Review of Yankee Blitzkrieg: Wilson’s Raid Through Alabama and Georgia, by James Pickett Jones

28 Mar

By 1865, the Confederacy was dying. Union armies were steadily tightening their grip on the South and the end was rapidly approaching. The only hope remining was a “last ditch” stand along a line stretching from Selma, Alabama to Macon. Georgia. This area contained foundries, machine shops, iron works and other businesses capable of supplying armies in the field either there or perhaps in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Union commander James H. Wilson gathered the war’s largest cavalry force to decimate this area and deliver the final blow to the Rebels. James Pickett Jones admirably describes the campaign in detail with Yankee Blitzkrieg: Wilson’s Raid Through Alabama and Georgia.

Wilson had long thought that the cavalry had been improperly used throughout the war. He got permission to gather a force of nearly 15,000 troopers, equipped with Spencer repeating rifles and properly trained, to undergo an expedition to wreak havoc through the remaining Confederate strongholds in Alabama and Georgia. Leaving the Eastport, Mississippi area on March 22, his men would travel 525 miles and fight several engagements at places like Ebenezer Church, Selma and Columbus, Georgia. Along the way, he delivered the final defeat to Nathan Bedford Forrest who had failed to gather a force strong enough to halt Wilson’s progress. Jones correctly concluded that Union cavalry activities from Pensacola kept the Confederate “Wizard of the Saddle” pre-occupied as the famed cavalry leader had to send forces in that direction to protect Mobile. Wilson’s troops easily pushed aside the minuscule Confederate forces, even those commanded by Forrest, put in their path.

Wilson’s troopers devastated the remaining Southern facilities capable of sustaining war efforts. Shops, mills, foundries, iron works etc… were all decimated. By this point of the war, Selma itself produced half the cannon and two-thirds of the ammunition used by Confederate forces.  Had Robert E. Lee or Joseph Johnston maintained armies in the field, this raid would have successfully prevented them from having any supplies capable of waging war for much longer. Those forces, however, had either surrendered or were about to, meaning the casualties caused in these encounters were pointless as the war was essentially over.

Wilson’s troopers concluded their raid in Macon, Georgia, just in time to take part in capturing the fleeing Confederate president. Jones describes the efforts of these troops as well as the events occurring in Irwinville, Georgia on May 10 when Jefferson Davis was captured. Jones explains and refutes the rumor of Jefferson Davis’s alleged attempt to escape wearing women’s clothes. 

Wilson’s raid has never gotten its just due as the largest and most successful cavalry raid of the war. Readers then and now have been more focused on the fall of Richmond, Lee’s surrender, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Jones’s fine work, though originally published in 1976, provides a compelling account of the raid. It is well written, moves at a solid pace, and explains how the raid fit into the conclusion of the war. Readers seeking one of the best accounts of the final days of the Confederacy would be well served to add this to their collection.


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