Friday, April 15, 2011

Captain Gonzales and the Battle of West Point - April 16, 1865

Graves of Gen. Tyler & Captain Gonzales
Tomorrow, April 16th, marks the 146th anniversary of one of the last significant battles of the War Between the States and the death of one of the last Florida officers to fall in action.

Captain C. Gonzales of Company B, 1st Florida Infantry, spent much of the war in staff roles, having served at the Confederate posts in Brewton and Greenville, Alabama; Jonesboro and Atlanta, Georgia, and finally at West Point where the railroad crossed the Chattahoochee River from Georgia into Alabama. West Point was commanded by Brigadier General Robert Tyler and was the location of a fort named in his honor.

By Good Friday in 1865, the massive raiding force of General James H. Wilson had captured both Selma and Montgomery and then turned east for Georgia. Wilson was "finishing off" the South, destroying anything his soldiers could find that might help keep the Confederate armies in the field. Even the brilliant General Nathan Bedford Forrest was so severely outnumbered by Wilson's force that he could do little more than fight and fall back.

Cannon at Fort Tyler
The last stand of the Confederates in the Deep South would take place along the line of the Chattahoochee River as Wilson's two-pronged campaign tried to cross from Alabama into Georgia. The main body, with General Wilson personally in command, headed for the vital industrial city of Columbus, while a smaller column led by Colonel O.H. LaGrange moved across the plains of Alabama to West Point and Fort Tyler.

Alerted to their approach, General Tyler moved his tiny command into Fort Tyler. His total force numbered somewhere between 120 and 265 men, many of them wounded invalids like the general himself (he had lost a leg at Missionary Ridge). The approaching Union force had 3,750 men.

Despite the astounding odds, Tyler decided to fight.  Joining him in putting the men into position around the ramparts and three cannon of Fort Tyler was Captain Gonzales, a Floridian who had served since the earliest days of the war.  The ladies of West Point presented them a flag, which Tyler accepted pledging that he would either win the coming battle or die in the attempt.

The Battle of West Point was fought on April 16, 1865, seven days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The outnumbered Confederate forces in Fort Tyler held out for hours against the thousands of Union soldiers under Colonel LaGrange. In the end, Tyler recklessly exposed himself in a defiant last stand and fell to the bullets of his enemy. Gonzales fell by his side. Fort Tyler was taken by Federal forces.

Later that same day, General Wilson led a rare night assault on the fortifications at Columbus, breaking through and capturing the city. The Battle of Columbus is often said to have been the last major battle of the War Between the States (although fighting would continue in other places for another six weeks).

Captain Gonzales and General Tyler rest side by side at Fort Tyler Cemetery today. The fort they defended has been reconstructed and West Point does a nice job of preserving its wartime history. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/forttyler. Be sure to follow the links there to learn about the Fort Tyler Cemetery and the Battle of West Point.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was able to attend a small portion of the living history presentations at Fort Tyler this past Saturday. The presentations were very good and very informative. There is a good DVD about the battle of West Point available from the Chattahoochee Valley Depot. This was a small battle and did not have any effect on the outcome of the war, but a visit to the fort is very worthwhile.

Dale said...

I haven't seen the DVD but will check it out. Thank you for letting me know! I agree that the war was decided by then, but there is just something about Tyler's stand that moves me.

Dale

Tim Kent said...

This is a great blog. I have a blog on General Tyler at http://trrcobb.blogspot.com/2011/03/mystery-general-brigadier-general.html

Tim.

Dale said...

Tim, Thank you very much. I enjoyed reading through your posting.

Dale