Battle of Palmito Ranch

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Battle of Palmito Ranch
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Palmito Ranch map.jpg
Sketch map of battle
Date May 12–13, 1865
Location Cameron County, Texas
Result Confederate victory
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Theodore H. Barrett John "Rip" Ford
Units involved
2nd Texas United States Cavalry (dismounted)
62nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops
34th Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry
2nd Texas Confederate Cavalry Regiment
Gidding's Regiment
Anderson's Battalion
Benavides' Regiment
500 300
Casualties and losses
4 killed
12 wounded
101 captured
5–6 wounded
3 captured

The Battle of Palmito Ranch, also known as the Battle of Palmito Hill, is generally recognized as the final battle of the American Civil War. It was fought May 12 and 13, 1865, on the banks of the Rio Grande east of Brownsville, Texas and a few miles from the seaport of Los Brazos de Santiago, more than a month after Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the Eastern Theater. Though the Battle of Appomattox Court House is identified as the last major battle of the war, Palmito Ranch was the last engagement between organized forces of the Union Army and Confederate States Army involving casualties.

Union and Confederate forces in southern Texas had been observing an unofficial truce, but Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett ordered an attack on a Confederate camp near Fort Brown for unknown reasons; anecdotes suggest he wanted to see combat before the war ended. The Union attackers captured a few prisoners, but the following day the attack was repulsed near Palmito Ranch by Colonel John Salmon Ford, and the battle became a Confederate victory. Union forces were surprised by Confederate artillery, said to have been supplied by the French Army occupying the nearby Mexican town of Matamoros. Rumors also persist that Confederates were assisted by a steam-powered French gun boat patrolling the Rio Grande.

Casualty estimates are not dependable, but Union Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment is believed to have been the last man killed in combat during the war.

Marker on Texas State Highway 4


After July 27, 1864, the Union Army withdrew most of the 6,500 troops deployed to the lower Rio Grande Valley, including Brownsville, which they had occupied since November 2, 1863. The Confederates were determined to protect their remaining ports, which were essential for cotton sales to Europe, and the importation of supplies. The Mexicans across the border tended to side with the Confederates because of the lucrative smuggling trade.[1] Beginning in early 1865, the rival armies in south Texas honored a gentlemen's agreement, as they saw no point in further hostilities between them.[2]

Union Major General Lew Wallace proposed a negotiated end of hostilities in Texas to Confederate Brigadier General James E. Slaughter and met with Slaughter and his subordinate Colonel Ford at Port Isabel on March 11–12, 1865.[3] Despite Slaughter's and Ford's agreement that combat would prove tragic, Slaughter's superior, Confederate Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, rejected the ceasefire in a scathing exchange of letters with Wallace. Despite this, both sides honored a tacit agreement not to advance on the other without prior written notice.

A brigade of 1,900 Union troops commanded by Col. Robert B. Jones of the 34th Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry were on blockade duty at the Port of Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the present-day ship channel of the Port of Brownsville. The 400-man 34th Indiana was an experienced regiment that had served in the Vicksburg Campaign and was then reorganized in December 1863 as a "Veteran" regiment composed entirely of veterans from several other regiments whose original enlistments had expired. The 34th Indiana deployed to Los Brazos de Santiago on December 22, 1864, replacing the 91st Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which returned to New Orleans. The brigade also included the 87th and 62nd United States Colored Infantry Regiments ("United States Colored Troops", or U.S.C.T.) which had a combined strength of about 1,100. Shortly after Gen. Walker rejected the armistice proposal, Col. Jones resigned from the army to return to Indiana. He was replaced in the regiment by Lt. Col. Robert G. Morrison and at Los Brazos de Santiago by Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, commander of the 62nd U.S.C.T.

The 30-year-old Barrett had been an army officer since 1862, but he had yet to see combat. Anxious for higher rank, he volunteered for the newly raised "colored" regiments and was appointed colonel of the 1st Missouri Colored Infantry in 1863. In March 1864, the regiment became the 62nd U.S.C.T. Barrett contracted malaria in Louisiana that summer, and while he was on convalescent leave, the 62nd was posted to Brazos Santiago. He joined it there in February 1865.

Why this final battle at Palmito Ranch even took place is still debated. Lee had surrendered to Grant in Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, triggering a series of formal surrenders in other places throughout the country. Soon after the battle, Barrett's detractors claimed he desired "a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether."[2] Others have suggested that Barrett needed horses for the 300 dismounted cavalrymen in his brigade and decided to take them from his enemy.[4] Louis J. Schuler, in his 1960 pamphlet The last battle in the War Between the States, May 13, 1865: Confederate Force of 300 defeats 1,700 Federals near Brownsville, Texas, asserts that Brig. Gen. Egbert B. Brown of the U.S. Volunteers had ordered the expedition to seize as contraband 2,000 bales of cotton stored in Brownsville and sell them for his own profit.[5] However, this is impossible as Brown was not appointed to command at Brazos Santiago until later in May.[6]


Map of Palmito Ranch Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program.

