As the American Civil War Sesquicentennial comes to a close, the National Civil War Naval Museum is hosting a reenactment of the Battle of Columbus, which is widely regarded as the last true battle of the Civil War.
As a Confederate industrial center second only to Richmond, Virginia in production during the war, Columbus, Georgia was the largest remaining supply center in the South. On the afternoon of April 16, 1865, one week after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, General James Wilson’s 13,000 men (known as “Wilson’s Raiders”) entered the city of Girard, Alabama (now known as Phenix City), where the 3,500 men (mostly home guard and civilians) under Confederate General Howell Cobb were positioned in defense. Union forces encountered little resistance at first, but this proved to be a trap. Finding the lower (more southerly) of two bridges into Columbus partially dismantled, they were forced to retreat and turn their focus to the upper bridge.
At 8 pm, just after nightfall, General Wilson ordered an attack on the upper bridge (the present day 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge). Tremendous fighting ensued, and some 2 hours later, the Confederates were forced to retreat across the bridge into Columbus. Attempts to burn the bridge failed and by 11 pm Wilson had made his way across the bridge and established a headquarters at the Mott House. The next day, he ordered the destruction of all resources that could be used to aid the Confederacy, including the ironclad CSS Jackson. The gunboat CSS Chattahoochee was scuttled to prevent its capture by the Union (today the remains of both ships are on display at the National Civil War Naval Museum). By the end of the day, the city of Columbus was largely destroyed. The number of those who died in the fighting is unknown.
The two-day event will feature a reenactment of the battle, as well as living history encampments and live fire demonstrations.