Palmito Ranch Battlefield, Brownsville, Texas
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member JimmyEv
N 25° 57.700 W 097° 18.088
14R E 670055 N 2872542
Quick Description: With severe weather and shifting sands, the tidal flats east of Brownsville were never developed. This has left most of the Palmito Ranch Battlefield, the last land battle of the Civil War, intact with only the course of the Rio Grande changing.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 12/27/2007 11:36:40 AM
Waymark Code: WM2VT6
Published By: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
Views: 179

Long Description:

Texas succeeded from the Union on February 1, 1861. The following month, Texas joined the Confederate States of America, becoming part of its Trans-Mississippi Department. Shortly after Texas’ succession, Major General D.E. Twiggs, commander of Federal forces in Texas, surrendered all Federal military installations to the Texas Rangers. Throughout the war, Union strategy focused on economically strangling the South’s economy. All Confederate ports were either seized or blockaded. The end effect was that the Confederacy wouldn’t be able to export cotton in exchange for weapons and other necessities required to carry on a war.

The hole in this strategy was Brownsville. Cotton was slipping down the Texas Gulf Coast from Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas to Brownsville. Texas Ranger John (Rip) Ford had negotiated a trade agreement with the Mexican government to allow the Confederacy to export and import goods under Mexican-flag ships at the Mexican port of Baghdad. The cotton simply had to be transported across the Rio Grande to escape the Union blockade. The Port of Baghdad hadn’t existed before the Civil War; by the end of the war it had a population of 30,000.

In 1862, the Confederate government, badly needing funds, banned the export of cotton by anyone other than authorized agents of the government. Cotton was to be sold to the government agents, then smuggled through the Union blockades by blockade runners. Getting much more than the price that the Confederate government had authorized for cotton from the Matamoros cotton factors, Texans ignored the ban, and Ford let them. Cotton continued to flow out of Brownsville.

A Federal force of 6,000 took Fort Brown in November, 1863. This only made the transfer point for cotton and supplies move further inland, to Laredo. Confederate forces commanded by Ford retook Fort Brown on July 30, 1864. Cotton once again flowed through Brownsville.

Union strategy then shifted to maintaining two outposts on the Texas coast - Brazos Santiago and Matagorda Peninsula. These outposts were used as support for the blockade. Stationed at Brazos Santiago were 1500 soldiers, mostly from the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry (USCI), the Second Texas Calvary (made up of abolitionist Texans), and the 34th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

On March 11, 1865, in Point Isabel, a non-binding truce was negotiated between Union General Lewis Wallace, commander of Brazos Santiago, and Confederate General John E. Slaughter, commander of Fort Brown. Both agreed that any conflict in the Rio Grande Valley would have no effect on the outcome of the war and, therefore, would be pointless. Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union on April 5, 1865, but the Trans-Mississippi Department didn’t surrender. After Lee’s surrender, the number of Confederate soldiers stationed at Fort Brown dwindled from 500 to 300.

The area between Fort Brown and Brazos Santiago was scattered with ranches on the ‘lomas’ - densely vegetated, former sand dunes rising above the flat plains. Midway between the two military installations were Tolusa Ranch, Palmito Ranch, White’s Ranch and the San Martin Ranch.

For reasons never quite understood, Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett ordered an expedition of 300 men from Brazos Santiago to capture Fort Brown on May 11, 1865. The troops were to move through Point Isabel, but this plan was thwarted by storms, and the forces returned to Brazos Santiago. By nightfall, Barrett ordered the troops to travel to Fort Brown via the narrow Boca Chica inlet at the southern end of Brazos Island. At 2 am on May 12, the troops reached deserted White’s Ranch. The next morning, the Imperial Mexican Army, on the south side of the Rio Grande, spotted the troops and alerted the Confederate forces. Skirmishes between the Confederate and Union forces began. By noon, the Confederates had been driven from their camp at Palmito Ranch; Union forces retreated to Palmitto Hill. Three hours later, more Confederates arrived and Union forces retreated to the more defensible White’s Ranch.

The next morning, May 13, 200 Union reinforcements arrived from Brazos Santiago. By 10 am, Colonel Ford began marching Confederate troops from Fort Brown. Ford reached San Martin Ranch at 4 pm, with six cannons in tow. Union soldiers had created a skirmish line extending from Tolusa Ranch to the Rio Grande River. Ford advanced on the Union forces in front and on their right flank. Outgunned, with no cannon, the Union forces retreated back to Brazos Santiago. It has been estimated that each side lost approximately thirty soldiers during the two days of skirmishing.

As predicted earlier by both sides, the Union defeat had no effect on the war; the Texas troops of the Trans-Mississippi Department surrendered on May 26, 1865. The only reminder of the battle is a historic marker, at the above coordinates. The battlefield itself encompasses the land south of Boca Chica Highway to the Rio Grande River, stretching 2.12 miles west and 6.80 miles east of the marker.

From the marker, you can look down on the landscape to the east and imagine the soldiers taking cover in the dense thickets capping the lomas, darting from one to another. Palmito Hill is approximately 1.8 miles to the southeast; Palmito Ranch 1.2 miles to the east-southeast (now across the Rio Grande); Tolusa Ranch 1.5 miles to the south; and San Martin Ranch 2 miles west along Boca Chica Highway. The Confederate forces stopped their pursuit of the Union forces at a levee, approximately 6.8 miles east on Boca Chica Highway. Brazos Santiago was at the northern tip of what was then Brazos Island, now Boca Chica Beach.

The site has been elevated to a National Historic Landmark; the land is now owned by the Department of Interior as part of the Boca Chica Unit of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully, interpretive exhibits will by installed by the Department of Interior. At the very least, an observation platform rising above the lomas sure would be nice.

Street address:
Boca Chica Highway
Brownsville, TX USA

County / Borough / Parish: Cameron County

Year listed: 1993

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Event, Information Potential

Periods of significance: 1850-1874

Historic function: Battle Site

Current function: Wildlife Refuge

Privately owned?: no

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 1: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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