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The Battle of Fort Tyler

Fort Tyler and Fort Tyler Cemetery are located in West Point, which was an important railroad town in Georgia during the Civil War. Because the gauges of the rails were different between Alabama and Georgia, train cargo had to be transferred between cars here, which necessitated a large railroad yard. The town had been the scene of raids by Union cavalry, with the most significant resulting in a battle at Fort Tyler on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, a full week after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, and two days after Lincoln had been assassinated. Word hadn't reached these parts, as Confederate Gen. Robert C. Tyler, and his 120 men held off 3,500 cavalrymen of Wilson's Raiders under Col. O.H. LaGrange, for a full day at Fort Tyler, before surrendering when they ran out of ammunition at dusk.

Fort Tyler, built in the fall of 1863 to protect vital transportation bridges at the Chattahoochee River, was an earthenwork fort approximately 35 feet square. It had three artillery pieces, a stockade on the rear or south and a ditch 10 feet deep and 15 feet wide in front. Tyler, called by some historians the most enigmatic Confederate general of the Civil War, was a veteran of Walker's expedition to Nicaragua; Shiloh; Chickamauga; and had lost his left leg at Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. The disabled Tyler was posted at West Point, where he was in command of Fort Tyler and 128 men, made up of convalescents from Confederate hospitals, young boys in the town, and a garrison of old men from LaGrange. He was given a flag by the community, and he pledged to die beneath it rather than surrender it to the enemy.

On the morning of April 16, Union cavalry moved on West Point, placing a battery on a nearby hill and opening fire on the fort, which returned the same. Union cavalry worked their way closer, taking cover at some homes in close range to the Fort. Gen. Tyler had been urged to burn them to prevent their use as cover by Union sharpshooters, but he refused, not wanting to destroy the homes of people he had befriended in the past year of his convalescence. After a few hours of battle, Tyler, who was on crutches, hobbled outside the fort to get a better view of the Union positions. A sharpshooter — located in one of the homes Tyler refused to burn — shot him in the chest. He was borne back inside the fort and placed under the flag staff, where he died an hour later under the flag he swore to defend, and became the last Confederate general to die in the Civil War. The men in the fort, under assault by Union soldiers on foot and out numbered 10 to 1, surrendered just before dusk, making the fort the last to fall in the Civil War. Eighteen Confederates were killed along with seven Federals and 29 wounded. In a cemetery in West Point, Tyler was buried in a joint grave with his second in command, Captain C. Gonzales, who was also killed during the battle. From West Point, Wilson's Raiders destroyed 19 locomotives and burned 340 cars, and moved east up the tracks to LaGrange and eventually to Macon. A living history event is held annually in mid-April to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of West Point.

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