The last battle of the Civil War took place May 12, 1865 – over a month after the Confederacy surrendered.
It was fought on the Texas/Mexico border.
The Confederacy won.
They sure didn’t teach you that in history class, did they?
In 1865 Texas was a largely unsettled frontier, over a thousand miles away from the Confederate capital of Richmond.
But neighboring Mexico was occupied by the French Army, which was at that time one of the world’s largest and most powerful invasion forces.
And while France was officially neutral, they needed the Confederacy’s cotton, and having a Confederate States of America between them and the U.S. would greatly aid French efforts to colonize Mexico.
To counter the remote risk of a French invasion, and the very real Mexican smugglers assisting the Confederacy, the Union sent forces to Texas.
But by March of 1865, with the war all but decided and most Union troops having withdrawn months earlier, the North and South were observing an unofficial truce. Both agreed not to advance on each other without written notice.
The Confederacy would formally surrender at Appomattox, Virginia a month later.
So by May of 1865, Confederate forces in Texas were tasked mainly with protecting Gulf ports, so cotton could continue to be shipped to Europe. Few were expecting battle.
But that’s what they got on May 12, when Union forces under the command of Colonel Theodore H. Barrett launched a surprise attack on Confederate camp at the White and Palmito ranches, just miles from U.S./Mexico border near Brownsville, Texas.
It’s generally accepted Barrett, having not seen actual battle in the war, simply wanted to be able to say he led troops in battle.
His raid was initially successful, capturing three prisoners and some supplies.
But the Confederates didn’t take the ungentlemanly attack lightly. Barrett had violated the truce. Confederate Colonel John Salmon “Rip” Ford mustered his troops.
The next day Confederate forces counter-attacked with artillery and cavalry. Barrett’s troops quickly realized they were overwhelmed and attempted retreat.
The fighting grew chaotic as Union troops, hemmed in by the Rio Grande River, tried to elude both Confederate forces attacking from the north. Multiple witnesses reported Mexican snipers firing across the river from the south. Some even reported Napoleon’s Imperial Cavalry joined in the attack on Union troops.
The battle would end May 14, with a Confederate victory. One Union soldier was killed, 12 wounded and 101 captured.
That Union soldier, Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment, would be the last man to die in battle in the Civil War – a war that ended on the U.S./Mexico border, with a Confederate battle victory, a month after Robert E. Lee’s surrender.