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Last battle of the war. [from the Dallas, Texas, news, December, 1896.] it was fought on the Rio Grande in Texas. The last volley of the war said to have been fired by the Black boys in Blue.

In the November, 1896, issue of the Confederate Veteran, W. J. Slatter gives an interesting and well-written article on the battle of West Point, Ga., which occurred April 16, 1865, and which he says was ‘really the last battle of the war between regularly organized forces.’ With all due respect to the brave heroes of that battle, history does not bear the writer out in the fact that the West Point battle was the last battle of the war. The last battle of the war between regularly organized forces was fought in Texas May 13, 1865, and called ‘the battle of Palmetto Ranch,’ near the city of Brownsville, Texas, on the Rio Grande. This battle was fought between the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Army Corps, United States Troops, commanded by Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, of the 62d United States Colored Troops, and the Southern Division, of the Western sub-district of Texas, commanded by Brigadier-General James E. Slaughter, C. S. A. The United States troops actually engaged were as follows: 34th Indiana Veteran Volunteers (Morton Rifles) Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert G. Morrison; 62d United States Troops, under Lieutenant-Colonel David Branson; 2d United States Texas Cavalry (not mounted), Lieutenant James W. Hancock. Colonel Barrett, in his official report—Vol. 48, Part 1, page 266, Official Reports, Union and Confederate Armies—says the above regiments were engaged and under him, but fails to give the whole number of his troops engaged, while Colonel John S. Ford and Captain W. H. D. Carrington, Confederate officers and both participants in the battle, say the Federal force was between 1,600 and 1,700 strong.

From Lieutenant-Colonel David Branson's report, page 267, same official report mentioned above, I draw this fact, that at least 250 men of the 62d United States, fifty-two men of the 2d United States Texas, and 200 men of 34th Indiana Regiments were actually engaged, [310] making 500, though from Colonel Barrett's report I would draw the fact that the 200 men detached and mentioned above by Branson were driven or had retired to a hill were the 34th Indiana had already taken position, leaving the impression that the entire 34th Indiana Regiment was in the fight. Colonel Ford, I think, was about correct in the number of troops engaged on the Federal side.

Confederate States Army troops under Slaughter engaged: Benavides' Regiment, five companies cavalry, Colonel John S. Ford; Carter's Battalion, three companies, Captain W. H. D. Carrington; Giddings' Battalion, six companies, Captain William Robinson; Jones' Light Battery, Captain O. G. Jones; Wilson's Cavalry, one company (unattached), Captain T. R. Wilson; Cocke's Cavalry, one company (unattached), Captain J. B. (?) Cocke.

If these companies were full, there would be about 1,500 men, but Captain Carrington, in his report of the battle, says that on May 1, 1865, there were about 500 Confederate troops of all arms on the Rio Grande, and Colonel Ford says this is substantially correct, and that Captain Carrington is also correct when he says that there were only about 300 Confederates engaged in the battle of May 13, 1865. Lieutenant-Colonel Branson says the attacking force was about 250. From the light before me, then, there about 300 Confederates to 500 Federals, and probably the latter were 1,700 strong in this, the last battle of the war. From the official records mentioned above I wish to quote partly from the reports of the Union colonels, Barrett and Branson.

Extract from the report of Colonel T. H. Barrett, 62d United States Troops:

headquarters third Brigade, first Division Twenty-fifth Army Corps, camp (near) Brownsville, Tex., August 10, 1865.
General—I have the honor to submit the following report of the action at Palmetto Ranch, Tex., May 13, 1865, the last engagement of the war. ... 1 Nearly the entire forenoon (May 13) was spent in skirmishing. The enemy, though taking advantage of every favorable position, was everywhere driven back. Early in the afternoon a sharp engagement took place, which, being in the chaparral, was attended with comparatively little [311] loss to us. In this engagement our forces charged the enemy, compelled him to abandon his cover, and pursuing him, drove him across an open prairie beyond the rising ground, completely out of sight. The enemy having been driven several miles since daylight, and our men needing rest, it was not deemed prudent to advance further. Therefore, relinquishing pursuit, we returned to a hill about a mile from Palmetto Ranch, where the 34th Indiana had already taken its position.

About 4 P. M. the rebels, now largely reinforced, again reappeared in our front, opening fire upon us with both artillery and small arms. At the same time a heavy body of cavalry and a section of a battery, under cover of the thick chaparral on our right, had already succeeded in flanking us, with the evident intention of gaining our rear. With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front and his flanking force on our right our situation at this time was extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy's six 12-pound pieces our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.

