Thursday, April 16, 2009
Fort Tyler - West Point, Georgia
One of the last significant battles of the Civil War took place in Georgia on this date, April 16th, in 1865. It claimed the life of Brig. Gen. Robert C. Tyler, the last general on either side killed during the war.
The fierce battle developed when Union troops led by Col. Oscar H. LaGrange approached the town of West Point, Georgia, and its strategic bridge over the Chattahoochee River. A second Union force, commanded by Gen. James Wilson, moved on the downriver city of Columbus, Georgia, at the same time.
When he received news that the Federal force was approaching, Gen. Tyler moved his small force (variously estimated at 120-265 men) of Confederate regulars, convalescents, militia and local volunteers into Fort Tyler. The small but powerful earthwork fort stood on a high hill overlooking West Point and the Chattahoochee River bridge. Armed with three pieces of artillery (two field guns and a 32-pounder), the fort commanded a sweeping view of the surrounding area.
Local tradition holds that local citizens gave Tyler a flag before the battle and that he pledged to them that he would defend it to the last breath.
As LaGrange reached West Point, he sent three regiments of dismounted cavalry to attack Fort Tyler while he joined the rest of his men in a bold dash to seize the bridge. He succeeded in taking the bridge, but was then stunned by a shot from the fort's 32-pounder that killed his horse and sent LaGrange sprawling into the road.
The full strength of the Union force then moved on Fort Tyler. LaGrange planted a battery on a nearby hill to shell the fort and for hours an intense battle raged. One by one the cannon in the fort were dismounted by Union fire, but Tyler and his men continued to hold out. At one critical moment, a Union shell cut loose the flag of the fort, but a 17-year-old Confederate sergeant climbed the pole and nailed the flag back in place.
In the end, his fort reduced to a smoking ruin and his men falling dead and wounded around him, Gen. Tyler made one final, defiant gesture. He exposed himself to Union fire by walking in front of the walls of the fort. He was shot and according to eyewitnesses never moved again. His friend, Captain Celestine Gonzalez of the 1st Florida Infantry, fell dead as well.
Left with no other choice, the survivors in the fort finally lowered their flag late in the afternoon. The Battle of West Point was over while, to the south, the Battle of Columbus was just heating up. Union troops blew up Fort Tyler the next day.
Fort Tyler has been reconstructed and is the focal point of an outstanding park interpreting the history of the battle. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/forttyler.