The Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862


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In what may have been the single largest outbreak of vigilante violence in American history, forty suspected Unionists were hanged at Gainesville, Texas, in October 1862. Civil War tensions had been running high.

The Cooke County community located just across the Red River from Indian Territory was split between natives of the Deep South who often supported the Confederacy and natives of the Upper South and Midwest who were sometimes indifferent or hostile to it. When active resistance to conscription into the Confederate army combined with long-running rumors of an invasion of North Texas by Kansas Jayhawkers and their Indian allies, many of the former decided action must be taken.

More than 150 suspected Unionists were arrested and put before a “citizen’s court” of twelve jurors. The trial was marked by acrimony and violence, which included the lynching of fourteen men by an angry mob. Minister Thomas C. Barrett served on that jury and attempted to mitigate the vengeful rage of his neighbors. He had some success in the matter, but after two high-profile assassinations, the hangings continued. His 1885 memoir of the trial and the hangings is collected in this volume.

Also collected here is the account based on records of the citizen’s court completed in 1876 by George Washington Diamond, whose brother, James J. Diamond, helped organize the trial. Placed together in one volume, these writings offer important insight into the tensions that tore apart American communities during the Civil War era.

Renowned Civil War historian Richard B. McCaslin provides an introduction, while L. D. Clark, a descendant of one of the men hanged, reveals the extent to which tensions remain in Gainesville even generations later.


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