Forty-eight men of the 34th Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Captain (A. M.) Templer, put out as skirmishers to cover their regiment, were, while stubbornly resisting the enemy, cut off and captured by the enemy's cavalry. The 62d United States Colored Infantry being ordered to cover our forces while falling back, over half of that regiment were deployed as skirmishers, the remainder acting as their support. This skirmish line was nearly three-fourths of a mile in length, and, reaching from the river bank, was so extended as to protect both our front and right flank. Every attempt of the enemy's cavalry to break this line was repulsed with loss to him, and the entire regiment fell back with precision and in perfect order, under circumstances that would have tested the discipline of the best troops. Seizing upon every advantageous position, the enemy's fire was returned deliberately and with effect. The fighting continued three hours. The last volley of the war, it is believed, was fired by the 62d United States Colored Infantry about sunset of the 13th of May, 1865, between White's ranch and the Boca Chica, Texas. Our entire loss in killed, wounded and captured was four officers and 111 men.

The colonel says above that the Confederates were ‘repulsed with [312] loss,’ and in another place that the Confederate fire was returned ‘with effect.’ Colonel Ford and Captain Carrington say the victory was complete by the Confederates without the loss of a single man, which is undoubtedly true.

Extract from the report of Lieutenant-Colonel David Branson, 62d United States Colored Troops, battle May 13, 1865:

Headquarters of 62d Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, Brazos Santiago, Texas, May 8, 1865.

By order of Colonel Barrett fell back one and a half miles to a bluff on the river, about twelve miles from Coca Chica, to get dinner and rest for the night. Here, at 4 P. M., a large force of the enemy's cavalry was observed endeavoring to gain our rear. I was ordered with the regiment to form line obliquely to the rear, faced toward them. As soon as formed, and while awaiting expected cavalry charge, the enemy from a hill up the river (one and a half miles farther on) opened with artillery, doing no damage and creating no panic in my command, when I moved off, as ordered by Colonel Barrett, in retreat, furnishing 140 men for skirmishers, under Captains Miller and Coffin and Lieutenants Foster and Mead. They kept the enemy at a respectful distance at all times and did their duty in the best possible manner. Some temporary confusion was created by a portion of the 34th Indiana breaking through my regiment at double quick while I was marching in quick time, but order was immediately restored. The retreat was conducted by the right flank, for the reason that the nearest body of the enemy, 250 strong, with two pieces of artillery, were evidently trying to gain our rear and a favorable opportunity to charge, which was each time prevented by halting my command and coming to a front, thus facing him with the river at our backs. The force engaged with our skirmishers up the river was not immediately feared by our battalion, being so much farther distant, and their fire, both of artillery and cavalry, very inaccurate. Owing to this same flanking force of the enemy our skirmish line could not be relieved without exposing the men and our colors to capture while rallying.

‘Our losses of ordnance, seven Enfield rifles and accoutrements; of camp and garrison equipage, light. Casualties: two men missing, supposed to be in the hands of the enemy. Five men wounded. * * * The entire operation demonstrated the fact that the negro soldiers can march.’

The above report evidently proves the fact that the main object of [313] this regiment was to retreat, and Captain Carrington states in his report that the reason so few negroes were captured was that ‘they outran our cavalry horses,’ and as Branson shows by the above report that the 34th Indiana were fleeter of foot than the negroes, the Indianians must have run like deer. The above reports I copy and cite where found, but as Colonel Ford's and Captain Carrington's reports are too long, will only mention the main facts; but can furnish the full reports to the Veteran if desired. They say in substance:

On the morning of the 13th a very small force was present in Brownsville.

There were not more than 300 men at and below that city of Confederates. Colonel John S. Ford, assuming command, moved down the river to the San Martin ranch. Arriving at about 3 P. M., he found Captain William Robinson, of D. C. Gidding's Regiment, in a heavy skirmish with J. W. Hancock's Company, of the 2d Texas. and a company of the 34th Indiana. A regiment of negro troops— 62d United States—were also moving forward, perhaps to sustain skirmishers. Ford immediately made his dispositions. His right wing was under command of Captain Robinson. Cocke's and Wilson's Companies were ordered to attack the enemy's right flank; the artillery was directed to open fire at once, which was done with effect. Colonel Ford supported the movement in person, with two companies and two pieces of artillery.