Lieutenant Colonel David Branson wanted to attack the Confederate encampments commanded by Ford at White and Palmito Ranches near Fort Brown outside Brownsville. Branson's Union forces consisted of 250 men of the 62nd U.S.C.T. in eight companies and two companies of the (U.S.) 2nd Texas Cavalry Battalion. The 300-man 2nd Texas, like the earlier-formed 1st Texas Cavalry Regiment, was composed largely of Texans of Mexican origin who remained loyal to the United States.[7] They moved from Brazos Santiago to the mainland. At first Branson's expedition was successful, capturing three prisoners and some supplies, although it failed to achieve the desired surprise.[8] During the afternoon, Confederate forces under Captain William N. Robinson counterattacked with less than 100 cavalry, driving Branson back to White's Ranch, where the fighting stopped for the night. Both sides sent for reinforcements; Ford arrived with six French guns and the remainder of his cavalry force (for a total of 300 men), while Barrett came with 200 troops of the 34th Indiana in nine understrength companies.[9][10]

The next day, Barrett started advancing westward, passing a half-mile to the west of Palmito Ranch, with skirmishers from the 34th Indiana deployed in advance.[11] Ford attacked Barrett's force as it was skirmishing with an advance Confederate force along the Rio Grande about 4 p.m. He sent a couple of companies with artillery to attack the Union right flank and the remainder of his force into a frontal attack. After some confusion and fierce fighting, the Union forces retreated towards Boca Chica. Barrett attempted to form a rearguard, but Confederate artillery prevented him from rallying a force sufficient to do so.[12] During the retreat, which lasted until 14 May, 50 members of the 34th Indiana's rearguard company, 30 stragglers, and 20 of the dismounted cavalry were surrounded in a bend of the Rio Grande and captured.[13] The battle is recorded as a Confederate victory.[14]

John J. Williams, the presumed last soldier to die in the American Civil War

Fighting in the battle involved Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Native American troops. Reports of shots from the Mexican side, the sounding of a warning to the Confederates of the Union approach, the crossing of Imperial cavalry into Texas, and the participation by several among Ford's troops are unverified, despite many witnesses reporting shooting from the Mexican shore.[11]

In Barrett's official report of August 10, 1865, he reported 115 Union casualties: one killed, nine wounded, and 105 captured.[15] Confederate casualties were reported as five or six wounded, with none killed.[16] Historian and Ford biographer Stephen B. Oates, however, concludes that Union deaths were much higher, probably around 30, many of whom drowned in the Rio Grande or were attacked by French border guards on the Mexican side. He likewise estimated Confederate casualties at approximately the same number.[5][17] Using court-martial testimony and post returns from Brazos Santiago, historian Jerry D. Thompson of Texas A&M International University determined that:

  • the 62nd U.S.C.T. incurred two killed and four wounded;
  • the 34th Indiana one killed, one wounded, and 79 captured; and
  • the 2nd Texas Cavalry Battalion one killed, seven wounded, and 22 captured,
  • totaling four killed, 12 wounded, and 101 captured.[18]

Private John J. Williams[19] of the 34th Indiana was the last fatality during the Battle at Palmito Ranch, likely making him the final combat death of the entire war, since historians generally agree that this was the final battle.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]


Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith officially surrendered all Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department, except those under the command of Brigadier General Chief Stand Watie, on June 2, 1865.[54] Stand Watie, of the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles, became the last Confederate general to surrender his forces on June 23, 1865, in Doaksville, Indian Territory.[55] On that same day, President Andrew Johnson ended the Union blockade of the Southern states.[55]

Texas historical marker

Many senior Confederate commanders in Texas (including Smith, Walker, Slaughter, and Ford) and many troops with their equipment fled across the border to Mexico, possibly to ally with French Imperial forces or with Mexican forces under deposed President Benito Juárez.

The Military Division of the Southwest (after June 27 the Division of the Gulf), commanded by Maj. Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan, occupied Texas between June and August. Consisting of the IV Corps, XIII Corps, the African-American XXV Corps, and two 4,000-man cavalry divisions commanded by Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt and Maj. Gen. George A. Custer, it aggregated a 50,000-man force on the Gulf Coast and along the Rio Grande to pressure the French intervention in Mexico and garrison the Reconstruction Department of Texas.

