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1865 June 3: The Battle of Palmito Ranch—Last Battle of the Civil War

June 7, 2015

The following summary of the week’s news, via telegraph, comes from The Prescott Journal of June 3, 1865.  The last item is about the Battle of Palmito Ranch (Palmito Hill, Palmetto Ranch), which is generally regarded as the final battle of the Civil War.  It was the last engagement involving casualties.  Fought May 12 and 13, 1865—on the banks of the Rio Grande River, east of Brownsville, Texas, and a few miles from the seaport of Los Brazos de Santiago (now known as Matamoros)—most historians regard it as a Confederate victory.  Union and Confederate forces in southern Texas had been observing an unofficial truce, but Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett¹ ordered forces made up of the 62nd Infantry U.S. Colored Troops, the 34th Indiana Infantry, and the 2nd Texas Cavalry to raid a Confederate encampment near Fort Brown. Barrett’s reasons are unknown, although some claimed he wanted to see combat before the War was completely over. The Union forces were initially successful and gained a few prisoners, but were driven back and forced to lie over for the night. The next day, Confederate troops led by John S. “Rip” Ford² attacked Barrett’s men a half mile west of Palmito Ranch with infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, forcing the Union troops from the field and claiming a victory for the South.

B Y   T E L E G R A P H.

WASHINGTON, May 26.— The special to the Tribune says the Attorney General [James Speed] has just made a most important decision.  He affirms that the amnesty proclamation was a means only to secure a specific purpose, which was the suppression of the rebellion.  The rebellion being ended, the amnesty is void.  It does not restore citizenship, property, or vested rights.  The President has no power to pardon except for what is past.  The Executive clemency cannot stretch to the future.  Therefore the decrees of confiscation must stand.  The decision will be given to the public in a few days.

Tribune’s special says :  In the election for the House of Delegates, yesterday, the disunionists swept Virginia as far as known.  In the Alexandria District, William Delany, of Fairfax Court House, who has a bitter hatred to the Union, and became a cripple in the rebel service, has been elected to the Senate, and J. English, no less better, to the House.  English took the oath of allegiance only the night before he announced himself as a candidate.

The Herald’s Raleigh correspondent explains how the rebel archives fell into our hands.  Gen. Johnston [Joseph E. Johnston] notified Gen. Schofield [John M. Schofield], that they were at Charlotte, and the latter sent Lt. Washburne for them.  Gen. Johnston received them very courteously, and told him where the documents were secreted in a cellar.  He had already turned them over to to [sic] the Union commander of the post, as he had no troops to put over them as guard.  They were found in eighty three boxes of all sizes and descriptions.  A large number of captured Union flags, duly labelled were found.

Governor Vance claims that though arrested, he was not arrested as a fugitive, for he had previously offered to surrender himself to Gen. Schofield, but was refused and allowed to return to his family.  [Zebulon Baird Vance, of North Carolina]

WASHINGTON, May 26th.— Specie is the only currency used in South Western Virginia.  The corn and wheat crops there are abundant, and well up.

Union men returning from the north are still exposed to social persecution.  A black girl was inhumanly whipped and lacerated by her late master for refusing to work without pay.  An order for his arrest was issued, but he had fled.

WASHINGTON, May 27th.— Special to Tribune.—F. W. Seward’s condition continues to excite apprehension.  [Frederick W. Seward]

Gov. Fenton visited the New York troops to-day, and met with a hearty reception.  He was highly pleased with their appearance.  [Reuben Fenton]

The Herald’s fifth corps correspondent says the work of mustering out under the late order, regiments whose terms of service expire prior to Oct. 1st, has been entered upon in earnest. Muster out rolls are being put in readiness as rapidly as possible.  It is supposed that within ten days the whole work will be accomplished.  Thursday night the corps which lies near Washington had a grand-torch light procession.  Gen. Griffin, commanding the corps, has been presented with a corps badge, costing $2,500.  The sixth corps, which has been at Manchester, on the James, has started for Washington, to be mustered out of service.  [Charles Griffin]

WASHINGTON, May 27th.— Alabama has been divided into three internal revenue districts, but no appointment of assessors and collectors have yet been made.

WASHINGTON, May 27th.— A special to the World, says :  Gen. Sherman will soon issue a farewell address preparatory to making a trip West.  His troops are encamped on the North side of the Potomac.  [William T. Sherman]

John T. Ford, proprietor of the theatre has been unconditionally released from arrest.

The 6th corps is expected to arrive in Washington, and together with the reserve artillery of the army of the Potomac, will be reviewed on Monday.

CAIRO, May 26.— A special dispatch to the New York Herald contains the following :

Advices from Brazos, Santiago, Texas, states that a small engagement took place about May 12th, on the prairie of which General Taylor [Zachary Taylor] fought the battle of Palo Alto [May 8, 1846], between a portion of Kirby Smith’s command and a detachment of United States troops, under Colonel F. [sic] H. Barrett.  Our side was victorious, although the enemy’s strength was much superior.  The enemy used artillery.

A steamer from Bagdad to Matamoras arrived just as the artillery commenced firing.  The boat stopped and hoisted the French flag which might not have been observed by the rebels, for they fired shell and round shot—one passing through her cabin.  The last seen of the boat she was floating down the stream.

Our troops were fired upon on their retreat by some soldiers across the Rio Grande, and some skirmishers crept up to the river bank and shot two of them dead.

Three Swiss soldiers, of Maximilian’s army, crossed the river on their way to Brazos, being deserters.

1.  Theodore Harvey Barrett (1834-1900) was originally from New York state. In September 1862 he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant—later promoted to captain—in the 9th Minnesota Infantry and mostly served in the U.S.-Dakota War. On December 29, 1863, he took a commission as colonel of the 62nd Infantry U.S. Colored Troops, which served in the Department of the Gulf in Louisiana until June of 1864, when the regiment was ordered to Texas. As the War wound down in March 1865, both the Confederate and Union forces on the Rio Grande abided by an unwritten truce. Newly-brevetted a Brigadier General, Barrett decided on May 11, 1865, to raid a Confederate encampment near Fort Brown, and thus became the Union commander of the last battle of the Civil War. Barrett was discharged from the army on January 19, 1866, and returned to his home in Herman, Minnesota, where he died in 1900.
2.  John Salmon Ford (1815-1897), known as ‘Rip’ Ford, was a member of the Republic of Texas Congress (1844), a journalist (Texas Democrat, State Times, Galveston News, and three Brownsville newspapers including the Sentinel),  a captain in the Texas Rangers (1850-51, 1858-59), a Texas state senator (1852), and mayor of Brownsville, Texas. During the Civil War, he served in the Texas Secession Convention and initiated a trade agreement between Mexico and the Confederacy. As a Confederate colonel, he had command of the Rio Grande Military District and ran the Texas Bureau of Conscription (1862-65). At various times he also engaged in border operations protecting Confederate-Mexican trade. Ford raised 1,300 troops—known as the Cavalry of the West—and recaptured Fort Brown on July 30, 1864. His forces defended a Union attack a few miles above Palmito Ranch on September 9,1864, and on May 12-13, 1865, he led the Confederate forces in the Battle of Palmito Ranch.

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