Thursday, July 14, 2011

Robert C. Tyler - Last General Killed in the Civil War

In the southwest corner of Pinewood Cemetery in West Point, Georgia, a small plot of ground has been set aside to provide a resting place for Confederate soldiers who died in the town.

Known as the Fort Tyler Cemetery, it notably contains the remains of Southern soldiers who fell in the defense of Fort Tyler on April 16, 1865. It was on that day, one week after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, that Brigadier General Robert C. Tyler fell in action at the Battle of West Point, Georgia.

He was the last general officer of either side killed in action in the Civil War.

A remarkable individual who grew up in Tennessee and Maryland, Robert C. Tyler was part of William Walker's filibustering expedition to Nicaragua in 1856. He was among the men who returned to New York at the end of that armed incursion as a mere skeleton.

Grave of Gen. Robert C. Tyler
In 1861, then a resident of Memphis, Tyler enlisted as a private in Company D, 15th Tennessee Infantry. He quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and commanded his regiment at the Battle of Belmont, Missouri, while fighting against the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Tyler fought against Grant's men again at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. He had three horses killed from under him in that battle and was severely wounded. Due to his wounds he served in a staff capacity during Braxton Bragg's Kentucky Campaign, but was back in the field by 1863 when he fought at the brutal battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. He lost a leg in that campaign, but was also credited with heroism on the field.

Fort Tyler in West Point, Georgia
By early 1865, Tyler had been promoted to brigadier general and was commanding the small force posted to defend the Chattahoochee River railroad bridge at West Point, Georgia. When news reached the town that a large Union force was approaching, he assembled what men he could and took up a position in Fort Tyler. The earthwork redoubt overlooked both the bridge and the town, the approaches to which it commanded with its three pieces of artillery.

Local legend in West Point holds that General Tyler was presented with a flag by the ladies of the community prior to the battle. He supposedly remarked that he would stand beneath the flag with honor and either prove victorious or die in the attempt.

Despite the small size of his own force and the overwhelming size of the attacking Federal command, Tyler held out courageously in Fort Tyler. With Union soldiers moving on his defenses from all four sides and the battle clearly lost, Tyler is said to have recklessly exposed himself to enemy fire.

Along with his aide, Captain Celestine Gonzales of Florida, he was shot down in the final moments of the battle. The two men are buried side by side at Fort Tyler Cemetery.

To learn more about Tyler's grave, Fort Tyler and the Battle of West Point, please visit the following:

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