Wilson led approximately 13,500 men in three divisions, commanded by Brig. Gens. Edward M. McCook, Eli Long, and Emory Upton. Each cavalryman was armed with the formidable 7-shot Spencer repeating rifle. His principal opponent was Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose Cavalry Corps of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana consisted of about 2,500 troopers organized into two small divisions, led by Brig. Gens. James R. Chalmers and William H. Jackson, two partial brigades under Brig. Gen. Philip D. Roddey and Colonel Edward Crossland, and a few local militia.
On March 28, at Elyton, near present-day Birmingham, another skirmish occurred and the Union troopers destroyed the Oxmoor and Irondale iron furnaces. Wilson detached a brigade under Brig. Gen. John T. Croxton and sent them south and west to burn the Roupes Valley Ironworks at Tannehill on March 31 and then the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, a training ground for militia and Confederate troops. This movement diverted Chalmer's division away from Forrest's main force.
On March 31, Forrest was routed by the larger, better-armed Union force at Montevallo. The cavalrymen under Chalmers had not arrived to reinforce Forrest, but he could not wait. During the action, Forrest's headquarters were overrun and documents captured that gave valuable intelligence concerning his plans. Wilson dispatched McCook to link up with Croxton's brigade at Trion and then led the remainder of his force rapidly toward Selma. Forrest made a stand on April 1 at Plantersville, near Ebenezer Church, and was routed once again. The Confederates raced toward Selma and deployed into a three-mile, semicircular defensive line anchored at both ends by the Alabama River.
The Battle of Selma occurred on April 2. The divisions of Long and Upton assaulted Forrest's hastily constructed works. The dismounted Union troopers broke through by afternoon, after brief periods of hand-to-hand combat; the inexperienced militia troops abandoning their positions and fleeing was the primary reason for the entire line breaking. General Wilson personally led a mounted charge of the 4th U.S. Cavalry against an unfinished portion of the line. General Long was severely wounded in the head during the assault. Forrest, who was also wounded, and whose tiny corps was severely damaged, regrouped at Marion, where he finally rejoined with Chalmers. Wilson's men worked for over a week at destroying military facilities before departing for Montgomery, which they occupied on April 12.
Word reached the Union force of the surrender of Robert E. Lee on April 9 and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, but the raid continued, heading east into Georgia. The Battle of West Point, Georgia, occurred on Easter Sunday, April 16, when the brigade of Colonel Oscar H. La Grange attacked an earthwork defensive position named Fort Tyler. Although the Union men had to bridge a ditch under the fire of one 32-pound naval gun and two 12 pound cannon inside the earthwork, the undermanned Fort Tyler was captured. Confederate Brig. Gen. Robert C. Tyler, who was convalescing in West Point from previous wounds and who had mustered a garrison of other soldiers and local volunteers, was mortally wounded by a sharpshooter, becoming the last general officer to be killed in the Civil War. Tyler is buried at the West Point confederate cemetery.
Also on April 16, Upton's division clashed with Confederate forces at Columbus, capturing the city and its naval works and burning the "cottonclad" ramming ship, CSS Jackson. On April 20, Wilson's men captured Macon, Georgia, and Wilson's Raid came to an end, only six days prior to General Joseph E. Johnston's surrender of all Confederate troops in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida to William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina.