While driving through Georgia recently, I happened upon an historical marker declaring that the final land battle of the Civil War occurred in Columbus on April 16, 1865. Here, a little-known engagement took place a week after Appomattox, but before word of Lee’s surrender arrived.
On May 30, 1865, Bvt. Major General Emory Upton reported for his division in the Wilson Raid, in the Official Records, that the Battle of Columbus marked the “closing conflict of the war.” Other officers at the fight also insisted that Columbus finished the war.
The battle marked the last significant engagement of Wilson’s Raid where Bvt. Maj. General James Wilson led three Federal divisions through Alabama and into Georgia in the spring of 1865. Wilson’s well-armed and well-disciplined cavalry force attempted to capture the “last great storehouses” of the Confederacy and scatter remaining pockets of resistance. After taking Selma and Montgomery on April 2 and April 12, 1865 respectively, they headed to Columbus, Georgia, a major Confederate manufacturing center.
Upton’s division led the attack on Columbus. His brigades were led 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 across the Chattahoochee River between Girard, Alabama, and Columbus on Easter Sunday April 16, 1865, but was repulsed. General Upton decided to try a night assault and received General Wilson’s approval. By 10 p.m., the Federals captured the bridge, and Columbus fell. Exact casualty numbers are difficult to determine, but probably range approximately 60 Union and 80 Confederate dead and wounded.
Though Wilson’s raiders captured the town on April 16, war’s destructions still continued the following day. The soldiers torched factories and other locations that had supported the war effort. At its river docks, the still unfinished ship CSS Jackson was set ablaze and cut loose by her captors. The ironclad drifted downstream about 30 miles before it grounded on a sandbar. The ship continued to burn down to the waterline and the rest of the ship sunk. By the time the Union troops departed on April 18, much of the city had been burned.
Wilson’s raiders continued their adventures, heading next for Macon, Georgia. Later, they helped to captured the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and Henry Wirz, the commander at Andersonville.
The officers who took part in the Battle of Columbus in April 1865 claimed it was the last battle. However, numerous other locations claim to be the site of the “Last Battle of the Civil War.”
For example, Palmito Ranch in Texas often claims the honor of “last” battle and has a small marker commemorating the fact. But, the activities at and around Palmito Ranch, Texas on May 12-13, 1865 are described in the Official Records simply as skirmishes.
Since the surrender of the bulk of Confederates on April 26, 1865, at Bennett Place, North Carolina, marked the effective end of the war, the Battle at Columbus was the last battle of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson declared the war over on May 10, 1865 – the same day Jefferson Davis was captured and days before the skirmishes in Texas.
Thus, Columbus, Georgia is where the last land battle of the Civil War took place.
If you wish to visit the sign erected in 1953 and marking this 1865 battle site, you’ll find it here: 14th St & Veterans Parkway, Columbus, GA 31901
And…if you’re in Columbus, you can check out the CSS Jackson which was raised in two large pieces, the 106-foot stern section coming up in 1962 and the 74-foot bow section in 1963. The CSS Jackson and related artifacts are displayed at the Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus. Visitors may view the CSS Jackson from above the main deck, at deck level, and from well under the water line. The wreck is complemented by a white wire frame that allows visitors to see the original size and construction of the ironclad the CSS Jackson.
National Civil War Naval Museum
- Website: https://www.portcolumbus.org/
- 1002 Victory Drive, Columbus, Georgia 31901
Joe Mieczkowski is a licensed battlefield guide at Gettysburg National Military Park.