June 11, 2011 11:26:00 PM
Rufus Ward - [email protected]
It was late February of 1864 and fighting had been occurring all around West Point, Mississippi. Union General William "Sooy" Smith had led seven thousand troops from Memphis into Mississippi to lay waste to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Confederate supply depots along it including the huge supply complex at Columbus. By February 20 his soldiers were in West Point.
His goal was to link up with General William T. Sherman near Meridian, after having destroyed the railroad and Confederate supplies from Okolona to Meridian. In the process Smith would also burn private homes and barns. The strip of the Black Prairie from south of Tupelo to Macon was called the "bread basket of the Confederacy" because of its great production of corn. Smith intended to eliminate it as a source of Confederate supplies.
As Smith moved his troops into West Point, Confederate General N. B. Forrest was gathering his forces
along "Sakatonchee" Creek near the Ellis Bridge 3 miles west of town. Forrest had also dispatched Colonel Tyree Bell to protect the Waverly Crossing on the Tombigbee River, General Gholson to Hulka Creek Bottom between West Point and Houston, and Colonel Jeffery Forrest to Tibbee Creek Bottom. The 6th Mississippi Cavalry was ordered to protect the Tombigbee crossing at Cotton Gin Port (near Amory) but were diverted to Judge Calvert''s farm on the West Point - Houston Road to scout "Sakatonchee" Creek bottom in case General Smith tried to out flank Forrest''s men at Ellis Bridge.
Forrest''s scattered troops covered all the important river and creek crossing around West Point but totaled less than six thousand men. However, Gen. S.D. Lee was quickly coming up from the south to reinforce him.
Smith became worried that he might be trapped in West Point with Confederate forces on three sides. He then made an unsuccessful assault on the Confederate lines at Ellis Bridge just west of town. At about the same time he began withdrawing his troops back north toward Okolona. There would be skirmishing all the way to Okolona where a larger battle would later be fought.
While all of this was going on, both sides had scouts out attempting to determine the enemy''s movements. Many of the Union troops were retreating up North Division Street in West Point. Along a fence row near North Division Street in the area where a TVA substation is now located, one of those odd events of war occurred.
John Young of the Confederate 8th Mississippi Cavalry Regiment, who was from this area, had been sent to scout the Union troop movements. Near North Division Street he hid behind a fence in order to survey the landscape. He slowly rose up to look over the fence. Unknown to him a Union soldier from the 2nd Iowa, Cavalry Regiment, William Rooker, was concealed on the other side of the fence. Both rose up at the same time to take a look around. Young and Rooker found themselves looking "eyeball to eyeball" at each other.
Totally startled and not knowing what to do they simply shook hands and introduced themselves. They then began talking. Rooker stated; "If God lets me live through this war, when it is over I am coming back. It''s the prettiest place I have seen." They then decided that as they had "no personal antagonism" they would each withdraw peacefully.
Rooker did survive the war and did move to West Point. He bought a farm just north of town near where he had encountered a Confederate soldier along a fence. Shortly after arriving in town he attended Sunday services at the First Christian Church. There he found John Young, the former Confederate soldier. They became close friends after having shared a unique war time experience.
In a final twist Rooker''s daughter, Amy, ended up marrying Young''s son, James. James later became Mayor of West Point. He and Amy had a daughter, Vira, who married a David Calvert.
Sometimes a true story is better than any fiction.
The local History Room at the Bryan Public Library in West Point contains many transcriptions of letters describing the fighting there in 1864 and the experiences of the town''s people.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]