Monday, September 25, 2006

Hunt: "The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch"

The Battle of Palmetto/Palmito Ranch could be thought of as a microcosm of the opposing forces that fought the Civil War in the west. It saw a heavily outnumbered (300 to 500) Confederate force face a mixed Federal brigade comprised of northern whites (34th Indiana), blacks (62nd USCT), and Texas Unionist (two companies of the 2nd Texas) forces. In terms of real consequences, Palmetto Ranch had nearly none. Although heavy in captures, casualties in killed and wounded were remarkably light for both sides and the strategic situation changed not at all. Its real lasting interest is its distinction as the last 'battle' of the Civil War and the irony that the war's concluding fight was a complete Confederate victory.

Released less than a year after Phillip Thomas Tucker's The Final Fury: Palmito Ranch, the Last Battle of the Civil War, Jeffrey W. Hunt's The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch is clearly the superior of the two [Tucker's book is not great, but it hardly deserves the one star rating from the Amazon reviewers...if that's saying much, it's actually one of his better books--although it's just as poorly edited and retains his infuriatingly repetitive writing style]. Perhaps Hunt's battle narrative lacks the color and clarity found with the best battle histories but he writes very well overall and his text is supported by numerous maps. The setup for the Union movement up the Rio Grande and coverage of the aftermath of the battle (including the court martial of the 34th's Lt. Col. Morrison) is thoroughly covered. Rounding out the book, a detailed order of battle is included, as well some supplementary source material in the appendices.

Interestingly, the author uses the same sources for his background material concerning the cross-border cotton trade that Stephen Townsend does but arrives at an opposite conclusion in his assessment of the importance, scale, and profitability of the whole exercise. This only increases my interest in reading James Irby's Backdoor at Bagdad myself.

In the end, The Last Battle of the Civil War probably (and undeservedly) will have little broad appeal, but readers interested in the last months of the war along the Texas-Mexico border will be richly rewarded here.