Monday, May 20, 2019

The Last

Well, what with all the inclement weather lately, a couple of things have happened or not happened.  First, getting outside to do things has been impacted by 1) soggy soil and 2) the resultant heat and humidity of a nascent summer and frequent heavy rain.

Second, this has resulted in my not being able to fix things and thus having a lot of time on my hands to....think about things.

Folks, that's just never a good thing.

I've been looking into Mrs J and my next day trip.  May is slipping by and we haven't hit the road this month yet.  In any case, while researching historical sites (under Civil War Texas) in the general vicinity, I came across a wikipedia site that mentioned the "Battle of Palmito Ranch" or alternatively "Palmito Hill".

Hmmm.  Mrs Schmuckatelli never mentioned that in 7th Grade Texas History or I'd have remembered it...and her name.

So...I clicked the link and began reading.

Well, as all our reader's know, General Lee surrendered his forces at Appomatox on April 9, 1865.  This is widely held as the end of the Civil War, since the vast majority of Confederate forces were East of the Missisippi River.  General Grant's capture of Vicksburg on July 4 1863 (aka the day after the last day at Gettysburg) had effectively isolated all Confederate forces west of the river, meaning they could do little to help the war effort in the rest of the Confederacy.

However, they had not surrendered yet.  In fact, the last Confederate General to surrender was named Stand Watie.  I remember him from Mrs Schmuckatelli's class.  She made us read "Rifles for Watie" a historical fiction loosely based on Brigadier General Stand Watie.  General Watie was the commander of the First Indian Brigade composed of two regiments of Mounted Rifles and three battalions of infantry.  All Indian, as in Native American, except they had joined the Confederacy which had seceded from the United States of America.  Very confusing.  Apparently, they did not want the Indian Nation's lands to become Oklahoma, so supported the Confederacy.

In any case,  Stand Watie, did not surrender until June 23 1865, more than two months after Lee at Appomatox.

But, back to Palmito Ranch.


The Union had a relatively large force (~6500) in the Brownsville area throughout the war to enforce the Blockade of Confederate Ports.  However, the proximity of Brownsville to Mexico and Mexico's generally siding with the Confederates for financial gain reasons, made them ineffective and, in July 1864, they were greatly reduced to about 1900 troops of the 34th Indiana Veteran Infantry Brigade which had fought at Vicksburg. In addition, the  87th and 62nd United States Colored Infantry Regiments were also assigned. In early 1865, the commanders of the Union and Confederate forces, seeing the writing on the wall, came to a gentleman's agreement that there would be no more fighting between them.  Outright surrender had been agreed upon, but refused by Major General John G. Walker, CSA Commander of the Texas Division of Confederate Trans-Missippi Department (how's that for a job title?  Beats the heck out of Commander, 3rd Confederate Infantry.)  In any case, upon hearing this the Union Commander resigned his commission and returned to Indiana.  Lt Colonel Robert Morrison replaced him in Command of the 34 Indiana Veteran Infantry Brigade and by Col Theodore Barrett as the Brigade Commander.

Col Barrett had been in the Army since 1862 but had yet to see combat. (Reading those 4 words brought a "ruh-roh" to my mind.) .  Unfortunately for Col Barrett, both the Union and Confederate officers in the Brownsville area knew of Lee's surrender and knew that this effectively ended the Civil War.

So, why fight?

Good question.  A few theories are proposed by historians.  First, there is a plausible theory that Col Barrett needed horses for his Mounted Cavalry Regiments and was going to take them from the Confederates.   Other's have posited that Barrett was "looking for a little battlefield glory" and so ordered the expedition.  Finally,  there is some evidence that Brig. Gen. Egbert B. Brown of the U.S. Volunteers, ordered the expedition in order to seize cotton from the docks for his own purposes.  (This may have been the purpose, but General Brown did not arrive in the area until much later in May after the battle.)

On the Confederate side,  Brigadier General Slaughter, who was the CSA side of the gentlemen's agreement, had escaped to Mexico after Lee's surrender and a Col Ford had taken his place.  According to one historian*


What was at stake was honor and money. With a stubborn reluctance to admit defeat, Ford asserted that the dignity and manhood of his men had to be defended. Having previously proclaimed that he would never capitulate to "a mongrel force of Abolitionists, Negroes, plundering Mexicans, and perfidious renegades"...Ford was not about to surrender to invading black troops.... Even more important was the large quantity of Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy's cotton stacked in Brownsville waiting to be sent across the river to Matamoros. If Ford did not hold off the invading Federal force, the cotton would be confiscated by the Yankees and thousands of dollars lost
So the stakes are set for one final battle for glory, freedom and honor.

