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   · Leading to War
   · Battle of West Point
   · After the Battle
   · Key People
   · Armament
   · Civil War Timeline
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      Battle Of
       West Point
 After the Battle

Burning Bridges

        LaGrange then began to move his troops and supplies still on the west side of the river to the east side. As soon as this movement to the east side of the river was completed, the wagon and railroad bridges were burned.  The rear column joined the lead column on the 16 mile march to LaGrange.

        Reaching the outskirts of LaGrange just after sundown, Colonel LaGrange was met by a group of home guards, the Nancy Harts - a Confederate unit of women soldiers. They surrendered LaGrange to LaGrange. Not a shot had been fired. The whole process took about 20 minutes. The negotiated terms allowed LaGrange to destroy still-usable sections of the Atlanta & West Point rail line there but precluded the Federals from destroying and looting the city.

        The column camped overnight in LaGrange near the railroad.  On the morning of the 18th, they departed toward Macon. Passing through Griffin and Forsyth on the way, Federal troops took time there to destroy portions of the Atlanta to Macon railroad before moving on.

        On April 21, 1865, the column arrived in Macon in the afternoon. Macon, under threat of military action, had already been surrendered to General Wilson who had reached that city late on the afternoon of the 20th and was, therefore, already under Federal control.

        General Howell Cobb, commanding the Confederate garrison in Macon had presented Wilson with a telegram from Confederate General P. T. G. Beauregard informing Confederate troops of a truce between Confederate and Federal forces resulting from Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, which had taken place on the 9th of April.  Desiring official word from his own government, Wilson placed the city under martial law and wired General Sherman for confirmation.

        At 2:00 in the afternoon on April 21, 1865, just prior to the arrival of LaGrange’s columns, Wilson received an official communiqué bringing an end to hostilities.

        LaGrange had treated all the prisoners well on the march to Macon. Almost every available narrative of the event expresses appreciation for his consideration. None speak of any mistreatment or undue hardship.

        L. B. McFarland, in a letter of April 1, 1915, to the Ft. Tyler Chapter, U. D. C., for the fiftieth anniversary of the battle wrote, “… (LaGrange) furnished me a horse, and directed me to ride with him. This I did, and for four days I rode with the brigade from West Point to Macon, Georgia .~ was treated with every courtesy and rode at any place with the command between the head and end of the column, and was shown many little attentions by the various officers of the command, and with the greatest kindness. 

        Arriving in Macon, before I dismounted, I learned that General Lee had surrendered, and I read a copy of his farewell address, I remember even now the shock and temporary feeling of despair which came upon me and lingered with me during the night.   My horse was then taken.  I bade General LaGrange farewell, with thanks to his kindness, and was sent to join the others in prison.  The next morning, I was paroled.  I went back to General LaGrange and he gave me an order for a horse to take me home to West Tennessee, and I started on my return so soon as I had my mount.”

        Colonel James H. Fannin remembered, in his often told story of the events occurring during and after the Battle of West Point, how he had been treated with dignity and given every consider by Colonel LaGrange. Fannin writes, “I have reasons for thanking him for his kindness and great consideration for myself and command.”

        In tact, Fannin did owe LaGrange a greet debt of gratitude.  Fannin was in jeopardy not only for his role at Fort Tyler.  Fannin’s earlier post, from which he had been furloughed only days before the Battle of West Point, was command of the 1st Georgia Reserves at the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp in Andersonville. Although not in charge of the prison itself, Fannin was very closely associated with the prison’s commandant, Major Henry Wirz. Sometime between his capture in West Point and arrival in Macon, Fannin had been recognized by Union troops as having been at Andersonville.

        Soon after Fannin had arrived in Macon, General Edward M. McCook ordered that Fannin be arrested and subjected to chains, irons, and close confinement for cruelty to prisoners while in command at Andersonville. This could have meant a death sentence for Fannin.  Wirz, the actual commandant, was later executed On November 10, 1865, on the same charge.

        However, LaGrange intercepted McCook’s order. He explained to Fannin that he knew the charges to be without merit and was determined to see that those orders were not enforced. Fannin then inquired how LaGrange knew of his service at Andersonville. LaGrange replied, “I was prisoner there… and 1 know there was no cruelty at Andersonville. You my depend on me to give my honor to that fact.”

