BROWNSVILLE, Texas – South Texas is full of world class events of all orders. One event that put this area on the map was the last battle of the U.S. Civil War. General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. The battle occurred on May 12-13 of that year. That was over 30 days beyond the official surrender.
The battle was fought by people that did not know the war was over. According to historians that is false. There are five sets of dates that enter into the picture. The first one is that there was an agreement that was drafted among the generals on May 11 and 12 and that was a semi-cease fire. on April 9. Then on May 1, there was a steamer that was coming into the port at Bagdad, they threw off a newspaper to the people at Palmito Hill stating that the war had been over. On May 10, 1865, the union forces captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. At that point the union declared that the war was technically over because there was no more Southern Government.
On August 20, 1866 Texas surrendered. The commander of forces at Fort Brown, Colonel Ford, knew that Texas had not surrendered but that there was a gentlemen’s agreement (semi-cease fire) in place. There was a commander that was put in place at Brazos Santiago. That was the point by which the union could control the blockade. They could not come down to the mouth of the river because beyond that was neutral territory, Mexico. That particular commander, Colonel Barrett, was the one that started the whole problem here. There was already a gentlemen’s agreement in place and Barrett violated that. Colonel Barrett came in from Brazos Island to Palmito Hill and attacked the Confederate forces. The confederate forces were actually alerted by the French forces that were on the other side of the river. They were in agreement with one another and so they sent word back to Colonel Ford at Fort Brown. Ford came on out the next morning with six cannons. The moment those cannons showed up, he routed the union forces and they started running.
Why did Barrett come into this part of the country in order to do this in violation of that command? Well, there is two reasons and they are very interesting. There was a stockpile of southern cotton in Brownsville that was awaiting shipment to Matamoros, it was the lifeline of the South. It was a fortune’s worth of cotton and Barrett knew that. He wanted to take that for his personal gain. Also, the control of the Aduana, the customs house in Matamoros that was a very lucrative situation. Barrett wanted to dip his hand into that pocket.
Keep in mind that the war was effectively over and everybody knew it. The conflict at Palmito Hill was a post-war conflict and it made a large impact in the history books.