Mother, is the battle over?


It is believed that the last combat death of the American Civil War was a solder named John Williams, a Hoosier, who was killed at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas. The engagement took place a full month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, 150 years ago today.

In very many ways, I’ve turned out to be a misplaced European, but the Civil War has fascinated me for longer than any other topic, and I suspect it always will.

I was born in 1960, so naturally the Civil War centennial that began the following year made little impression on me. However, it spawned many tangible and lasting items designed to catch my attention a bit later, when the bug bit, including a local Civil War Round Table discussion group, children’s war toys, and numerous books on the topic.

Not unexpectedly, the Public Library had a huge section filled with Civil War books, one of which dealt with the Civil War as it took place west of the Mississippi River, as referred to as the Trans-Mississippi Theater of Operations. Think of it as the obscure place (delightful to a contrarian like me) where the Wild West meets the Civil War.

For an overview, consult The Trans-Mississippian, a blog that documents one person’s “peculiar obsession” with a neglected arena of American history.

The Civil War’s centennial took place outside my youthful range of vision, and now the sesquicentennial concludes with a long, slow fade. In 2011, I had vowed to reread Shelby Foote’s narrative history and again view the Ken Burns documentary series that finally made Foote famous — and got around to neither task during the intervening four years.

I shan’t be around for the bicentennial unless I live to be 101, a prospect that seems both daunting and unlikely. Verily, life is too damned short.

Photo credit: “John J. Williams (last soldier to die in the American Civil War)” by US Army Center for Military history – The last battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch By Jeffrey William Hunt, Published by University of Texas Press, 2002 ISBN 029273461, p.127.