Great Hanging of 1862 – Civil War History in Texas

I spend so much time and energy studying and writing about John Brown and family on the East coast before the war, and the family on the West coast after the war, I forget that many important and interesting Civil War related events happened in other places. One such event was commemorated yesterday in Gainesville, Texas.

In 1862 40 residents of Gainesville, Texas, ninety minutes north of Dallas,  were deemed to be Union sympathizers, tried, found guilty of treason and hanged over a three week period.

Photo Credit  Fred Mecoy  2014

Some people call the Great Hanging one of the largest examples of vigilante violence in American History, while others say the actions were necessary to ensure public safety in wartime.

When the Confederacy started a military draft in 1862, many local men protested the exemption clause that allowed large slaveholders to be exempt from the draft. The local provost marshal ordered the arrest of all able bodied men who did not report for duty. A trial with a jury of 12 slaveholders was convened, the men were found guilty of treason, and during the month of October, 40 men were hanged and two were shot trying to escape. The entire story is told in Tainted Breeze by Dr Richard McCaslin, Chair of University of North Texas History Department.

When I read they were charged with treason, I knew I needed to go to the commemoration and give my support – its not everyday you get to support others whose ancestors were tried and hanged for treason.

Photo Credit Fred Mecoy 2014
Photo Credit Fred Mecoy 2014

The monument erected consists of two 5′ x 6′ granite stones. One is carved with the names and dates of the hangings and shooting, while the other stone tells the story of the events. They are placed on what was private land that has been donated to the City of Gainesville specially for this momentum.

Around 100 people, most of them related in some way to one or more of the men listed on the granite block, attended the event. Earlier in the day there was a luncheon and a performance of a theatrical reading.

Photo Credit Fred Mecoy 2014

During the ceremony, the names of the 40 men were solemnly read and a hand bell rung.
It was very moving.

I enjoyed our afternoon in Gainesville, and look forward to reading the book for further information about this event in American History.

Alice Keesey Mecoy, great great great granddaughter of John Brown with Colleen Clark Clarri, great great granddaughter of Nathanial Clark, one of the men hanged in Gainesville, TX in 1862

One thought on “Great Hanging of 1862 – Civil War History in Texas

Comments are closed.