First Alabama Cavalry, U.S.A.

Richard Nelson Current
Union Soldiers from the Confederacy

From April to September 1864 the First Alabama then took part in William T. Sherman's campaign for Atlanta, acting as scouts (whose value Sherman himself acknowledged) and as rear guards for the supply line.

And from September to December the Alabamians joined in the march from Atlanta to the sea. Carrying out Sherman's order to "burn the countryside within fifteen miles" of their route, they destroyed the depot at Milledgeville and a long stretch of the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad. "Had slight skirmish every day until the 9th, when we came to the enemy's outer works at Savannah," the regiments's scribe recorded in December. "We drove them two miles over a road where torpedoes [mines or booby traps] were buried, which exploding mortally wounded Adjutant Tupper and six men slightly, also killing six horses. We drove the enemy to their main works."

During January - March 1865 Spencer led the Third Cavalry Brigade as Sherman's army moved from Savannah up though the Carolinas. The Third Brigade - consisting of the First Alabama, the Fifth Kentucky, and the Fifth Ohio, and accompanied by the Tenth Wisconsin Battery of artillery - drew the praise of the overall cavalry commander, General Judson Kilpatrick, and of Sherman himself for its exploits along the way.

As Spencer's brigade approached Williston, South Carolina, the First Alabama "having the advance," the Alabamians "struck a force of the enemy" and "had no difficulty in driving them in and through the town." But when Spencer and his men prepared to camp there, they were fired upon, the "firing in the advance becoming quite heavy." He ordered the Alabamians to "crowd the enemy" and his Kentuckians to go to the Alabamians' support.

"Then commenced one of the most thorough and complete routs I ever witnessed [Spencer recounted]. The ground was completely strewn with guns, haversacks, etc. Five battle-flags were captured, including the brigade and four regimental flags, and a large number of horses and over thirty prisoners. After a charge of about seven miles from this point the enemy dispersed and went in every direction through the woods and swamps... The force we had the encounter with proved to be the Alabama brigade... consisting of the First, Third, Fifth, Ninth, Twelfth, and Fifty-first Regiments Alabama Cavalry."

After advancing into North Carolina, Spencer's brigade fought off another Confederate attack in what developed into the battle of Monroe's Cross Roads. One morning at reveille his men awoke to find the enemy charging their camp from opposite directions - under the lead of two of the most famous rebel cavalry commanders, Wade Hampton and Joseph Wheeler. The rebels overran almost the entire camp before Spencer's men, "By desperate fighting behind trees," succeeded in driving them off. For two and a half hours the Federals stood up against repeated charges, until finally "the enemy retreated in confusion," leaving behind more than a hundred of their men killed, a larger number wounded, and a few dozen captured. "Our loss... was 18 killed, 70 wounded, and 105 missing," Spencer reported; among those were eight officers from the First Alabama and one from the Fifth Kentucky.

Near Averasborough Spencer's brigade, coming upon rebels entrenched on a ridge, "advanced skirmishing quite heavily up to within 200 yards of their works" and then helped to dislodge them. At Bentonville, in the concluding battle of Sherman's march through the Carolinas, Spencer's men again played a supporting role, "guarding part of the time the left flank" of the Union army. On March 24, 1865, three days after the battle, they "went into camp after a campaign of fifty-five days" during which they had "marched over 700 miles, crossing seven large rivers on pontoon bridges and an innumerable number of smaller streams and swamps that under ordinary circumstances would be considered impassable." Over all that distance they had "subsisted almost entirely upon the country."

In proportion to their numbers, the Union troops from Alabama contributed as much to the war's outcome as did those from any other Southern state. But the Alabama numbers were quite small in comparison with those of Virginia/West Virginia and those of Tennessee. The Virginians and the Tennesseeans, who together made up more than half of all the loyalists, did more than half of all the loyalist fighting.


Lincoln's Loyalists by Richard Nelson Current, pages 172-174
Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1992