Saturday, February 20, 2010


By Mike Jones
"The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch" By Jeffrey William Hunt (University of Texas Press, Austin) is without a doubt one of the best battle books I've ever read. As the title sugggests, it is about the litteral last battle of the War for Southern Independence, which occurred May 12-13, 1865 near Brownsville, Texas along the Rio Grande River. What makes the book so good is the author does an excellent job getting down to the nitty-gritty of small unit tactics.

This was a very small battle, about 1,000 men on both sides, which gives the author the opportunity to get down to the lowest level of tactical maneuverings. In books about the larger battles and campaigns, the importance of individual decisions by lower ranking officers can get lost in the bigger picture. Not so here. Hunt did a good job in rooting out the officials records and first hand sources, such as letters, which really lay out the sequence of events clearly and concisely.

Col. John S. "Rip" Ford
(Lawrence Jones III Collection,
 SMU Library)
The battle occurred when a coastal garrison of Union troops decided to go on an expedition for reasons that are not completely clear. The Union forces consisted of the 62nd U.S. Colored Troopds, 34 Indiana Infantry, and the 2nd Texas Cavalry (Union), numbering about 500 men under the command of Colonel Theodore H. Barrett of the 62nd USCT. The Confederates involved included the Anderson's, Gidding's and Carter's battalions of Texas cavalry and Captain O.G. Jones' 3rd Texas Light Artillery, under the command of Col. John S. "Rip" Ford and Brig. Gen. James E. Slaughter, about 420 men altogether.

The Texas cavalry delayed the advance of the Union troops from the coast toward Brownsville on May 12. On May 13, Col. Ford had gathered his men and counterattacked and almost trapped and destroyed the entire Union force in a bend of the Rio Grande River on Palmetto Hill. But the Union forces just barely escaped the trap and retreated back to the coast with the Texans in hot pursuit.

The author makes it clear that Barrett's poor handling of the Union troops contributed to their defeat, while Ford's masterful control of the Confederates and the high morale of the Southerners were primary reasons for Confederate victory. The Federals lost 102 men captured, 2 killed and 6 wounded and 2 missing. The Confederates lost 1 killed and about 5 wounded.

"The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch," by Jeffrey William Hunt; The University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, Texas 78713-7819; 216 pages; photographs, maps, bibliography, index; trade paperback.

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