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US Civil War
War and Military History

Which two armies fought the last battles of the Civil War?

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April 28, 2013 1:04AM

The Union army under US Grant was meant to take care of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. It eventually succeeded - after the terrible siege of Petersburg, which was simply a slugging match, with Grant knowing that the Confederates could not replace their losses. The surrender came when Lee's lines were so stretched that they couldn't hold.

The other Union army under Sherman was meant to destroy the Army of Tennessee under Joe Johnston (replaced by John Hood). It did not succeed in doing this. But Sherman had worked out his new strategy of attacking the infrastructure that supported the Confederate armies - devastating the rich farmland of Georgia and South Carolina. There were not enough enemy troops to stop him, although the talented Joe Johnston had been brought back to command what few Confederate units remained in that area. They surrendered about two weeks after Lee.

The very last major engagement of Union and Confederate forces was the Battle of Palmito Ranch on May 12-13, 1865 between armies under the command of Union General Lew Wallace, and Confederate General John G. Walker, though neither general participated in the battle, and ended with a force of 300 Confederates defeating over 1700 Federals. Some historians, as well as, the Official Record of the Civil War consider this battle to be a post-war engagement, and the Battle of Columbus to be the true last battle. It is worth mentioning that the official record of any war is written by the winner of said war, in this case the Union, and has been suggested that Union officials refused to recognize a Confederate victory as the final battle, particularly when 1700 - 1900 Union troops were defeated by 300 - 400 Confederates.

The last official battle of the Civil War was the Battle of Columbus on the Georgia/Alabama border on April 16, 1865, 2 days after Lincoln was killed, between Union General James H. Wilson, and Confederate General Howell Cobb and ended in a Union victory.

On a side note: In the Battle of Columbus a Confederate soldier named John Pemberton was injured by the slash of a sabre, and it was this injury that led him to become a pharmacist after the war preoccupied with creating formulas for pain killers and ultimately leading to the invention of Coca-Cola.

Also of note: Lew Wallace from Palmito Ranch, later gained notoriety as the Governor of New Mexico that offered a full pardon to Billy the Kid, but later reneged because of political pressure, and became somewhat famous as author of what was considered "the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century" Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.