Battle of Columbus (Girard)
Phenix City, Alabama
Columbus, Georgia

The Last Major Battle of the Civil War

The Battle of Columbus - also called the Battle of Girard - was the last major land battle of the War Between the States (or Civil War). It took place in Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia, on April 16, 1865.

Although there was an encounter later at Palmito Ranch, Texas, and fighting took place even later in Alabama, the attack on Columbus, Georgia, was the last large-scale battle of the war. Military officers study it to this day as a classic example of the confusion caused by night-time fighting.

By April of 1865, Columbus was the last surviving industrial city in the South. A major center for military manufacturing, it was also the home of significant naval construction facilities where the new ironclad C.S.S. Jackson was nearing completion.

The Confederate military had ringed the city with trenches, breastworks and earthen forts in anticipation of the imminent attack they knew the Union army would launch to take it.

Although Columbus is in Georgia, most of the fortifications were along a semi-circular ridge on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee River. The area was then known as Girard but is now part of Phenix City. This placement of defenses allowed the Confederates to defend the bridges over the river and prevent an enemy force from using the high ground to place guns and bombard the city. Unfortunately for the Southern troops, however, the Girard line was much too long to be defended by the number of men on hand.

More than one week after the surrender of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Major General Howell Cobb was commanding in Columbus when he learned that a Union army under Major General James H. Wilson had taken Montgomery, Alabama, and was advancing east in the direction of Columbus.
The Battle of Columbus (Girard) was the last significant engagement of the Civil War. It took place in Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia.

Columbus newspapers issued special editions that Easter Sunday, warning citizens that an attack was coming and that all who could not bear arms should leave the city immediately. Authorities expected the shelling of Columbus should the Federals gain control of the heights on the Alabama side of the river.

The main assault came at around 9 p.m. Led by Col. Frederick Benteen, who later served under Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the 3rd Iowa Cavalry and 10th Missouri Cavalry stormed an advanced line of Confederate works.

The defenders fell back, and the Federals thought they had pierced the main Confederate line. Two companies of Missourians went forward with orders to take the "Upper" or 14th Street Bridge leading into Columbus. The men charged into the darkness and unexpectedly rode right into the primary Confederate position. 

Southern troops responded by opening fire on the Union soldiers holding the former advanced line. Artillery and rifle fire illuminated the night. Flashes of gunfire tore the darkness, the sights, and sounds punctuated by the roar of cannon and explosions of shells. 

The fighting was desperate, but Wilson's plan worked. Union cavalry attacked up steep slopes along Summerville Road and pierced the primary Confederate defenses. Southern forces began to retreat for the bridges, but the Federals were mixed in with them. 

A Confederate battery of two cannon on the east bank of the Chattahoochee in Columbus had orders to fire across the bridge, and if they could not hold it, then soldiers were to burn it. The attacking Union soldiers were so intermixed with the retreating Confederates, however, that the men in charge of the guns declined to open fire. Wilson's men took the bridge and stormed into Columbus.

The battle was all but over by 11 p.m. The last man to fall, Col. C.A.L. Lamar, died when a dismounted Union cavalryman shot him in the final fighting of the night. Perhaps the best-known casualty of the Battle of Columbus was Dr. John Stith Pemberton, the man who later invented Coca-Cola. He received a saber wound to the chest.

Accurate casualty counts do not exist, but around 60 Federals and 80 Confederates were killed and wounded.

The city fell. Union troops seized and burned the unfinished ironclad CSS Jackson, but Confederate sailors took the CSS Chattahoochee​ downstream away from the town before setting her afire. Wilson's soldiers destroyed the city's wartime industries. 
A surviving Confederate fort on private property near Summerville Road. Cannon fired from this position during the Battle of Columbus (Girard).
​Cobb's total force consisted of around 3,500 men of varying degrees of experience. Some were seasoned regular soldiers, but many others were laborers from the naval works and military factories. Local militia troops were also present. Realizing that the moment of crisis was at hand, he ordered them into the Girard fortifications and prepared for the impending attack.

The Battle of Columbus took place on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865. At around 2 p.m., the Union brigade of General Andrew Alexander (Upton's Division) passed through a lightly manned section of the Confederate defenses and tried to capture the "Lower" or Dillingham Street Bridge leading into downtown Columbus. He was driven back in a sharp encounter.

While the Federals waited for more troops to come up at Columbus, the second part of Wilson's army attacked and captured Fort Tyler in a bloody battle upstream in West Point, opening a way across the Chattahoochee.

With the bridge at West Point in Union hands, the second column crossed the river and marched on LaGrange. The main body of Wilson's army was still west of the Chattahoochee, and Columbus remained uncaptured.

Determined to take the city and maintain his plan, Gen. Wilson decided to launch a daring night assault down Summerville Road, which entered Girard (Phenix City) from the northwest.

Fighting in the dark, especially in those days before modern communications and night vision technology, was extremely difficult and often confused the troops involved. The Battle of Columbus is studied by military officers today for the insights it gives of the complex nature of night battles.

The scene of the battle is part of the city today, but you can follow the general route of Wilson's attack by driving south on Summerville Road into Phenix City from US-280.
The wreck of the unfinished ironclad CSS Jackson is preserved at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
The battlefield can be explored today at several sites around Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama. The ideal place to start is the  National Civil War Naval Museum  at 1002 Victory Drive, which preserves the remains of the CSS Jackson and the CSS Chattahoochee. The 14th Street Bridge along the Riverwalk was the scene of fighting, as was the old courthouse in Phenix City and nearby Summerville Road.

Remnants of earthworks survive in neighborhoods off Summerville Road, but please keep in mind that these are on private property. Respect property rights and do not trespass.

The graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the battle are at historic Linwood Cemetery, where another of the guns from the CSS Jackson is displayed.
Many of the Confederate dead from the battle are buried at historic Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Georgia. A massive gun from the ironclad CSS Jackson stands guard over their graves.

Click the play button below to learn the story of the CSS Chattahoochee​: