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The Last Battle of the American Civil War

The last battle of the American Civil War is disputed, but most historians agree that it was the Battle of Columbus in Georgia, on April 16th, 1865.

Union Army Led by General Wilson

In April, 1865, the Union Army marched into the Deep South to cut off supplies to the Confederates. One of the key areas to be targeted was Columbus, Georgia.

General James H. Wilson led the Union Army to victory, at another major supply base for the Confederates, in Selma, Alabama, on April 2nd, 1865. Wilson then led his men into Montgomery, Alabama ten days later, for another expected major engagement, but one which didn't materialize. This meant that the path was now clear for the Union Army to march onto Columbus.

April had already seen the Confederate Army on its knees, with the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, coming under the control of Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant on April 2nd. On April 9th, Grant also accepted the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. General Wilson was not aware of this, and continued his assault. Confederate General Joseph Johnston was also still actively engaging the Union side. To complete a turbulent few days in American history, two days before the battle of Columbus, President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated.

Confederate Army Heavily Outnumbered

General Wilson had an army of 13,000 men, which meant that the Union side heavily outnumbered that of the Confederate forces preparing to save Columbus. General Howell Cobb was in control of only 3,500 men, and some of that number included civilians. It was decided to evacuate the city, as Wilson's army approached.

Cobb tried to defend Columbus, by firstly concentrating on the nearby town of Girard, Alabama. Separating Girard and Columbus were three bridges over the Chattahoochee River. The lower bridge was deliberately destroyed under Cobb's orders, while his army planned to defend the remaining two bridges. Trenches and fortifications were built in Girard to try and prevent Wilson from using his artillery, on the high ground, to bombard Columbus.

Wilson had also been meticulous in his planning, and sent some of his men to West Point in Georgia, north of Columbus, where a battle ensued. Meanwhile, Wilson's remaining troops tried to cross the lower, southern bridge to reach Columbus. But, they were lured into a trap, as planks had been removed, which made the wooden bridge impossible to cross. Thus, the Union Army temporarily retreated. The two bridges left had also been dosed with turpentine, with the intention to burn them, if it seemed likely that the Union Army would be able to cross the river.

The Fall of Columbus

The respite for the Confederates didn't last for long. A Union Army assault on the upper bridge took place at 8pm, under the command of General Winslow, and at 10pm the Confederates had lost Girard, and retreated. With night having already descended, confusion reigned, with both sides trying to cross the bridge into Columbus. Confederate Colonel C. A. Lamar launched an ambitious cavalry charge, by a house near to the bridge, but he died in the attempt, and Columbus fell.

The day after the battle, the city of Columbus was pretty much burnt to the ground. In the battle there had been between 100-200 casualties, and the most traumatic period in American history was soon to draw to a close.

- Paul Rance,

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Civil War Volume 1-3 Box Set Civil War Volume 1-3 Box Set
Product photo Gettysburg
Stephen W. Sears

American Civil War Generals

Some of the generals of the American Civil War are among the most famous characters in American history, and four stand out in particular.

Robert E. Lee

A veteran of the American-Mexican War of the 1840s, Confederate general Robert E. Lee was, in fact, against the break-up of the Union. President Abraham Lincoln wanted Lee in command of the Union Army, but, being a Virginian, Lee chose to fight on the side of the Confederates. Lee was in command when the Confederates won the Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia in August 1862. But he suffered a harrowing defeat at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania in July 1863, which was the Civil War's bloodiest battle. Lee also made the key surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April 1865.

Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson

Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson was, alongside Robert E. Lee, the most famous Confederate general of the American Civil War. Like Lee, Jackson was also a veteran of the American-Mexican War. He was involved in both Bull Run battles, and gained the famous nickname 'Stonewall' at the first of them, because of his, and his men's, dogged defiance. He also fought at the Confederates victory at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Regarded as one of the greatest tactical minds in American military history, Jackson lost his life after being accidentally shot by soldiers on his own side, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, in May 1863.

William Sherman

Union general William Sherman was involved in the important battles at Bull Run and Shiloh in Tennessee, and gained a reputation for ruthlessness. In 1864 Sherman was given the command of the Union army in the south west. With a huge army of around 100,000 men he fought a tough campaign against Confederate troops led by General Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman's troops notoriously caused destruction in Georgia and the Carolinas, and set fire to the city of Atlanta. Sherman's methods had the desired effect in helping secure victory for the North, but he legitimized total war, and consequently influenced such warfare in the 20th Century.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was a Union general, who went on to become President of the United States a few years after the Civil War ended. After impressing President Lincoln with important victories in the War, Grant was given the job of overseeing the Union Army. Grant was in control in 1864 and 1865, when the North began to gain the upper hand. Grant's army had earlier taken Vicksburg, which gave the North control of the Mississippi River, and was a victory that made Grant's reputation. Robert E. Lee was Grant's great adversary in the American Civil War, so it was fitting that these two men met to officially end hostilities.

- Paul Rance,

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