Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Last Man Killed in the Civil War was a Florida Soldier

New research indicates that the last man killed in the Civil War was not the individual honored by most historians.

It has long been held that Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana was the last soldier killed in the war. He fell at the Battle of Palmitto Ranch, which was fought in Texas on May 12-13, 1865. While Palmitto Ranch was undoubtedly one of the last engagements of the war, fighting did not end with that Confederate victory in Texas. In fact, the U.S. Government later ruled that a soldier killed in a skirmish on the Pea River in Alabama had died in combat six days after Palmitto Ranch.

The soldier in question was Corporal John W. Skinner of Company C, 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry. A resident of Alabama before the war, Skinner had crossed through the lines and joined the Union army after serving for a time in the 57th Alabama Infantry (Confederate). Enlisting in the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry at Fort Barrancas near Pensacola, he served in a number of actions across Northwest Florida and South Alabama.

As the war entered its final days, Skinner's command was sent to Montgomery which had been surrendered to the Union forces of General James H. Wilson. The situation throughout the region was deteriorating rapidly. As regular Confederate forces surrendered, there was a complete breakdown in order. The Union army assigned men from the 1st Florida U.S. Cavalry to escort mail shipments and Skinner was part of a detachment that guarded a mail delivery from Montgomery to Eufaula, Alabama, in May of 1865.

As Skinner and a handful of his fellow soldiers were making their way back to Montgomery, they were ambushed at Hobdy's Bridge on the Pike and Barbour County line by a group of men described as "Confederate guerrillas." Skinner was killed in the sharp skirmish that resulted and three other Union soldiers were wounded. The Skirmish at Hobdy's Bridge took place six days after Palmitto Ranch.

The Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Commissioner of Pensions would later rule that Skinner and the men wounded at Hobdy's Bridge had fallen in action while on active duty during the Civil War. "To hold otherwise," he wrote, "would not only be unjust and inequitable, but contrary to the dictates of sound reason and common sense as well."

As a result, a forgotten soldier from a Union regiment raised in Florida appears to hold the sad distinction of being the last man killed in the Civil War. To read a detailed account of the Skirmish at Hobdy's Bridge, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/hobdys2.

9 comments:

Suwanee Refugee said...

That's definitely not a distinction that us Floridians want to have. But it should be noted that Floridians were one of the first states to enter and, now, one of the last states to endure a loss. True Southerners!

Dale said...

Good way of putting it! In fact, the real "first shots" of the war were actually fired in Florida. Guards at Fort Barrancas fired on militia troops on the fort's drawbridge hours before the cadets from the Citadel opened fire on the Star of the West off Charleston Harbor. So Floridians were involved in the first firing and the last casualties of the war. I enjoy your blog by the way!

Anonymous said...

Dale,
I can't believe it. John Skinner was my great great grandfather. We knew he died by the Pea River, but did not know this history. I have a tin type of him in his Union uniform.
Lucia Smeal
Alpharetta Georgia

Dale said...

Lucia, I would love to have a copy of the photo!! Can you contact me by going to www.twoeggfla.com/contact so we can discuss it? Thank you so much!

Dale

Anonymous said...

John W. Skinner was born in Darlington County, S.C. My
father, his grandson, told me that he "wasn't no Yankee, but felt a farmer could not compete with slave
owners" I was told the story as a
child but read it written my dad's own
handwriting, in the genealogy section
of the Morman Archives in Salt Lake City. Papa wrote
"He wasn't no Yankee, but said the simple
farmer could not compete with slave owners. juanta simmons rocca

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article and one that should be in annals of history. However, shouldn't this action be included in the post war era or perhaps the reconstruction period? This was by no means a military action, but rather as the article stated "...pro-Confederate "guerrillas...". Even then, this action could have been some irate paroled confederate or some other kind of former veteran who just saw something they didn't like. The action which, though warranted, cause a after-action report, does not constitue as a military action. It would seem that Pri. William is still safe with the title of "Last Man", don't you think?

Dale Cox said...

I have to leave it with the U.S. Government in this case. After his situation was reviewed, the War Department he had died in combat during the war. That makes him the last man killed in the war. And the attack was carried out by pro-Confederate guerrillas, but they had been active throughout the war (as had pro-Union guerrillas).

Interesting incident.

Dale

Anonymous said...

Hello Sir,
As a descendent of John J. Williams' family I can assure you that it is a dubious distinction to have been the "last" to die in the conflict. Yes, it does bring him out of obscurity and keeps his memory alive when it may not have been. However, it is also a "crappy" bit of luck if you ask me. I think descendents of Mr. Skinners have to agree with me on that.

Dale Cox said...

I definitely agree with you as well. Being the last of 400,000 men and boys - an entire generation - wiped away in a flood of blood is indeed a dubious distinction. They all should be remembered much better than they are by present generations.
Dale