Texas Lakes Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

North Central Texas During the Civil War

Texas Civil War Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

During the 1850’s, many North Texans were subsistence farmers from the Upper South and Midwest; areas with little or no slavery. The rich North Texas soil was ideal for planting crops and the vast woodlands offered lumber to build homes. As they arrived in greater numbers, slaveholders grew suspicious of their new neighbors. The close proximity of “Free Soil” Kansas heightened their fears that Abolitionists, in partnership with Anti-Secession North Texans, would invade Texas or precipitate a slave revolt.

In Cooke County, a “Peace Party” was formed by Anti-Secessionists to resist Confederate authority. A petition was circulated among them to create a “Free Soil” state in North Texas. Their resistance increased after passage of the Confederate Conscription Act; a law requiring all able bodied males between 18 and 35 to be drafted into the Confederate Army. Instead of serving the Confederacy, Anti-Secessionists served in local militias to fight Indians or hid out in the heavily wooded thickets. Armed camps of draft dodgers and army deserters called “Brush Men” emerged. In response, General Henry McCulloch, Confederate commander of the Northern Sub-District, assigned limited manpower to hunting them down. Efforts to pacify the “Brush Men” resulted in their formation into a “Brush Battalion” to defend the region against Indian raids. After numerous desertions, the battalion was disbanded.

In October, 1862, paranoia boiled over after a rumored plot to seize Confederate arsenals in Sherman and Gainesville surfaced. State militia under James Bourland, Cooke County’s Provost Marshall, rounded up 150 suspected Peace Party members and incarcerated them in Gainesville. A “Citizens Court,” presided over by William C. Young, convicted 40 suspects and hanged them from the limbs of a sprawling elm tree. Vigilantism prevailed as suspected Abolitionists were seized in towns and military camps throughout the region then summarily executed. 

Hostile Indian tribes provided an added threat. Roving bands of Comanches and Kiowas conducted frequent raids from north of the Red River. Frontier regiments offered minimal protection, but the elusive Comanches remained a constant menace well beyond the end of the war. Settlers were forced to move east to more secure populated areas or “fort up” by stockading their settlements.

In the face of Union threats and Indian raids, the Lakes Trail Region provided a fair share of manpower, supplies and arms for the Confederate Army. Tucker, Sherrard and Co. of Lancaster manufactured pistols. Waxahachie’s powder works produced gunpowder. Grand Saline mined salt to cure and preserve meat for Confederate troops. Ladies aid societies sewed uniforms for their sons and husbands.

After the war, much of the South suffered total devastation. Fortunately, North Texas was spared the hard hand of the Union Army. That sense of defeat was not felt among North Texas’ former Confederates, who returned from the war to find their homes largely intact. Some former slaveholders defied Union occupation by refusing to release their slaves. Union troops, Union supporters, and freed slaves were often attacked by outlaw gangs and the newly emerging Klu Klux Klan. The Lee- Peacock Feud erupted in Fannin County between followers of former Confederate cavalryman, Bob Lee, and local Unionist and Freedman’s Bureau head, Lewis Peacock. Before it ended, fifty men were killed along with both Lee and Peacock. Bitter, divisive feelings between their supporters provide a tragic legacy of America’s bloodiest conflict.

Credit: Donald L. Barnhart, Jr. and the Texas Civil War Museum

Click here to got to the Texas Civil War Museum site for additional information about North Texas during the Civil War.

See the two maps below for the western and eastern parts of the region.

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