On this day in 1865 General James H. Wilson dispatched a detachment of men from his First Division to head southwest and destroy anything that may benefit the Confederate cause. Wilson, headquartered at Elyton at the time (present-day Birmingham) was leading three divisions on a sweeping path of destruction through Alabama to bring a quicker end to the Civil War. The man chosen to lead the mission was Brigadier General John Thomas Croxton. Croxton, 28, was a Kentucky born Republican lawyer, abolitionist, and 1857 Yale graduate. Croxton entered the Federal Army as a lieutenant colonel in the Fourth Kentucky Infantry. Previous to his Alabama mission Croxton had seen action in the Chattanooga and Chickamauga campaigns in 1863. Croxton recieved a severe leg wound at Chickamauga. Croxton was promoted to brigadier general on July 30, 1864. Croxton also took part in the battles of Atlanta and Franklin. On March 30, 1865 Croxton headed southwest from Elyton with orders to “proceed rapidly by the most direct route to Tuscaloosa to destroy the bridge, factories, mills, university, and whatever else may be of benefit to the rebel cause.” Along his “most direct route” lay the Roupes Valley Ironworks at Tannehill and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which was then a military school. Croxton, being the good soldier that he was, followed his orders to the T. The next day Croxton’s men destroyed the ironworks in Roupes Valley, which is now the Tannehill State Park. On April 3, 1865 Croxton entered Tuscaloosa and burned the University of Alabama to the ground.
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org