Twilight of the Confederacy
The Alabama Corps of Cadets and the Burning of The University of Alabama
In the waning days of the Civil War, the Union leadership decided to inflict one final blow on the Confederacy to end hostilities. Accordingly, Major General James H. Wilson and his veteran Cavalry Corps were ordered to seize and destroy the Deep South agricultural and industrial capabilities in the largely untouched regions of central Alabama and western Georgia. The Confederate industrial centers at Selma, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, were prime targets of the raid.
In March 1865, Wilson rode into central Alabama with some 13,500 cavalry, mounted infantry, and horse artillery. This was the largest contingent of cavalry ever assembled on the North American continent. Riding unopposed until he reached Elyton (now Birmingham), Wilson decided to create a diversion to keep part of Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry from pursuing him as he raced to beat Forrest to Selma. Brigadier General John T. Croxton was dispatched with 1,500 cavalrymen armed with Sharps carbines and Spencer repeating rifles to take Tuscaloosa, an hour to the southwest. There, they were to destroy the Confederate utility on site and burn the military school at the University of Alabama- the "nursery" of the Confederacy. The institution had assumed a military program in 1860, creating the Alabama Corps of Cadets (ACC). They had been furnishing trained officers and men for the Confederate forces throughout the war. The university also served as a munitions center.
Facing General Croxton's troopers in Tuscaloosa were some home guard militia and 300 cadets of the Alabama Corps of Cadets, a military unit "composed wholly of boys." Most of these young men had never been tested in battle, and they were armed with inferior weaponry against a formidable veteran foe brandishing the most advanced weapons. After the cadets' cannon were captured early on, the "Katydids," as the cadets were called by some veteran Confederate soldiers, found themselves reduced to a suicide stance similar to that of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae.
Culling the best material from the available archival, primary, and secondary sources, author Terry Barkley presents a sensitive but balanced portrayal of the Civil War service of the ACC in Twilight of the Confederacy: The Alabama Corps of Cadets and the Burning of the University of Alabama. These young men (many teenagers) faithfully served their university, the State of Alabama, and the Confederacy, even unto death.
About the Author
Terry Barkley retired in 2012 as director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Illinois. That year, under the auspices of the Brethren Historical Committee, Barkley delivered the 150th anniversary commemorative lecture on the Dunker Church of Antietam Battlefield at Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren in St. Louis. Terry previously served as archivist and museum curator at Bridgewater College in Virginia, a Brethren-related institution. He holds a bachelor's degree and graduate degrees from the University of North Alabama, The Citadel, The University of Alabama, and Harvard University.
Terry is listed in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in American Education, Directory of American Scholars, Alabama Local Musicians Hall of Fame (The Shandells), and in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He is formerly chair of the Brethren Historical Committee of the Church of the Brethren (Dunkers).
Terry Barkley is an independent scholar who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author or co-author of six books.