Cameron County, TX | May 12 - 13, 1865
How It Ended
Confederate Victory. After fighting for most of the 12th and 13th, Col. Theodore H. Barrett withdrew his worn-out command a few miles from Palmito Ranch along a bend near the Rio Grande River. At 4:00 pm, a large Confederate cavalry force, commanded by Col. John S. “Rip” Ford, approached, and the Federals formed a battle line. The Southern forces hammered the Union line with artillery, and Barrett ordered a retreat, ending the last battle in the Civil War.
In mid-May of 1865, Col. Theodore H. Barrett, commanding forces in Brazos Santiago, Texas, decided to dispatch a 500-man column to attack Confederate outposts and camps in the area. Despite Barrett knowing about Robert E. Lee’s surrender, the column moved towards White and Palmito Ranches, where they hoped to destroy a sizable Confederate camp.
In March 1865, a gentleman’s agreement precluded fighting between Union and Confederate forces on the Rio Grande. Despite this agreement, Col. Theodore H. Barrett, commanding troops at Brazos Santiago, Texas, dispatched an expedition composed of 250 men of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment and 50 men of the 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Lt. Col. David Branson, to the mainland. Leaving on May 11, 1865, Branson’s column planned to attack Confederate camps at the White and Palmito Ranches near Brownsville, Texas. Despite each side knowing of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender, Barrett went ahead with the expedition.
After marching all night, Barrett’s force made it to the outskirts of White Ranch. After trying to conceal his men in a thicket just beyond the ranch, the column was spotted by Confederates on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River, losing the element of surprise for Branson. Nevertheless, Branson moved into White’s Ranch and found no Confederate force. After securing the area, Branson moved onward towards Palmito Ranch. Once in sight of Palmito Ranch, Branson ran into Capt. W. N. Robinson’s 100-man company, from Lt. Col. George H. Gidding’s Texas Cavalry Battalion. After a short skirmish, both sides fell back, with Robinson’s command heading toward the ranch and Branson retreating to a hill that overlooked the ranch.
During the night, Branson requested reinforcements, and by the early morning hours, Col. Barrett himself was on the field with 200 men from the 34th Indiana Infantry, bringing the total Federal force to 500. After setting a battle plan, Barrett moved towards the ranch and hit Robinson’s outnumbered company along the river and at the ranch. After a few hours of fighting, Robinson pulled back towards Brownsville and requested reinforcements. Barrett’s men pursued only a mile from the ranch, resting his men on a small hill. At 3:00 pm, Col. John S. “Rip” Ford appeared with almost 400 men, including Robinson’s company. Ford had a greater advantage over Barrett because his column included six cannons which were deadly on the flat prairie. At 4:00 pm, Ford’s men were in position and commenced their attack. After hitting both flanks and punching the center of his lines, Barrett decided to withdraw back to Brazos Island. Ford’s men continued to pound Barrett’s lines and almost captured the entire command but were stopped when the 62nd U.S.C.T held the Federal right flank and kept the escape route open.
After chasing Barrett’s men for almost seven miles, Ford called off the pursuit, ending the Battle of Palmito Ranch. Soon after the battle’s conclusion, Confederate forces in the area surrendered to Union officials, making the battle the last of the Civil War.
John W. William is considered the last Civil War soldier killed during the Civil War. William joined Co. B of the 34th Indiana Infantry in the fall of 1863 and was engaged at the Battle of Palmito Ranch, where he was killed.
During the Battle of Palmito Ranch, roughly 250 men from the 62nd U.S.C.T fought in battle. During the subsequent action, the 62nd held their positions against superior Confederate numbers and even the escape route for the rest of the Federal army. Though a Federal defeat, the 62nd proved their valor in the last battle of the Civil War.