In July 1865, Barrett preferred charges of disobedience of orders, neglect of duty, abandoning his colors, and conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline against Morrison for actions in the battle, resulting in the latter's court martial. Confederate Col. Ford, who had returned from Mexico at the request of Union Gen. Frederick Steele to act as parole commissioner for disbanding Confederate forces, appeared as a defense witness and assisted in absolving Morrison of responsibility for the defeat.[5]

The history of the battle is also significant for providing accounts of the roles of Hispanic Confederate veterans and of the treatment of black prisoners-of-war in South Texas. There were Hispanic Confederate veterans at Fort Brown in Brownsville and on the field of Palmito Ranch. Col. Santos Benavides, who was the highest ranking Hispanic in either army, led between 100 and 150 Hispanic soldiers in the Brownsville Campaign in May 1865.[56]

Some of the Sixty-Second Colored Regiment were also taken. They had been led to believe that if captured they would either be shot or returned to slavery. They were agreeably surprised when they were paroled and permitted to depart with the white prisoners. Several of the prisoners were from Austin and vicinity. They were assured they would be treated as prisoners of war. There was no disposition to visit upon them a mean spirit of revenge.[57]

— Colonel John Salmon Ford, May 1865

When Colonel Ford surrendered his command following the campaign of Palmito Ranch he urged his men to honor their paroles. He insisted that "The negro had a right to vote."[57]

On April 2, 1866, President Johnson declared the insurrection at an end, except in Texas, because of a technicality concerning incomplete formation of a new state government.[55] He declared the insurrection at an end in Texas and throughout the United States on August 20, 1866.[55]


Today, the Palmito Ranch Battlefield preserves the location of the last battle of the American Civil War. The area has remained relatively unchanged, with the marshy, windswept prairies almost the same as they were in 1865. Over 5,400 acres (2,200 ha) are protected at the site, which is included in the National Register of Historic Places. The only indication that anything happened here, however, is a marker on the "Boca Chica Highway" (Texas State Highway 4) near where Palmito Ranch originally stood.

