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Civil War Trust

Report of Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, Sixty-second U.S. Colored Troops

August 10, 1865

Report of Col. Theodore H. Barrett, Sixty-second U. S. Colored Troops.  

HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., FIRST DIV., 25TH ARMY CORPS,  Camp near Brownsville, Tex., August 10, 1865. 

GEN.: I have the honor to submit the following report of the  action at Palmetto Ranch, Tex., May 13, 1865, the last engagement of  the war:  

On the evening of May 11, 1865, an expedition consisting of 250 men  of the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry, properly officered, and fifty  men and two officers of the Second Texas Cavalry (not yet mounted),  the whole under Lieut.-Col. Branson, of the Sixty-second U. S.  Colored Infantry, was sent by me, then commanding U. S. forces at  Brazos Santiago, Tex., from the island onto the mainland. Crossing the  Boca Chica, which owing to a severe storm was effected with difficulty,  the force marched nearly all night, and after a short rest, early next  morning attacked a strong outpost of the rebels at Palmetto Ranch, Tex.,  on the banks of the Rio Grande. The enemy was driven in confusion  from his position, his camp, camp equipage, and stores falling into our  hands. Some horses and cattle were also captured and a number of  prisoners taken. Destroying such stores as could not be transported,  Lieut.-Col. Branson returned to the vicinity of White's Ranch,  and took up his position for the night. On the morning of the 13th about  200 men of the Thirty-fourth Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry, under  Lieut.-Col. Morrison, joined Lieut.-Col. 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 Lieut.-Col. 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. 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-pounder 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 Capt.  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. The last volley of the war, it is believed,  was fired by the Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry about sunset of the  13t of May, 1865, between White's Ranch and the Boca Chica, 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  Matamoras 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.  As these reports may never have reached the Adjutant-Gen.'s Office,  the foregoing statement of the last actual conflict between hostile forces  in the great rebellion is respectfully submitted.  

I am, general, with high respect, your most obedient servant,  

THEODORE H. BARRETT,  Col. Sixty-second U. S. Colored Infantry.

Source:  Official Records  CHAP. LX.]   EXPEDITION FROM BRAZOS SANTIAGO, TEX.   PAGE 265-101

  [Series I. Vol. 48. Part I, Reports, Correspondence, Etc. Serial No. 101.]

 

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