Or not.

The Union sent out about 500 troops, led by Lt Col Morrison while the Confederates had about 300 led by Col Barrett.  A good synopsis of the battle can be read here.   Essentially, in a 4 hour battle, the Union had approximately 130 killed or captured with an additional 12 wounded to the Confederate's 3 captured and 5 or 6 wounded.  The Union forces retreated from the field resulting in a Confederate victory.
This painting of the Battle hangs in the Texas Military Forces Museum at Camp Mabry, Austin.  Think Mrs J and I found our next day trip.

This was the quasi-official last battle of the Civil War with the majority of Trans-Missippi forces surrendering on June 2nd and  General Watie surrendering June 23.

Oh, and it always sucks to be the first person killed in a war.  IMHO, it's worse to be the last, especially when you know it's over.  Takes quite a bit of honor and discipline to do your duty at that point. 

Private John J. Williams killed in Action in his first combat action at the Battle of Palmito Ranch May 13, 1865
Rest in Peace, Warrior!



*Jerry Thompson, in Southwestern Historical Quarterly 107#2 (2003) pp. 336-337.


40 comments:

  1. Great history, juvat! I like it. I felt the same way (Pvt Williams) when I read that General Pershing (dim memory warning) ordered our guys to fight until 11:11 on Nov 11, 1918. Knowing it was over, yet pushing toward the Maxims.... How did they do that? I seem to remember we had over a thousand casualties on the last day of WW1...

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    1. I agree. I've read that there was concern that the Germans wouldn't actually comply with the cease fire, but why not schedule the attack for afterwards, just in case. Set the over the top time with enough time for communitcation to flow either to confirm or cancel the attack. But...maybe that's why I'm not a general.

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  2. Talk about getting killed in the last battle. I went to the WW1 museum in Kansas City, MO, one of the plaques was about the last Americans killed. It was announced early that day that at 1100 fighting would cease and everyone was going home after that, but still some American commanders still ordered attacks.
    I read that 320 Americans died that morning.

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    1. I've been to that museum while I was at Leavenworth (At Army Command and General Staff College, not the prison. It was very interesting.

      I wonder if those commanders were in the "last chance for glory" category?

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    2. Last Chance for Glory people are always the first to turn and run, or freeze when motion is needed.

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  3. Great post! I remember learning (very briefly) about this battle from Mr. Gillette when I was in 7th. I look forward to hearing about your trip to Camp Mabry-I've always wanted to visit that site and have not been able to make it. A friend/neighbor of mine and I were talking about this battle with another friend the other day. Neighbor happens to be a former TX history and VA history teacher. Other friend is from the New England area. She had never heard of this battle, so we started talking about it, along with the difficulty of ensuring US kiddos posted overseas are able to learn US history. From what I have seen and experienced, most of them seem to be going to British/French/ other local schools.

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    1. Well, I'm glad you at least remember your Tx History teacher's name, but then I'm older than dirt. Why, by cracky, when I was in 7th grade, Mrs Schmuckatelli was painting the lessons on Cave walls. And Sarge? Well, let's just say he was there when they discovered fire.

      British/French/other local schools...sounds like there definitely needs to be some home schooled American history augmentation.

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    2. Fire? They've discovered fire?

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    3. Yes, Sarge, now put your slippers on and get back in your rocker!

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    4. No...Lush is the Young Whippersnapper. Tuna and Beans are the Middle Aged Whipkindasnapper. I'm an older whippersnapper wannabe. You on the other hand....

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    5. juvat, SHHHHHH!!!! Before you wake up Grandpa!

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    6. And, LJW... We're expecting temps of over 100 degrees with 30% humidity by Friday. Suddenly the world gets warm when YOU comment. Hmmmmmm.

      Absolutely no scientific correlation. So I am on the same par as most of the global warming nazis...

      :)

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    7. Ha! When we are home next time, I'll tell you the story of how I really remember his name and class (and also, his son was in my grade, so there was that help).
      Beans, interesting you should say that. The humidity and heat picked up here this week. 0530-0600 walk with our dog was about 80% humid with high 90s (reached 106*F a few days as well) But by about 1700, was weirdly decent enough to sit on the patio in the shade and have a breeze blow through.

