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This Week in History: The last battle of the American Revolution…. in Arkansas?

At about this time in 1783, the last battle of the American Revolution occurs. No, it wasn’t at Yorktown. It wasn’t even in one of the original thirteen colonies. This battle occurred in Arkansas! It was the last—and the most western—of all the Revolutionary War battles.

This battle is honestly a little confusing. Why would a Revolutionary War battle feature Spanish and Indian forces fighting a former British captain in Arkansas? Why would it occur so long after Charles Cornwallis’s surrender to George Washington?

A little background could help.

Counterattack! by Sidney E. King

At this point in history, the area around the Mississippi River had often been disputed among the Spanish, the British and several Indian tribes. As the Revolution began, Britain had control of east and west Florida, which then extended all the way to the Mississippi River. The Spanish had control of the area around New Orleans and much of the river itself. You’d better believe that navigation on that river was a huge prize to be won!

In 1779, Spain formally entered the Revolutionary War as an American ally. Spain’s entry into the war brought some of the conflict about the Mississippi valley into play, and the Spanish had a new excuse to go after some of the lands that it wanted to the east of New Orleans.

The Spanish made several gains in 1779 and 1780: They captured Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile, and Pensacola. These gains prompted the creation of a band of British inhabitants and Chickasaw Indians under the command of James Logan Colbert, a former British captain.

Colbert was a bit of a character. He was born in Scotland but had emigrated to America and found himself living with the Chickasaws. One of his contemporaries described him as one “who has lived among the Chikkasah from his childhood, and speaks their language even with more propriety than the English.”

In late 1781, Colbert and his men began raiding Spanish and American shipping interests on the Mississippi. These raids continued throughout 1782 and into 1783. Early on the morning of April 17, 1783, Colbert’s men attempted to take a Spanish fort near the intersection of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers. A battle raged for 6 hours, but eventually Colbert and his men were forced into retreat.

Word of the preliminary peace treaty among France, Spain, and Britain was received not too long after Colbert’s raid. Colbert was unimpressed. The Chicasaws later recounted that Colbert wanted to convince them that “the war which has been carried on with the Americans is nothing more than a sham, and that the Treaty of Peace which closed it between Spain and Great Britain will last only a short time on the part of the English.”

Whatever Colbert might have thought, the final combat action of the American Revolution was finally over. It had been more than a year since the Battle of Yorktown.

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