Panorama of the battlefield

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Comtois, p. 51
  2. ^ a b Marvel, p. 69
  3. ^ Hunt, 2002, p. 32
  4. ^ Trudeau, 1994, p. 301
  5. ^ a b c "Historical Landmarks of Brownsville (Number 47)". University of Texas Brownsville. Retrieved April 29, 2010. 
  6. ^ Hunt, Jeffrey William (2002). The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch, p. 46. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-73460-3
  7. ^ Texas State Historical Association
  8. ^ Kurtz, p. 32
  9. ^ Branson, David. "No. 2". The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Cornell University Library. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  10. ^ Marvel, p. 70. Fully 25% of the 34th was ill with fever and another 25% detailed to labor duties.
  11. ^ a b Kurtz, p. 33
  12. ^ Comtais, p. 53
  13. ^ Trudeau, 1994, pp. 308–309
  14. ^ Marvel, p. 73
  15. ^ Official Records Part 1, Volume 48, pp. 265–267. He also claimed to have written a report on the battle on May 18, 1865 but stated that "it may not have reached" higher headquarters.
  16. ^ Marvel, pp. 72–73
  17. ^ Oates, Stephen B. (1987). Rip Ford's Texas (Personal Narratives of the West), University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-77034-0, p. 392
  18. ^ Thompson, Jerry, and Jones, Lawrence T. III (2004). Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier: A Narrative and Photographic History, Texas State Historical Association, ISBN 0-87611-201-7, Note 78 p. 152
  19. ^ "Find a Grave". 
  20. ^ Marvel, p. 72
  21. ^ U.S. National Park Service description of Battle of Palmito Ranch Archived April 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved January 20, 2014
  22. ^ Civil War Trust web site. Retrieved January 20, 2014
  23. ^ Marvel, William. Battle of Palmetto Ranch: American Civil War's Final Battle. Originally published by Civil War Times magazine as "Last Hurrah at Palmetto Ranch", January 2006 (Vol. XLIV, No. 6). Published Online: June 12, 2006. Retrieved from on January 20, 2014
  24. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., ed. Almanac of American Military History, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012. ISBN 978-1-59884-530-3. Retrieved January 20, 2014. pp. 1038–1039
  25. ^ Jones, Terry L. Historical Dictionary of the Civil War, Volume 1. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8108-7811-2. Retrieved January 20, 2014. p. liv
  26. ^ Wagner, Margaret E., Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkelman. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Inc., 2009 edition. ISBN 978-1-4391-4884-6. First Published 2002. pp. 328–330
  27. ^ Keegan, John. The American Civil War: A Military History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, 2009. ISBN 978-0-307-26343-8. p. 300
  28. ^ Civil War Preservation Trust. Campi, James, ed. and Mary Goundrey, Wendy Valentine. Civil War Sites: The Official Guide to the Civil War Discovery Trail, 2d ed. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7627-4435-0. First edition published 2003. p. 308
  29. ^ Blair, Jayne E. The Essential Civil War: A Handbook to the Battles, Armies, Navies and Commanders. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006. ISBN 978-0-7864-2472-6. p. 220
  30. ^ Swanson, Mark. Atlas of the Civil War, Month by Month: Major Battles and Troop Movements. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8203-2658-0. Retrieved January 17, 2014. p. 112
  31. ^ Glatthaar, Joseph T. The American Civil War: The War in the West 1863 – May 1865. Taylor & Francis, 2003, p.12. ISBN 978-1-57958-377-4. First published: Oxford: Osprey, 2001. ISBN 978-1-84176-242-5. Retrieved January 20, 2014
  32. ^ Trudeau, Noah Andre. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862–1865, p. 452. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7858-1476-4. Originally published: New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1998
  33. ^ Hunt, Jeffrey Wm. The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch, p. 452. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-292-73461-6
  34. ^ Eicher, David J. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, p.843. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-84944-5. Retrieved January 20, 2014
  35. ^ Hendrickson, Robert. The Road to Appomattox, p.221. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2000. ISBN 978-0-471-14884-5. Retrieved January 17, 2014  – via Questia (subscription required)
  36. ^ Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed., p. 437. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 978-0-395-74012-5
  37. ^ Wertz, Jay and Edwin C. Bearss. Smithsonian's great battles and battlefields of the Civil War, p. 617. New York : William Morrow & Co., 1997. ISBN 978-0-688-13549-2
  38. ^ Forgie, George B. Brownsville, Texas: City of Brownsville In Current, Richard N. ed. The Confederacy: Selections from the Four-Volume Macmillan Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, p. 173. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1993, introductory material, 1998. ISBN 978-0-02-864920-7
  39. ^ Frazier, Donald S. Brownsville, Texas: Battles of Brownsville. p. 173
  40. ^ Bailey, Anne, J. Trans-Mississippi Department. p. 1100
  41. ^ Ward, Geoffrey C. and Kenneth Burns. The Civil War, p. 317. New York: Knopf, 1990. ISBN 978-0-394-56285-8. Retrieved January 17, 2014
  42. ^ Gillett, Mary C. (US Army). The Army Medical Department, 1818–1865, p. 261. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1987 OCLC 15550997 Retrieved January 18, 2014
  43. ^ Delaney, Norman C. Palmito ranch, Tex., eng. at. 12–13 May 1865. In Historical Times Illustrated History of the Civil War, edited by Patricia L. Faust, p. 556. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. ISBN 978-0-06-273116-6
  44. ^ Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative. Vol. 3. Red River to Appomattox, p. 1019. New York: Random House, 1974. ISBN 978-0-394-46512-8
  45. ^ Long, E. B. The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac, 1861–1865. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971 OCLC 68283123 Web address is for 2012 reprint. p. 688 in 1971 printed edition, "Last Land Fight."
  46. ^ Catton, Bruce. The Centennial History of the Civil War. Vol. 3, Never Call Retreat, p. 445. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. ISBN 978-0-671-46990-0
  47. ^ Benedict, H. Y. Texas In The Encyclopedia Americana, p.465. New York: The Encyclopedia Americana Corporation, 1920 OCLC 7308909
  48. ^ Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law, Volume 36, p. 26. New York: Columbia University Press, 1910 OCLC 6342393
  49. ^ Conyer, Luther. Last Battle of the War. From the Dallas, Texas News, December 1896. In Brock, R. A. Southern Historical Society Papers. Volume XXIV, p. 309. Richmond: Published by the Society, 1896 OCLC 36141719
  50. ^ Lossing, Benson John and William Barritt. Pictorial history of the civil war in the United States of America, Volume 3, p. 580 OCLC 1007582 Hartford: Thomas Belknap, 1877. Retrieved May 1, 2011
  51. ^ Martin, ed., John H. Columbus, Geo., from Its Selection as a "trading Town" in 1827, to Its Partial Destruction by Wilson's Raid in 1865., p. 178. Columbus, GA: Gilbert, Book Printer and Binder, 1874
  52. ^ Pollard, Edward A. The Lost Cause; A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates, pp. 725–6. New York: E. B. Treat & Co. 1867 OCLC 18831911
  53. ^ Greeley, Horace. The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America. Volume II, p. 75. Hartford: O.D. Case and Company, 1867 OCLC 84501265 Retrieved April 9, 2011
  54. ^ Long, 1971, p. 692
  55. ^ a b c d Long, 1971, p. 693
  56. ^ Palmito Ranch, Battle of. Texas Historical Association. Handbook of Texas Online. 2011
  57. ^ a b RIP Ford's Texas:Personal Narratives of the West. Ford, Salmon John. Edited by Stephen B. Oates. University of Texas Press. Austin, TX. (1987).



External links[edit]

Coordinates: 25°56′48″N 97°17′07″W / 25.94667°N 97.28528°W / 25.94667; -97.28528