        Considering the fate of, and infamy suffered upon Major Henry Wirz from his association with Andersonville, LaGrange had probably saved Fannin’s life as well as the family’s name. If Fannin was not immediately aware of the magnitude of LaGrange’s gesture at the time, it is obvious that it did not escape him later in his life.

        Fannin wrote in 1896, “I shall ever remember with the warmest emotions of my nature when I was discharged as a paroled prisoner at Macon, Ga., with those captured at West Point, Ga., he (LaGrange) presented me with my pistol which I had surrendered to him (at the fort on the 16th). The sight of the weapon occasionally now brings to mind the true nobility of his soul, for where can there ever be better evidence found than he demonstrated by his act, the return to his opponent on the battlefield of the weapon used against him.”

        Isham Stanley, who had turned 17 years old on April 16, was a civilian volunteer in Fort Tyler.  Later, he wrote one of the most enlightening and entertaining accounts of the battle, the march to LaGrange and return to West Point.  Stanley’s story is somewhat different McFarland’s as Stanley was not kept with the officers.  His remembrances beginning on the 21st are, “The prisoners were put that night in the 2nd story of, what we were told was an unfinished laboratory.

        The following morning... we were marched from the lab to a place about an acre square enclosed with  a fence 10 feet high made of 1” x 12”planks, set vertical and jammed together... Outside this wall and within three and one-half feet of the top and joined to it was a walkway two planks wide. This was used for the guards to walk around on and overlook the enclosure. I was told that the Confederate government built this pen to keep Yankee prisoners in, but it seems we were caught in  the trap of our own making.  We were kept in this pen for about a week and then paroled.”

        Stanley and his fellow West Point parolees left Macon for West Point on a freight train riding on top of the cars. They arrived in Atlanta just before dark and slept in freight cars that night. The following morning, they boarded another train and returned to West Point to find the railroad and wagon bridges destroyed.  Stanley remembered that, “There were several men running bateaus, conveying people across the river among whom was Mort Bridges, an intimate friend who rowed us over graciously.

        Within a week of their forced march from West Point to Macon, prisoners taken in Fort Tyler and at West Point had been paroled and had returned, or were enroute, to their homes. They must have been shocked by the devastation or their city and the effect it had on everyday life here.

        What had been lost in the capture of and destruction of West Point? A final brief accounting was detailed in Colonel O. H. LaGrange’s official report written from Macon on May 4, 1865.

        In including the general (Tyler) commanding, 2 captains and 1 lieutenant were killed, and 28 seriously wounded, mostly shot through the head; 218 were held as prisoner. At this point 2 field pieces, 1 32 pound siege gun, and 500 stand of small—arms were captured; 19 engines and 340 cars loaded with quartermasters and commissary stores, machinery from factories, leather osnaburgs, etc., were destroyed. Both bridges were burned.”

        But this accounting is far too clean, too clinical, to even begin to accurately reflect the actual losses the resident citizens and returning soldiers must have felt.

        Not only had the city been taken in one day and for all practical purposes destroyed, within the following week, the whole Confederacy had fallen. A way of life that had existed for generations had come to an abrupt, cataclysmic end.

        What had the Federals accomplished in the capture of the fort and the destruction of our city’s assets, railroads, and bridges?  It is certain that after Colonel LaGrange’s departure, West Point no longer held any immediate strategic value to the Confederacy. LaGrange had well accomplished his assigned tactical objective.

        Questions still exist regarding the strategy of what has come to be known as Wilson’s Raid. It was designed as a killing blow to the interior of the Confederacy and its primary objectives were already accomplished with the capture and devastation of Selma and Montgomery. But, was the magnitude of destruction visited upon West Point warranted?

        With the fall of Richmond occurring on April 3rd, and with Lee’s surrender of his forces to Grant at Appomattox on April 9th, the Confederate cause was already hopelessly lost a full week before LaGrange had been detailed by Wilson to move on West Point. The only campaigning going on anywhere east of the Mississippi River was in this Chattahoochee Valley area on the Georgia and Alabama border. There is evidence that the Federal troops under Wilson and LaGrange knew of Lee’s surrender to Grant even as the fight was going on at Fort Tyler.

        The armies engaged here, however, had not been formally ordered to stand down and even as late as the afternoon of April 20th, Wilson had been ordered to pursue the capture of Macon.

