Thursday, April 16, 2009

Battle of Columbus, Georgia (Girard, Alabama)

Today is the 144th anniversary of the battle for Columbus, Georgia, an engagement fought on an Easter Sunday seven days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee in Virginia.

Variously known as the Battle of Columbus or Battle of Girard, the engagement was fought on both sides of the Chattahoochee River in both Girard (today's Phenix City), Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia. As a result, both sides of the river claim the battle and it has two names.

The battle was still developing while a second Union column attacked and captured Fort Tyler in the upriver town of West Point. As the fight at Fort Tyler was underway, Union forces advanced on Columbus and swept up to the west bank of the Chattahoochee in a rapid effort to take the Dillingham Street bridge. Confederate forces used turpentine and other flammables to fire the bridge, however, and the initial Federal advance fell back.

The Union commander, General James Wilson, then waited for additional reinforcements to come up before launching his second attack. The focus of the action shifted to the Summerville Road, which approached Columbus from the northwest. Southern troops occupied a series of positions there along a commanding ridge and prepared to dispute Wilson's advance.

Advancing as darkness fell, the Federals overran an advanced Confederate position and thought they had broken through the main Southern lines. Wilson ordered two companies of Missourians to move forward and seize the upper or 14th Street bridge. When the men advanced, however, they ran headlong into the main Confederate positions.

A swirling night battle developed as Confederate artillery and musket fire swept down the slopes from forts and breastworks on each side of the Summerville Road and a Southern battery planted directly in the road opened fire on the Union advance. The Federals charged again, breaking through the line along the road and capturing nearby forts. They pushed rapidly toward the upper bridge.

Southern troops had positioned two cannon to fire directly across the bridge and also had prepared for to fire the span as the Union troops approached, but the attacking Federals became mixed in with the retreating Confederates and the gunners held their fire rather than slaughter their own men as the mass of humanity made its way across the bridge.

The fighting moved across the bridge to the city itself, but quickly came to an end. The Federals had won the day and awaiting them in Columbus was one of the largest hauls of military hardware and industrial capacity seized during the entire war.

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