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The Great Hanging at Gainesville was the execution by hanging of forty suspected Unionists in Gainesville, Texas, in October 1862 during the American Civil War. Two additional suspects were shot while trying to escape. Most were residents of Cooke county, but residents of neighboring counties were killed as well. It is alleged to be the largest mass hanging in the history of the United States.[1]

By 1860s, less than 10% of Cooke county households owned slaves, and the majority vote against secession. In April 1862, the passage of conscription acts prompted thirty Cooke county men to sign a petition, objecting to the exemption of many large-scale slaveholders from the draft. They also formed a Union League, whose members pledged to resist the draft. However, area slaveowners suspected that the League was colluding with pro-Union forces from out of state, and on the morning of October 1 state troops led by Colonel James G. Bourland arrested 150 suspected Unionists. A hastily formed jury of twelve men, mostly slaveowners, found 42 of the accused guilty of insurrection and treason, and they were sentenced to immediate execution by hanging. Texas newspapers and the state government applauded the hangings, but Jefferson Davis responded by dismissing General Paul Octave Hébert as military commander of Texas.[2][3][4]

A state historical marker erected by the Texas Historical Commission in 1963 defends the arrest and execution of these forty-two men, claiming the "Peace Party" had "sworn to destroy their government, kill their leaders, and bring in Federal troops." The speediness of the trial is defended as necessary due to "fears of rescue."[5] Controversy continues to the modern day. A Gainesville event marking the 150th anniversary of the Great Hanging in October 2012 had to be cancelled due to public outcry.[6]


  1. Loewen, James (1999). Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York: New Press. pp. 177–182. 
  2. McCaslin, Richard B.. "Great Hanging of Texas". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  3. Parker, Richard; Emily Boyd (16 October 2012). "The Great Hanging at Gainesville". Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  4. "Under the Rebel Flag: Life in Texas During the Civil War". Texas Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  5. Loewen, James (1999). Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York: New Press. pp. 177–182. 
  6. Campbell, Steve (October 8, 2012). "After 150 years, a dark chapter of Gainesville's past still stirs passions". Retrieved 11 August 2013. 

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