Last Battle of the Civil War - Columbus, Georgia April 16, 1865

Please see my article "The Last Battle. Period. Really." in the April 2003 issue of CIVIL WAR TIMES Magazine.

Last Battles

Numerous locations claim to be the site of the "Last Battle of the Civil War". Bentonville, North Carolina is said to be the site of the last "major" battle of Civil War, where the Confederacy was able to mount a tactical offensive. Fort Blakeley in Alabama calls itself the location of the last "combined-force" battle of the War. Palmito Ranch in Texas also claims the honor of "last" battle and has a small marker commemorating the fact. The CSS Shenandoah is known to have remained active on the high seas well after hostilities had ended on land. The list also includes Columbus, Georgia the location of a little known engagement that took place on April 16,1865. And, surprising as it sounds, Columbus is the site of the actual "Last Battle of the Civil War."


Charles Swift

On February 10, 1915 Charles J. Swift presented a paper concerning the last battle of the Civil War at the inaugural meeting of the Columbus Historical Society. In it he claimed the last battle of the Civil War began across the Chattahoochee River in what was then Girard, Alabama and ended at the foot of the 14th Street bridge on the Georgia side in Columbus. He had made this argument before and had a number of sources to back him up. Today, a granite monument placed at 14th Street and Broadway in 1938 and a bronze marker placed on the corner of 14th Street in and 4th Avenue in 1953 give only scant details of this often overlooked action.

Above is the North face of the monument

Above is the West face of the monument

Below is the East face of the monument

Below is the South face of the monument


The Battle

In short, the battle was the last significant engagement of Wilson's Raid where Bvt. Maj. General James Harrison Wilson lead three divisions through Alabama and into Georgia in the Spring of 1865. The divisions were lead by Generals Emory Upton, Edward McCook and Eli Long. After taking Selma and Montgomery on April 2 and April 12, 1865 respectively, they headed to Columbus, Georgia, which they captured. Upton's division was the one most involved in the attack on Columbus. His brigades were lead by Generals Andrew J. Alexander and Edward F. Winslow. Major General Howell Cobb commanded the 3,000 Confederate troops in defense of Columbus.

Alexander's brigade attempted to capture the lower bridge between Girard and Columbus at about 2 p.m. on Easter Sunday April 16, 1865, but was repulsed. General Upton decided to try a night assault and received General Wilson's approval. General Winslow lead the attack on the 14th Street bridge after dark, about 8 p.m. By 10 p.m. the bridge was captured and Columbus fell. General Wilson made his headquarters at the Mott House on the river. The last person killed in the battle was Colonel C.A.L. Lamar of General Cobb's staff. He was shot from his horse at the foot of the bridge a few yards from the Mott house. Wilson left for Macon, GA on April 18. Johnston's truce with Sherman ceased hostilities in that theater before General Wilson arrived in Macon on April 20, 1865.


The bronze marker in Columbus describes the "Last Land Battle in War of 1861-1865." It is sometimes called the "last land battle east of the Mississippi" but Charles Swift may have had it right when he claimed that Columbus was simply the "last battle of the Civil War." He tries to draw a comparison between the battle on Lexington Green in the Revolution to the one that took place in Columbus. Both battles were brief with few casualties. The difference is the number of combatants on hand and the significance of the material captured. There were thousands of troops on both sides in the Columbus conflict. Also, a huge amount of Confederate stores were destroyed after the battle.

Swift mistakenly tried to verify rumors of a battle at Palo Alto, Texas. He didn't find evidence of one, but that was because he should have been looking for Palmito Ranch. In the final analysis, it doesn't matter that he ignored this engagement. One argument Swift doesn't make is the simple definitions involved. Dissecting the various descriptions shows that calling Columbus anything other than the last battle is not accurate.

 The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "battle" as "a general military engagement", and gives one definition of "action" as "battle." It defines "skirmish" as "a minor engagement in war". The engagement at Columbus was described in the Official Records as an action, which is synonymous with battle. The conflict, however brief, was significant.


The battle at Columbus occurred after those of Bentonville, North Carolina on March 19 to 21 and Fort Blakely, Alabama on April 9. The activities at and around Palmito Ranch, Texas on May 12 to 14 are described in the Official Records simply as skirmishes, not unlike so many other smaller engagements that took place in the last days of the war. Palmito Ranch is not even the last skirmish mentioned in the Official Records. The men involved numbered only a few hundred. In his paper, Swift also makes the point that the Confederacy had virtually collapsed by the time of skirmish at Palmito Ranch and the rebel participants were nothing more than ex-Confederates. Although General E. Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi hadn't yet surrendered, the Confederate government had ceased to exist prior to May 14. These men were merely hold-outs to the Lost Cause. In fact, in early February, Kirby Smith had offered his services to Emperor Maximillian of Mexico in anticipation of the end of the war.

On May 9, 1865, President Andrew Johnson proclaimed the "the rebellion on land is ended." He obviously considered to have ended prior to the skirmishes at Palmito Ranch. Finally, in 1886, W.T. Sherman remarked to the editor of the North American Review magazine that he believed C.A.L. Lamar to be the last Confederate killed in the war and that General Wilson would be able to confirm that fact. It follows that Sherman considered the battle at Columbus to be the last one of the war.

High Seas

As for distinguishing Columbus as the last "land" battle, what happened later on the high seas could hardly be described as battles. While the CSS Shenandoah continued to sail until November 6, 1865, it fired its guns "in defense of the South" for the last time on June 22 in the Arctic Ocean. In all she captured thirty-eight vessels, destroying thirty-six of them. Her targets were whalers and merchant ships in one-sided attacks that were more piracy than military engagements. These encounters also don't fit the definition of the word "battle."

The last action that truly resembles a battle would have to be engagement at Columbus, Georgia on the night of April 16, 1865. In his research, Charles J. Swift exchanged letters with the retired General James H. Wilson who concurred in a letter dated January 23, 1914 that Columbus was indeed, as far as he could determine, the last battle of the Civil War.

Modern View

Here is the Mott House, today (left) and, a view of the modern 14th Street Bridge (right) from the Alabama side with the Mott House to the far left.

More Information

Below is a link to the text of the paper read by Charles J. Swift at the inaugural meeting of the Columbus Historical Society on February 10, 1915 where he explains why he thinks Columbus, Georgia holds the distinction as the location of the last battle.

Last Battle of the Civil War by Charles J. Swift

 Local Civil War Links:

National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus

Battle of West Point

Chattahoochee Valley Area Civil War Round Table

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