It's common knowledge that the four bloody, thunderous years of the American Civil War came to a solemn end when Southern Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox—but it's not true. The final land battle of the war wasn't fought until more than a month later, 150 years ago this week, on a barren, wind-swept coastal plain at the southern tip of Texas. And the Confederates won. How the battle of Palmito Ranch came about involves a tale of one officer's ego and another's stubborn refusal to yield. Stationed on Brazos Island, Minnesotan Theodore Barrett, a newly promoted Union brigadier general, "decided he needed some glory, needed something to make him look good," says historian Don Barnhart.
Ignoring an informal truce imposed a couple of months earlier, Barrett launched what he planned as a surprise attack. His men were spotted, then sparred with Rebel soldiers. The next day, Confederate troops led by Confederate Col. John Salmon "Rip" Ford repulsed the Union forces in the main engagement and chased them back some seven miles nearly to Brazos Island before Ford broke off the pursuit. In the battle, involving perhaps 1,000 soldiers, Hispanic men fought for the South and black soldiers for the Union. "Boys, we have done well," Ford told his men, according to his memoirs. "If memory is correct, the federals had about 50 killed and wounded, and 113 prisoners," he wrote. "Our loss a small number wounded." Click for the fully story on the battle of Palmito Ranch. (Read more Civil War stories.)