Fort Tyler is a great thing for the Greater Valley Area

Published 2:12 pm Thursday, April 19, 2018

The local area has something good going on with Fort Tyler and the annul commemorative event that takes place there every year in the middle of April. West Point has a unique connection to the Civil War, and it’s up to each succeeding generation to tell that story.

The Battle of West Point and the fall of Fort Tyler is all about the Civil War coming to an end and reconciliation. As we all learned in history class, the U.S. Civil War ended with Robert E; Lee’s surrender to General Grant on April 9, 1865. It happened on Palm Sunday. On Good Friday of that year, President Abraham Lincoln was fatally wounded by John Wilkes Booth. That was on April 14, 1965. Lincoln died the next morning, which was April 15th. The Battle of West Point took place the next day, April 16th, which was Easter Sunday.

Word traveled slow those days, especially in the war-torn South. It’s hard for young people to imagine a time without phones, the Internet, TV, radio and other forms of modern communication, but that’s the way it was 150 years ago.

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It’s good for today’s youth to come out to take part in a Fort Tyler weekend and get an idea of how people lived back then. Knowing where we come from makes us appreciate where we are.

Since the fort was restored around 20 years ago and the Fort Tyler Association was formed to help maintain its historic integrity and to teach people about what went on there, we’ve learned a lot more than we used to know. We’ve gotten visits from people whose ancestors took part in the long-ago battle, a previously unknown letter from General Tyler has emerged, an 1864 etching  of the fort at a distance has been found, and in something comparable to finding the holy grail, there’s the Merrill drawing.

The Merrill drawing is a spectacular find. No one in the local area knew of its existence until a few years ago. A woman from Wisconsin, whose ancestor was with the Union Cavalry that day in West Point, sketched what he’d seen. Fortunately, he was a very gifted artist, and the sketch shows the fort, its powder magazine, artillery fire exploding over it and dismounted troops scaling the hill to get near the well-defended fort. The Griggs House, which was built in the late 1850s and still stands, is clearly visible.

For anyone who’s a Fort Tyler buff, the Merrill drawing is the find of a lifetime. We have a debt of gratitude to that little lady in Wisconsin who has made it available to us.

The Merrill drawing makes one wonder just what else is out there to be discovered. Fort Tyler Association President Rea Clark likes to think the battle flag that flew over the fort is out there somewhere. It would be easily identifiable. According to local legend, the women of West Point made it and presented it to General Tyler. It’s been said that the name the fort was stitched into it.

“I can’t help but thinking,” Clark said, half-jokingly, “that flag is in a frame inside a VFW club in Wisconsin and no one thinks anything about it.”

It sure would look good in a museum in West Point, Ga.