Luella W. kindly pointed out to me that I’d missed an important anniversary in Civil War history. The last battle of the Civil War took place near Brownsville, Texas, on May 12, 1865, more than a month after Lee surrendered his sword to Grant. The Confederate troops won the battle of Palmito Ranch.
Union forces stationed on Brazos Island in the Gulf had attempted to blockade Texas ports. But Texans were able to ship their cotton through Matamoros, Mexico and out through the then-Mexican port at Bagdad. Confederate forces held Brownsville and were well entrenched.
Union General Lew Wallace (yes, that Lew Wallace who later wrote Ben-Hur, served as Governor of New Mexico Territory and offered amnesty to Billy the Kid), met with his opposite number, Confederate General James Slaughter. Under a flag of truce, they agreed that it was pointless for their forces to engage in battle. In South Texas they were far removed from the crucial areas of conflict. They would have no effect on the final outcome of the War.
Union Brigadier General Theodore Barrett thought otherwise. He wanted some action, and mobilized an attack on the Confederates. Barrett ran into a buzz saw. Confederate Col. John “Rip” Ford’s cavalry and artillery easily defeated Barrett’s troops, who suffered some 50 killed and 100 captured. Only a small number of the Confederates suffered wounds. It’s worth noting that black soldiers fought for the Union; Hispanic men for the South. A few days later Union officers visited Brownsville and arranged another truce.
We’ve fought other useless, futile battles since 1865. We need to learn the lesson of Palmito Battlefield. Don’t jump into a fight that you can’t win. And it's better to be under a flag of truce whenever you can arrange it.
May 18, 2015. Happy Birthday, Steve!
“There is no law by which to determine the superiority of nations; hence the vanity of the claim, and the idleness of disputes about it.” – Lew Wallace.