Gone without a trace: The hunt for Fort Tyler’s missing benches

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023

WEST POINT — Three benches have been taken from Fort Tyler, and Fort Tyler Association President Rea Clark wants to get them back. Two of the missing benches were placed at the fort some 25 years ago. For many years they sat beside the switchback trail that leads to the summit of the hill the redoubt-style earthen fort was built on in 1863. They were set in a concrete base when the fort first opened to the public in the early 1990s. Several years ago they were removed from that base for some repair work. When the two benches were put back alongside the trail they were not placed in concrete.

The third bench that’s missing is from a set of four wooden benches that were made by students in a shop class at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City. Three of the original benches remain.

“We are missing three benches,” Clark said. “If anyone knows the location of any of them please notify me at (706) 518-7702.”

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Restored Fort Tyler makes the site of the final fort to fall in the Civil War. The battle took place on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865. The war ended the previous Sunday, on April 9, 1865 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General U.S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. Communication was slow in those days, and combatants on both sides that day in West Point, Georgia had no idea the war had ended.

They also had no idea President Abraham Lincoln was dead. He was mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth inside Ford’s Theater on Friday, April 14th and died the following morning. Those three days in mid-April 1865 – the 14th, 15th and 16th – are linked in our history.

Fort Tyler is on the Civil War Discovery Trail, which includes more than 300 sites that teach the story of the Civil War and its haunting impact on America. The Trail, an initiative of the Civil War Preservation Trust, allows visitors to explore battlefields, historic homes, railroad stations, cemeteries, parks and other destinations. At Fort Tyler, a marked trail leads visitors to the small earthen fort on top of the highest point in the city.

Fort Tyler was defended that Easter Sunday morning by a small group of Confederates made up of soldiers convalescing from their wounds and young men from the local community. They were confronted by several thousand Union calvary led by Colonel Oscar LaGrange. The defenders were further set back by the fact their commanding officer, General Robert C. Tyler, and his second in command, Captain Celestino Gonzalez, were felled in the opening moments of the battle. Tyler was killed instantly and Gonzalez died of his wounds the next day.

Despite being heavily outmanned and leaderless, the defenders held on for several hours, surrendering late in the day when they ran out of ammunition.

Some of the soldiers who were killed in the battle lie at rest in the Fort Tyler Cemetery, which is located just north of the fort. The graves of General Tyler and Captain Gonzalez are in the Confederate portion of Pinewood Cemetery on West Point’s east bank. Most of the soldiers who lie there died from wounds suffered during the 1864 Atlanta campaign. It was a common practice during the Civil War to transport wounded soldiers by railroad to locations far away from battle sites.