The Last Volley of the War

May 13, 1865 (Saturday)

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett, 62nd US Colored Troops, official report1:

On the morning of the 13th about 200 men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, joined Lieutenant-Colonel Branson. Assuming command in person of the forces thus united. I at once ordered an advance to be again made in the direction of Palmetto Ranch, which, upon the retirement of Lieutenant-Colonel Branson, had been reoccupied by the rebels. The enemy’s cavalry were soon encountered.


Driving them before us, we reached the ranch by 7 or 8 a. m., and again compelled the rebels to abandon it. Such stores as had escaped destruction the day previous were now destroyed, and the buildings which the enemy had turned into barracks were burned, in order that they might no longer furnish him convenient shelter. A detachment was here sent back to Brazos Santiago with our wounded and the prisoners and captures of the day previous. The remainder of the force was ordered to advance. Nearly the entire forenoon [May 13] was spent in skirmishing.

The enemy, though taking advantage of every favorable position, was everywhere easily driven back. Early in the afternoon a sharp engagement took place, which, being in the chaparral was attended with comparatively little loss to us. In this engagement our forces charged the enemy, compelled him to abandon his cover, and, pursuing him, drove him across an open prairie beyond the rising ground completely out of sight. The enemy having been driven several miles since daylight, and our men needing rest, it was not deemed prudent to advance farther. Therefore. relinquishing the pursuit, we returned to a hill about a mile from Palmetto Ranch, where the Thirty-fourth Indiana had already taken its position.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer, writing over thirty years after the war2:

On the morning of the 13th a very small force was present in Brownsville. There were not more than 300 men at and below that city of Confederates. Colonel John S. Ford, assuming command, moved down the river to the San Martin ranch. Arriving at about 3 P. M., he found Captain William Robinson, of D. C. Gidding’s Regiment, in a heavy skirmish with J. W. Hancock’s Company, of the 2d Texas. and a company of the 34th Indiana.

A regiment of negro troops— 62d United States — were also moving forward, perhaps to sustain skirmishers. Ford immediately made his dispositions. His right wing was under command of Captain Robinson. Cocke’s and Wilson’s Companies were ordered to attack the enemy’s right flank; the artillery was directed to open fire at once, which was done with effect. Colonel Ford supported the movement in person, with two companies and two pieces of artillery.

The 62d United States Troops, Branson’s Negro Regiment, was quickly demoralized, and fled in dismay. Captain Robinson led a charge and drove back the skirmish line of the 34th Indiana and Hancock’s 2d Texas Company. The Indiana troops threw down their arms and surrendered; most of the Texans escaped, retreating through the dense chaparral. The entire Federal force were on the retreat, the fierce cavalry charges of the Confederates harassed them exceedingly, and the Confederate artillery moved at a gallop. Three times lines of skirmishers were thrown out to check the pursuit. These lines were roughly handled and many prisoners captured by the Confederates.

The Federals were driven for about eight miles into the Cobb ranch, which is about two miles from the fort at Boca Chica. The sun was about half an hour high. The enemy had commenced a double quick by the left flank across the slough, through which a levee had been thrown about 300 yards long. The slough was an [314] impassable quagmire for any character of troops, except the narrow levee. General Slaughter saw the movement of the enemy and ordered Captain Carrington, with Carter’s Battery, to press the rear guard of the enemy and cut it off before it reached the levee, but the rear guard was too quick and passed in a hurry. Although Carrington’s troopers were fresh and spurred their horses to their best running capacity, the enemy gained the levee when they were about 200 yards from the main body of the enemy, who had formed a line of battle at the further end of the levee among the sand hills.

Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, TX.
Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, TX.

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett:

About 4 p. m. the rebels, now largely re-enforced, again reappeared in our front, opening fire upon us with both artillery and small-arms. At the same time a heavy body of cavalry and a section of a battery, under cover of the thick chaparral on our right, had already succeeded in flanking us with the evident intention of gaining our rear. With the Rio Grande on our left, a superior force of the enemy in front, and his flanking force on our right, our situation was at this time extremely critical. Having no artillery to oppose the enemy’s six 12-pouuder field pieces, our position became untenable. We therefore fell back, fighting. This movement, always difficult, was doubly so at this time, having to be performed under a heavy fire from both front and flank.

Forty-eight men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under Captain Templer, put out as skirmishers to cover their regiment, were, while stubbornly resisting the enemy, cut off and captured by the enemy’s cavalry. The Sixty-Second U. S. Colored Infantry being ordered to cover our forces while falling back, over half of that regiment were deployed as skirmishers, the remainder acting as their support. This skirmish line was nearly three-quarters of a mile in length and, reaching from the river bank, was so extended as to protect both our front and right flank. Every attempt of the enemy’s cavalry to break this line was repulsed with loss to him, and the entire regiment fell back with precision and in perfect order, under circumstances that would have tested the discipline of the best troops. Seizing upon every advantageous position, the enemy’s fire was returned deliberately and with effect. The fighting continued three hours.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer:

Carrington immediately formed his troopers into line on the edge of the slough, then covered with tide water. While doing this he saw General Slaughter dash forward into the water in front and empty his six-shooter at the retreating foe. The Federal line formed on the other side of the slough was 300 yards off from the Confederate troopers. A heavy skirmish fire was kept up for nearly an hour across the slough. The enemy, though in full view, shot too high. They were five or six times as numerous as the Confederates, and were composed of veteran troops and commanded by experienced officers.

Union Colonel Theodore Barrett:

The last volley of the war, it is believed, was fired by the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry about sunset of the 13th of May, 1865, between White’s Ranch and the Boca Uttica, Tex. Our entire loss in killed, wounded, and captured was 4 officers and 111 men. In several instances our men were fired upon from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Upon our occupation of Brownsville a few days later it was reported, upon what appeared to be good authority, that during the engagement‘a body of Imperial cavalry crossed the Rio Grande from Matamorus to Brownsville, doubtless with a-view of aiding the rebels. Reports in detail of this action were forwarded to department headquarters at New Orleans shortly after the engagement took place.

Confederate soldier, Luther Conyer:

As the sun went down the fire slackened and the enemy began to retreat toward Boca Chica, a shell from the United States war ship Isabella exploded between the Confederates and the retreating force of the enemy. A seventeen-year-old trooper of Carter’s battery blazed away in the direction of the exploded shell with his Enfield rifle, using a very profane expletive for so small a boy, causing a hearty laugh from a half score of his comrades. The firing ceased. The last gun had been fired.

Colonel Barrett claims the last volley of the war was fired by the 62d United States colored troops. The United States war ship Isabella, very likely, fired the last shell, but it was a Texan, on Texas soil, of Carter’s battery, that fired the last gun. The last battle of the war was a victory for the Confederates, and it will go down in history as such.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 48, Part 2, p266-267. []
  2. “The Last Battle of the War” by Luther Conyer. As printed in the
    Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 24↩]


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