The 62d United States Troops, Branson's Negro Regiment, was quickly demoralized, and fled in dismay. Captain Robinson led a charge and drove back the skirmish line of the 34th Indiana and Hancock's 2d Texas Company. The Indiana troops threw down their arms and surrendered; most of the Texans escaped, retreating through the dense chaparral. The entire Federal force were on the retreat, the fierce cavalry charges of the Confederates harassed them exceedingly, and the Confederate artillery moved at a gallop. Three times lines of skirmishers were thrown out to check the pursuit. These lines were roughly handled and many prisoners captured by the Confederates.

The Federals were driven for about eight miles into the Cobb ranch, which is about two miles from the fort at Boca Chica. The sun was about half an hour high. The enemy had commenced a double quick by the left flank across the slough, through which a levee had been thrown about 300 yards long. The slough was an [314] impassable quagmire for any character of troops, except the narrow levee. General Slaughter saw the movement of the enemy and ordered Captain Carrington, with Carter's Battery, to press the rear guard of the enemy and cut it off before it reached the levee, but the rear guard was too quick and passed in a hurry. Although Carrington's troopers were fresh and spurred their horses to their best running capacity, the enemy gained the levee when they were about 200 yards from the main body of the enemy, who had formed a line of battle at the further end of the levee among the sand hills.

Carrington immediately formed his troopers into line on the edge of the slough, then covered with tide water. While doing this he saw General Slaughter dash forward into the water in front and empty his six-shooter at the retreating foe. The Federal line formed on the other side of the slough was 300 yards off from the Confederate troopers. A heavy skirmish fire was kept up for nearly an hour across the slough. The enemy, though in full view, shot too high. They were five or six times as numerous as the Confederates, and were composed of veteran troops and commanded by experienced officers. As the sun went down the fire slackened and the enemy began to retreat toward Boca Chica, a shell from the United States war ship Isabella exploded between the Confederates and the retreating force of the enemy. A seventeen-year-old trooper of Carter's battery blazed away in the direction of the exploded shell with his Enfield rifle, using a very profane expletive for so small a boy, causing a hearty laugh from a half score of his comrades. The firing ceased. The last gun had been fired.

Colonel Barrett claims the last volley of the war was fired by the 62d United States colored troops. The United States war ship Isabella, very likely, fired the last shell, but it was a Texan, on Texas soil, of Carter's battery, that fired the last gun. The last battle of the war was a victory for the Confederates, and it will go down in history as such.

Captain Carrington was ordered by Colonel Ford to occupy the battlefield, gather up arms and bury the dead. While engaged in this it was reported that a body of Federals was in the bend of the river near the old Palmetto Ranch. Captain Carrington ordered Sergeant R. S. Caperton to deploy a squad of mounted men and drive out the enemy. In obeying this order the sergeant and his men captured First Lieutenant James W. Hancock, Second Lieutenant Thomas A. James, Hancock's brother and about twenty of Hancock's [315] Texans, but not a gun was fired, though several attempted to escape capture by trying to swim the river, and were drowned.

While it was General Slaughter's command that won the last battle of the war, yet to Colonel Ford is due the honor of precipitating the battle and gaining the victory, and inflicting a heavy loss upon the enemy, who outnumbered his troops more than five to one, without the loss of a man. General Slaughter was detained in Brownsville until late in the day of the 18th, but Colonel Ford, called by his soldiers ‘Old Rip,’ was all day in the thickest of the fight, and early in the morning, while rifle balls were whistling around, he addressed his men about as follows: ‘Men, we have whipped the enemy in all our previous fights. We can do it again.’ The men shouted, ‘Hurrah for Old Rip!’ As the hurrahs ceased he gave the order, ‘Forward! Charge!’ The response was a Texan yell, and a charge which no infantry line ever formed on the Rio Grande could withstand. The reason why so few negroes were captured in the last fight of the war was because they outran our cavalry horses.

Hancock's company and the Indiana troops several times saved the negroes. These veteran troops attempted to withstand the charges that Colonel Ford and his Confederates hurled against them, but Branson's negro troops ran, and ran well, as the report of their commander proves. The writer has seen Colonel Ford and several old Confederates who live in this county, who were in this fight, and the writer has often talked with them on the subject. That this was the last fight of the war, and almost one month after Comrade Slater's West Point fight, I think I have proven.

It was a victory for the Confederates, and will go down in history as such.

Luther Conyer. San Diego, Texas, November 30, 1896.

1 The report is a long one, and as the first part relates only to the battle of the day before I omit, and simply quote that which relates to the last battle.

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