Before the technological revolution and the modern ease of instant communication, news of an armistice didn’t always travel as quickly as needed. In other cases, generals may have reached a resolution while soldiers on the outskirts of their territory disagreed. Here are a few examples of battles fought after the war ended.
The Battle of New Orleans is often remembered as one of the most decisive American victories in the War of 1812. It’s also often remembered as an infamous battle-fought-after-the-war-ended, though the moniker is only half true. It’s true that the battle, which was fought on January 8, 1815, took place after the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium on December 24, 1814, and even after the treaty had been ratified by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). But President James Madison and the American Senate did not ratify the treaty until February 16, allowing the battle to assume an arguable level of tactical importance.
The Battle of Prague actually began before the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Most of Europe was enmeshed in a long, muddled conflict over major religious and political differences. While a delegation of representatives from various nations met in Münster and Osnabrück, a Swedish army laid siege to Prague.
Both the peace talks and the battle dragged on for months. The diplomatic proceedings led to a series of treaties, known as the Peace of Westphalia, which changed European political boundaries and solidified a continental acknowledgment of certain religious freedoms. Though the Swedish delegates signed the Treaty of Osnabrück on October 24, 1648, ending hostilities with the Holy Roman Empire and its allies, Swedish forces fought for another eight days before word reached Prague on November 1.
Pontiac’s Rebellion was not a single battle. Rather, it was a continuation of the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). The conflict raged worldwide, but in the North American theater, French colonists found themselves outnumbered against the British. They recruited heavily for reinforcements from Native American groups who held grievances against British colonists. When the war ended and France ceded much of its former territory to Britain, the policies of colonial governors troubled local Native American tribes. Warriors from across the Great Lakes and neighboring regions joined together to force the British out of their territory, led by Ottawa leader Chief Pontiac.
The hostilities escalated over a period of sixteen months and led to a series of negotiations from 1764 to 1766. In one of the conflict’s more disturbing moments, British soldiers are reported to have given the Native Americans blankets contaminated with smallpox in an attempt to infect them with the disease. Tragically, many of them did die of smallpox, though whether or not the outbreak can be traced to the infected blankets is inconclusive.
The attack on Fort Bowyer is lesser known and less celebrated than its predecessor at New Orleans, perhaps in part because it was an American defeat. After being routed by Andrew Jackson’s troops at Chalmette Plantation outside New Orleans, a British contingent of at least 3000 troops sailed east and settled on a stockade fortification on the lip of Mobile Bay. They besieged the fort until its commander surrendered on February 11, 1815, but the victory was short lived. A few days after the British assumed control, word of the Treaty of Ghent finally trickled south, and Fort Bowyer was returned to American forces.
Although Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and newly appointed President Johnson declared an official end to hostilities on May 10, the American Civil War lingered in Texas. Near the Gulf port of Los Brazos de Santiago, along the Rio Grande, Union and Confederate forces clashed for roughly 24 hours during May 12 and 13, 1865. Strangely, the battle interrupted a standing peace in Texas. Earlier in the year, the opposing sides had acknowledged the futility of continued fighting and assumed an informal peace.
Even stranger, this late skirmish may have included international forces. Though historical records remain inconclusive, shots from the Mexican side were reported during the battle, potentially from Mexican forces with a vested interest in Confederate trade or even from members of the French Foreign Legion stationed along the border.
This Confederate ship captured or sank 38 Union merchant vessels during its active deployment, which lasted six months after Lee’s surrender. Because reliable news was hard to come by on the open sea, the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were not confident that the Confederacy had collapsed and continued to chase Union ships across the Pacific. During the summer months, the ship sunk or captured 21 vessels, including 11 Union whalers in sub-Arctic waters in a span of seven hours, thereby situating the last shots of the American Civil War somewhere among the Aleutian Islands.
On August 2, 1865, the Shenandoah encountered a British barque and learned that the war was over. In response, the ship sailed south around Cape Horn and north to Liverpool, where it finally made its formal surrender on November 7, 1865. However, officers and crewmembers were unable to return to the United States for years to avoid prosecution for piracy.
Hiroo Onoda’s orders were clear: to protect the Philippine island of Lubang from enemy attack and not to surrender under any circumstances. He followed these orders diligently, and was still doing so 29 years after World War II ended. Onoda and three other soldiers survived and refused to surrender to an Allied occupation of the island beginning in 1945, and they hid in the mountains for the next three decades, engaging in guerrilla activities with local officials. Immediately after the war’s conclusion and again in 1952, leaflets were airdropped over the mountains to let Onoda’s men know that the war was over, but they concluded that the news was an Allied trick and refused to capitulate.
In 1974, after Onoda’s three comrades had either surrendered or been killed and Onoda himself presumed dead, a Japanese college student backpacked through the area and discovered Onoda. Still skeptical and loyal to his orders, Onoda refused to surrender until his former commanding officer issued the command. Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who was currently working as a bookseller, flew to the Philippines and formally relieved Onoda of duty.
Though perhaps the most famous Japanese holdout, Onoda was not the only one or even the last to be found. Shoichi Yokoi was discovered in Guam in 1972, and Teruo Nakamura was discovered in Indonesia nine months after Onoda’s release.
Five days after Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, anti-Nazi German soldiers joined American forces to defend an Austrian castle against the 17th Waffen-SS Panzergrenadier division. The castle, a satellite prison of the Dachau concentration camp, housed prominent French prisoners during the Nazi occupation.
In a review of Stephen Harding’s novelistic account of the conflict, The Daily Beast’s Andrew Roberts suggests that the strange battle is perfect fodder for Hollywood: the event is both the only known example of American forces defending a medieval castle, and of significant American and German forces fighting together during World War II. However, this untimely battle was not the last of the war; the Georgian uprising on Texel continued for another 15 days.
A war’s end often ushers in a complicated period. Unresolved tensions from one war will lead to another—as between both World Wars—or mines and other displaced weaponry may cause casualties years after the fact (as in the Balkans and Sri Lanka). In other cases, treaties fail to satisfy the involved parties, and guerrilla hostilities continue, as they have along the border between India and Pakistan. History is riddled with examples of battles that continue long after the war has ended.