Grant to raise awareness about last battle of Civil War

The National Park Service has awarded an $81,252 planning grant to Texas Tech University to increase public awareness about the Palmito Ranch battlefield site near Brownsville, where the last battle of the Civil War was fought.

The Palmito Ranch battlefield site is about 15 miles east of Brownsville off State Highway 4 on the way to Boca Chica beach. The battle took place May 12-13, 1865, a month after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

The grant is for a project that “seeks to develop a comprehensive plan for the Palmito Ranch American Civil War battlefield and to increase public awareness by developing communication tools using augmented reality technology,” a news release about the project says.

A National Historic Landmark located on the site refers to it as one of the most significant Civil War military sites in Texas.

“The battlefield’s strategic position in the vicinity of the mouth of the Rio Grande along the Texas-Mexico border was no accident. During the war, the South’s only international boundary was critical to the Confederacy’s pursuit of international recognition and economic viability,” a Texas Historical Commission brochure published in 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the battle states.

A THC web page notes that early in the war, Union forces had occupied Brownsville but were unable to hold the city. They established a base at Brazos Santiago on Brazos Island from which to blockade the Rio Grande and Brownsville. But they were unable to blockade the Mexican (and technically neutral) port of Bagdad just below the river.

During the war, Confederate forces landed supplies at Bagdad, then transported them 25 miles inland to Matamoros to be shipped across the Rio Grande into Texas, the web page says.

After Lee’s surrender, Confederate elements in Brownsville remained loyal to the cause. The battle of Palmito Ranch ensued when Union forces launched an attempt to retake Brownsville.

“The action had lasted a total of four hours. Confederate casualties were a few dozen wounded. The federals lost 111 men and four officers captured, and 30 men wounded or killed. Ironically, at the same time as the battle of Palmito Ranch, the Confederate governors of Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas were authorizing (Confederate Lt. Gen. Kirby Smith to disband his armies and end the war. A few days later federal officers from Brazos Santiago visited Brownsville to arrange a truce with (Confederate Brig. Gen. James E.) Slaughter and Col. (John Salmon ‘Rip’) Ford,” the web page says.

A repeater radio broadcaster installed on the site in 2011 tells the story of the battle. It is at 1610 on the am radio dial.