The last Battle of The American Civil War (May 12, 1865) - History Key

The last Battle of The American Civil War (May 12, 1865)

The Battle of Palmito Ranch is known as the final land battle of the American Civil War. It was fought between May 12 and 13, 1865 near Brownsville, Texas. The interesting fact is that the war was over by the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9. Even more, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Booth on April 14 and twelve days later the killer was shot and killed. The next month, important Confederates generals surrendered to the Unions.

Why it was another battle?

Though, the major final battle was the Appomattox Court House, the last fight between the Union Army and Confederate States Army was the battle of Palmito Ranch. The two commanders in this battle were Colonel Theodore H. Barrett of the Union forces and Colonel John S. Ford of the Confederate forces. Colonel Barrett sent 2,000 men on Brazos Santiago Island while Colonel Ford had only 650 men near Brownsville.

Contributed photos Col. John S. "Rip" Ford (left) in 1865. Enlisted men in the 34th Indiana Infantry (right) fought at the battle of Palmito Ranch
Contributed photos Col. John S. “Rip” Ford (left) in 1865. Enlisted men in the 34th Indiana Infantry (right) fought at the battle of Palmito Ranch © Image Source: Caller Times/archive.caller.com

However, in March the Confederates from Texas communicated with the Union Major General Lew Wallace to initiate a truce in southern Texas. Although it wasn’t signed any official document, an informal truce was observed. The interesting fact is that Colonel Barrett was a replacement of the Brazos Santiago Island because the previous leader, Colonel Robert B. Jones resigned his post. Colonel Barrett served as an officer in the Union Army for almost four years, but he had never seen in action. Probably, this was the main reason of this battle: Colonel Barrett needed a battlefield glory before the ending of the war.

The real element of surprise

On May 11, Colonel Barrett ordered Lieutenant Colonel David Branson of the 62nd US Colored Infantry to gather 250 men at north of Brazos Santiago. Their intention was to cross at Port Isabel in a steam boat, but they couldn’t do it because the steamer broke down from a storm. However, Branson and his men finally made with small boats. On his way, Bransons picked up around 50 volunteers.

Palmito Ranch Map
Palmito Ranch Map ©Image Source: waymarking.com

With 300 men on May 12, the US Army was spotted by the French (a controlled area on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande). This information quickly spread among the Confederates and the French troops began appearing across the river. The element of surprise was now lost, but Branson pressed on towards Palmito Ranch anyway. The Confederates were badly outnumbered (3 to 1) at the camp set at Palmito Ranch and they were forced to retreat. Nevertheless, Barrett took another 200 men and made a second cross toward Palmito Ranch. Barrett joined Branson at daybreak of May 13.

The need for glory turned into a run

On the other hand, the Confederates were reinforced after Colonel Ford arrived with 200 men. This brought the 300 Confederates to face 500 men. At first, Ford tried to trap Barrett in a bend of the river, but the Union forces responded quickly and they managed to escape. After a while Ford used his artillery which caused a panic among Barrett’s troops because they had no idea there were any big guns in the area.

Colonel Barret
Colonel Barrett © Image Source: leitourgeia.com

The funny part is that Barrett left so quickly his men could not keep up with him. Most part of his army was captured by Ford. Despite his shameless run, Barrett promised he will return with his few men he had. Meanwhile, the Confederates kept up the pursuit until they weren’t able to flank them. However, they moved forward until the last of the Union troops turned. Those were the final shots of the American Civil War. Although Barrett left his men behind, he managed to get back some of them on Brazos Santiago Island on May 14.

The casualties from Union Army is estimated at 4 deaths and 12 wounded. The last man killed during the American Civil War is Private John. Williams.

John J. Williams, the presumed last soldier to die in the American Civil War
John J. Williams, the presumed last soldier to die in the American Civil War © US Army/ Image Source: Wikipedia

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