        It was simply war. West Point, with its railroad junction and river crossings, was in its path, and West Point paid the price.  LaGrange’s sword cut deeply into the heart and soul of West Point. But by the end of April 1865, it was obvious that the war was over and the cause lost. The task was now to rebuild.

        Mark Fretwell gives an excellent description of what it must have been like in our city at that time in his book West  Point: The Story of a Georgia Town.

        “Singly or in small groups, citizens of West Point moved from place to place; looking with wonder and smoldering anger at charred gaps between stone bridge piers, climbing through what remained of cotton warehouses, gazing at the countless spans of iron wheels and axles which were all that was left of railroad cars, examining locomotives torn by explosions.

        The days formed into a pattern of eager activity spaced by times of quiet, perplexing introspection.  Where to begin? The destruction of their city had been so immense, it seemed difficult to find one p lace to start restoration.

        They could reckon what was left. Confederate notes but the last time there was anyplace to exchange them, they bought four cents on the dollar; C.S.A. notes, Georgia notes, banks, even mercantile houses, all had issued script.  It was worthless.   Then there were the secreted chests with remaining gold pieces, but inadequate for continuing needs”

        Without money and avenues of distribution, even farming which had long been a strong economic force in the Val1ey, offered no easement other than self sustenance. The odds of successfully moving ahead must have seemed insurmountable.

        Yet from the ashes of the rail yard, under the shed left standing by LaGrange due to Mrs. Camp’s appeal, the process of rebuilding the city’s infrastructure began.

        One locomotive and five flat cars, the last train to arrive at West Point on the morning of April 16th, 1865, had been left by its crew far enough from the depot to have escaped total destruction. This equipment was repaired to working order under the passenger shed in West Point.

        Additionally, a long-abandoned locomotive, the “Abner McGehee” was found where it had been left years earlier at an Alabama siding called Steam Mill, which was between Osannipa and Ufoupee Creeks.  It had been bypassed by LaGrange’s troops as of too little value to even merit destruction. This piece was put back into service within one week. In the meantime, 5 more cars, which had been run off the track at Loachapoka, were found and repaired to serviceable condition and coupled to the “Abner McGehee’’.

        From West Point, crews working off the locomotive and five cars working off the locomotive and 5 cars that had been repaired there, began to reconstruct the 39 miles of track between West Point and Ufoupee Creek, near Chehaw.

        On the western end of the track, crews working from the five cars pulled by the “Abner McGehee" salvaged enough scattered timber from along the destroyed rail line to rebuild the bridge over Osannipa Creek.

        This work was completed on June 16, 1865. The railroad line to Montgomery was once again open only two months after it had been wrecked.

        On August 7th, additional work began at West Point to widen this railroad to the standard five foot gauge. The new track was completed to Montgomery, without interruption of service, on August 16th.

        Ultimately, 14 of the 19 locomotives owned by the Montgomery & West Point Railroad and damaged on April 16th in West Point and in Columbus, were rebuilt and returned to service.

        Repairs to the Atlanta and West Point Railroad in LaGrange had been quickly accomplished. The rail line from Atlanta to West Point had been serviceable in time to be used by West Point’s paroled prisoners of war during the last week in April.

        With the repair of the railroads and equipment, the economy of West Point began to improve. By the fall of 1865, mercantile houses, now able to secure products for resale, began to reopen.  Due to the balance of supply and demand being heavily weighted on the demand side, these businesses quickly became profitable and further supported the local economy.

        A new bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River was completed early 1866, at a cost of $13,000.  The community was once again connected.

       Read the conclusion of the Civil War

 

Source:

Joe Keith, Jr., "Aftermath: Written for the 130th Anniversary of the Battle of West Point"  

                                                           

 

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          The Civil War Discovery Trail links more than 
          300 sites in 16 states to inspire and to teach 
          the story of the Civil War and its haunting 
          impact on America. The Trail, an initiative 
          of the Civil War Preservation Trust, allows 
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          homes, railroad stations, cemeteries, parks, 
          and other destinations that bring history to 
          life. For more information on the Civil War 
          Discovery Trail and the Civil War Preservation 
          Trust, see www.civilwar.org Fort Tyler is an official Civil War Discovery Trail site.  
          The Civil War Discovery Trail links more than 
          300 sites in 16 states to inspire and to 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 that bring history to 
          life. For more information on the Civil War 
          Discovery Trail and the Civil War Preservation 
          Trust, see www.civilwar.org

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