Fort Tyler and Girard on April 16, 1865.