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    8. Be careful about asking for breezes. A gentle breeze is often a Shamal that hasn't grown up yet. ;-)

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    9. Heh. Breeze. In Florida, breezy is 10mph or so. When I visited central Texas, breezy was 40-50mph or more...

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    10. Just wanted to say, that I love reading this blog and the comments on it, even though I don't comment on every post! You all do a wonderful job! No "shamal" yet, but we did have a hedgehog on the porch and neighbor cat incident today where the cat walked up to my door before turning away after seeing Tex behind the window. When I say "breeze" I mean a light brush of air that helps cool things down. More in line with Florida, and not central TX standards (especially not North Texas today).

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    11. Thank you, Ma'am. Still jealous of where you and Little Juvat will be on his birthday and on some invasion's 75th anniversary.

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  4. Being the last man to fall in a terrible war is bad enough, falling in a senseless battle is beyond the pale.

    I'm amazed that our species has survived this long.

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    1. Yeah, none of the proffered reasons for the battle seem to have been militarily justified. But given my knowledge of Reconstruction, I think this was just a portend of things to come.

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    2. Yup, vindictive bastids flowing South to make them pay, and to turn a profit. Reconstruction has to be a dirty word south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

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    3. Yes, indeedy. For all the bad things one can say about Lincoln, his hope for a peaceful reuniting was plausible. And then some Democrat with a gun shot him.

      How things never change, do they?

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    4. Well, Let's see...Democrats 1860's supported slavery. Democrats 1960's supported segregation. Democrats 2019 support segregation (excluding whites, white males, and/or Christians from organizations is segregation) and socialism. Socialism enslaves their population with government control of their lives, so Socialism = Slavery.

      So, Bottom Line. In 160+ years, the Democratic party hasn't changed at all. Well, except for being originally centered in the south, now they're located on the coasts. Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

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    5. "Oh, a bit bloody for my tastes..."

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    6. I believe the term was in the 1860s-1870s was carpetbagging? You all are more knowledgeable than me in military history though, so correct me if I'm wrong. It is unfortunate what unsolved conflict can do to people.

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    7. You are exactly right about carpetbagging. When we first moved to Texas in '67, I saw a very big brawl at the Parochial school I was in, caused by someone calling another a Carpetbagger. That was in 6th grade. Probably not as big an insult today, but back then it sure was.

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  5. War seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Hasn't it always?

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    1. Seems to have. All the way back to Cain and Able probably.

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  6. Fourth grade was California History.
    I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that Mrs. Hoy couldn’t pronounce Junipero Serra.

    Somehow there’s gotta be a way that the folks who decide they want a battle have to go and fight that battle.

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    1. Or, at a minimum, have fought in a battle at some time in their careers. There weren't an awful lot of those at the five sided puzzle palace when I was there. (No, I didn't add to their numbers either.)

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  7. There's always the question of did they receive the surrender orders before or after the battle? Did they conveniently forget or mislay the papers? Or was it truly just an example of being at the ass end of nowhere and the messages were delayed?

    Still, someone has to fire the last shot. Someone has to be the last to fall. And it sucks when that happens.

    And... politicians setting an arbitrary date and time, you know there's always going to be that last grudge-shot, that last explosion. Do you count the casualties from the cleanup after in the overall casualty count of the war? We were losing people from combat-related deaths for months after WWI and WWII ended. Mines, patrols, all of that, death by jeep rollover is still death.

    You raise good pondering posts, juvat.

    Now get someone aworking on your tractor. So we can see pictures of Mrs. Juvat driving around on it!

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    1. I read recently that there are still deaths by exploding mines in Europe at various WWI and WWII battlefields. Dead is dead. I guess what really put me in a snit about Private Williams was, as I said earlier, none of the reasons were actually good enough to fight. Needing horses, came close in my book, but it's also called theft even if it's done by the military.

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    2. Horse theft in TEXAS just doesn't sound healthy on several levels!!! Never mind at the end of a war. Just saying...

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    3. Yep. What you said. They are still losing people in Cambodia over the Khymer Rouge bag of idiots.

      And then there are the wounded that take years and years to expire from war.

      War sucks. No matter how you look at it.

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  8. Nice post, juvat; and, as usual, the comments are first rate.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  9. Truly a stupid battle, and to be the last who dies really sucks...

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)