The Civil War Ended In Texas

Historians usually fail to mention it and Yankees don't believe it, but the fact is the last battle of the Civil War was fought in Texas and won by Confederate forces. It happened on May 13, 1865, exactly 34 days after the war supposedly came to an end.

Colonel John S. "Rip" Ford, a former Texas Ranger who, since 1861, had been in the Rio Grande Valley recruiting and commanding a volunteer force to keep the area in the hands of the South, had succeeded in keeping Brownsville an open port. Yankee forces had taken Brazos Island and blockaded or captured almost every other Confederate port, but never managed to capture Fort Brown or the port of Brownsville. In the spring of 1865, the Union troops, numbering about 2,000 on Brazos Island and about 600 Confederates in Fort Brown and around Brownsville had peacefully co-existed as both sides realized the southern cause was coming to an end. However, in late April, a Union change of command changed things.

Colonel Theodore H. Barrett of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry assumed control. Barrett had never led men in combat and he seems to have thirsted for a little battlefield glory before the war ended altogether. In the early hours of May 11, he ordered approximately 300 men, most from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry, to proceed from Brazos Island to White's Ranch, where he believed a contingent of Rebels were camped. Arriving at the ranch at 2:00 AM, May 12, they found the Confederates had left several days earlier. They burned the ranch and made camp close to Palmetto Ranch, about 1 1/2 miles away. About noon, they made contact with the handful of Rebels at the ranch, but nobody was hurt as the vastly outnumbered southerners made a strategic advance to the rear. A couple of Texans who were to sick enough to be bedridden were captured along with 4 head of cattle.

Soon afterwards, Colonel Ford arrived on the scene with 200 men and 6 cannon and immediately ordered an attack by 1/2 of his men on the left flank of the Federals. After one volley from the Rebels, the Yankees broke and stampeded in retreat. They reformed about 1/2 mile later though and began a counter attack. Once again, the Rebels fired a volley and this time, several of the cannon joined in. The Yankees stopped in their tracks as they weren't aware the Confederates had any cannon with them. Colonel Ford rode in front of his troops and shouted, "Men, we have whipped the enemy in all our previous fights and we can do it again!" His men responded with cheers and the Rebel yell and began their own counterattack, rushing forward and shooting at everything that moved. From that point on, the fight became a rout.

In their headlong run back to the safety of Brazos Island, the Yankees littered the road with dropped canteens, haversacks, and rifles. When the sun went down, a handful of them fired shots toward the following Confederates and both sides decided to retire for the night. The next morning, May 13, shots from the Rebels proded the Yankees to resume their retreat. Once they neared Brazos Island that evening, the 200 Confederates, knowing there were 1,700 Federals in reserve, backed off their attack and watched as the Yankees pushed and shoved each other trying to get into the skiffs that would take them across the water and to safety.

As darkness descended and the men settled in for the night, a Federal gunboat, the S.S. Isabella, which had entered the Rio Grande, lobbed a shell toward the Rebels. It landed harmlessly in a nearby field, but it angered a 17-year-old Rebel private who leaped to his feet and fired at the gunboat with his Enfield rifle. The last shot of the Civil War had been fired. (see Who Fired The First Shot of the Civil War.)

When the reports were filed, despite all of the shooting, only one man was killed; Union Army Private John Jefferson Williams, of Jay County, Indiana; the last battlefield death in the Civil War. Nine Yankees had been wounded and 103 officers and men captured, most of them from the 34th Indiana. On the Rebel side, there were "only 5 or 6 wounded" according to Colonel Ford. Even the 2 bedridden  Texans captured in the beginning stages of the battle were left behind by the retreating Yankees and found by their southern brothers. The Confederacy had the satisfaction of claiming victory in the last battle of the war.