In late March 1865, Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson led around 13,500 Union cavalry and mounted infantry on a major raid deep into Alabama. His mission was to take the pressure off Union forces besieging the defenses of Mobile and occupying the attention of Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his Cavalry Corps. To accomplish this, Wilson planned to capture and destroy the vast Confederate arsenal at Selma, the state's industrial center. The resulting fight at Ebenezer Curch was a part of this operation, called Wilson's Raid. The Confederate forces were too scattered to cover both Wilson's advance and a possible Union cavalry move from Pensacola, Florida.
On April 1st, Wilson's advance force, led by Brig. Gens. Eli Long and Emory Upton, moved out at dawn from positions in front of maplesville Station, about 30 miles from Selma. Long's division was to travel south on the Randolph-Plantersville road. Upton's division was to move along long's left flank down the Randolph-Mapleville road. Their orders were to "press the enemy vigorously and charge them whenever they attempted to make a stand". The divisions were to meet where the 2 roads joined, forming the Selma highway, Wilson's intended assault route to the city. Combined, the 2 divisions numbered about 9,000 men.
On March 22, Wilson's force left its winter camps in extreme northwest Alabama and headed southward to Elyton (present-day Birmingham). The Union columns reached Elyton on March 30. The march had been uneventful other than the hardships of negotiating muddy roads and swollen streams caused by the heavy spring rains.
There was no opposition to Wilson's maneuvers because Forrest had been busy gathering his forces which numbered close to 10,000 but were scattered over parts of Alabama and Mississippi. The Federals had wisely launched a simultaneous cavalry raid from extreme southeastern Alabama which caused Forrest to delay committing his main force until he could be sure of the real intentions of the invading Union army. By the time Forrest was convinced that Wilson's force was his major threat and that Selma was his goal, Wilson had a big advantage. Flooding streams and rivers seriously hindered the Confederate concentration of forces.
Forrest and the Union vanguard skirmished heavily on March 30-31. On April 1, he had about 2,000 men near Maplesville Station, expecting reinforcement from Brig. Gen. William H. Jackson's 3,000 troopers and from Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers' division. None of the troops arrived. The Cahawba River kept Jackson from the Federals and Chalmers was farther away than Forrest believed. When Long and Upton began their morning moves, Forrest organized resistance and sent couriers looking for Chalmers. early in the afternoon, he received word that Chalmers was moving toward Dixie Station. Forrest decided to withdraw 4 miles to a little chapel called Ebenezer Church near the intersection of Long's and Upton's routes and 1 mile from Dixie Station. His men would make a stand there and wait for Chalmers' division.
Selma was protected by 3 miles of fortifications which ran in a semi-circle around the city. They were anchored on the north and south by the Alabama River. The works had been built 2 years earlier, and while neglected for the most part since, were still formidable. They were 8-12 feet high, 15-feet thick at the base, with a ditch 4-feet wide and 5-feet deep along the front. In front of this was a picket fence of heavy posts planted in the ground, 5-feet high, and sharpened at the top. At prominent positions, earthen forts were built with artillery in position to cover the ground over which an assault would have to be made. The Selma fortifications were built to be defended by 20,000 men. Forrest's soldiers had to stand 10-12 feet apart in the works.
The Confederates were organized into 3 small brigades commanded by Brig. Gens. Philip D. Roddey and Daniel W. Adams, and Col. Edward Crossland. Their thin line stretched from the right of the Alabama & tennessee River Railroad tracks and the head of the Selma highway across to a wooded hill near Ebenezer Church. Crossland commanded the Confederate left at the church, Roddey the center on the highway, and Adams the right. Four cannon covered Long's approach on the Randolph-Plantersville Road; 2 others supported Adams' troops. Forrest, with less than 200 men, held off the Federals until nearly 4:00 P.M., then fell back to the Ebenezer Church line.
After Confederate skirmishers were driven in by long's cavalrymen, Long ordered elements of the 17th Indiana mounted Infantry to charge Forrest's main line. They broke through a portion of roddey's sector, assaulted the 4-gun battery, and began an extended hand-to-hand fight that involved Forrest himself. These Federals retreated; a second assault by 5 regiments of dismounted Illinois and Indiana troopers hit the center; elements of Upton's division attacked Adams on the Confederate right. Adams men, mostly untried Alabama militia, were successful in helping throw back a brigade of Upton's force. When Upton committed 2 more regiments, dismounted and linked with the men assaulting the Confederate center, he was able to break through Adams' sector. The Alabamians were routed, threw away their weapons, and ran for Selma. The pursuing Federals captured 250 of them and 225 stands of arms.
The disaster on the right compelled Forrest to call retreat. Roddey's and Crossland's men withdrew toward Selma and tried to fight off the Union pursuit. The engagement lasted less than an hour, costing Forrest 3 cannon and 300-400 soldiers, most of whom were captured. Chalmers, who never arrived, was left to make his own way to Selma.
In the darkness, the Union troops rounded up hundreds of prisoners, but hundreds more escaped down the Burnsville Road, including Forrest, Armstrong, and Roddey. To the west, many Confederate soldiers fought the persuing Union troops all the way down to the eastern side of Valley Creek. They escaped in the darkness by swimming across the Alabama River near the mouth of Valley Creek.
The Union troops looted the city that night while many businesses and private residences were burned. They spent the next week destroying the arsenal and naval foundry. Next, they left Selma heading to Montgomery and then Columbus and Macon, Georgia, and the end of the war.
Forrest rejoined his divisions at Marion while Buford's Alabama and Mississippi Cavalry harassed Wilson's columns as they moved across central Alabama. Forrest then moved his command to Gainesville, where he was informed of the collapse of the armies led by Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.