The Battlefield Today
Most of the Palmito Ranch Battlefield land remains in its original landscape form and land uses since the 1865 Civil War era.
An open salt prairie dominates much of the site, which is broken only by occasional low, brush-covered hillocks and dense chaparral that line the bank of the Rio Grande on the battlefield’ s southern boundary. The site retains excellent integrity and conveys a powerful impact through its setting, due to the fact that much of the site is managed by the USFWS, the majority landowner of the NHL.
First Lieutenant Oliver W. Norton of the 127th US Colored Troops (USCT) described the landscape he encountered in 1865 on his march from Brazos Santiago to Brownsville in letters he wrote to his sister. Oliver wrote that the road was muddy from recent storms with “dense chaparral” growing close to each side. After drying enough to embark on their 20-mile journey, he recorded the broader landscape as,
A boundless prairie, dotted here and there with prickly pears and Spanish bayonet…Part of the way the road lay through mesquite chaparral, impenetrable thickets of scrubby, thorny trees, too small for shade and too dense to admit a breath of air… In passing through some parts of the country, the chaparral cleared up and the mesquite trees with the wild grass under them, looked exactly like an old orchard of half-dead apple trees in a field of half-ripe oats. (Dobak W. A., 2011, pp. 436-437)
Today, excellent viewshed of its original condition is retained into the battlefield, especially from Boca Chica State Park and from Texas Highway 4. Texas Highway 4 (Boca Chica Boulevard) connects the city of Brownsville to the Gulf of Mexico and is the main route taken by visitors to the Palmito Ranch Battlefield, those passing by it, and others traveling to Boca Chica State Park or Brazos Island State Park. This route features the natural landscape and open viewshed and is a significant battlefield feature—matching Norton’s description of 1865. The original condition of the landscape helps visitors imagine soldiers marching to their posts and skirmishing in battle, looking for cover in the open marshes and shrubby landscape.