Historians estimate that about 30 percent of Texans had Unionist sentiments. Many dissenters would become the targets of vigilante mobs. The most common tactic of the vigilantes was to torch the homes or businesses of those with unpopular opinions, but murder was not uncommon.
The displays in this case include several of the most well-known instances of dissent in Civil War Texas, but there were many others. One of the most notorious incidents began in the cattle country of North Texas in October 1862. Twenty-one Unionists were arrested for resisting the draft and sent to Gainesville to be tried for treason. Seven men were legally convicted and hanged. The trial set off weeks of vigilante violence that led to the lynching of 46 Unionists in Gainesville, Sherman, Decatur, and Denton. Jefferson Davis fired Texas’s military commander for failing to control the situation known as the “Great Hanging at Gainesville.”
By 1863, most dissenters had either joined the Confederate cause, learned to keep quiet or packed up for Mexico, New Orleans, or the West.
Dissent was strongest in the German counties of the Texas Hill Country, particularly Gillespie, Kerr, Kendall, Medina, and Bexar. Both out of anti-slavery principles and because their area was prey to frequent Indian attacks, German settlers led the way in resisting conscription into the Confederate army. Within weeks of Shiloh the Hill Country was declared in open rebellion. Dozens of draft resisters were arrested and at least 20 were shot.
In August 1862, a group of 68 German dissenters decided to head for Mexico. They were chased down by Confederate rangers. In an incident that became infamous, nineteen of the Germans were killed outright. The Confederates then executed nine wounded men.
Prints & Photographs #1992/75-1-1 Harper’s Weekly – A Journal of Civilization, January 20, 1866 Funeral of the German Patriots at Comfort, Texas, August 20, 1865. View detailed images of this print.