Fannin County Answers the Call to Arms
Bonham Daily Favorite, June 6, 1993
Despite the strong anti-secessionist feeling and the decisive vote against secession by citizens of Fannin County, when the cannons roared at Fort Sumter most of the residents of the area lined up solidly behind the forces of the Confederacy. All the forces and events which had created an unstable atmosphere a year or two before were now conveniently forgotten in support of the "Southern Cause."
Most of those who clung to the Unionist support or those who tried to remain neutral generally stood from a northern background or foreign birth. Along the Red River valley there were small isolated pockets of individuals who still hoped that the Union would not be divided and from this hope refused to espouse the position of the South.
Recent German immigrants, notably in the hill country of the state, were most vocal in their opposition. Of those residents whose origins were in the northern states, the merchants and planters, whose economic fortunes were tied with support of the Confederacy, were most vocal in their choice of support for the South.
Some men, from strength of conscience or distaste for war, fled the state either through Mexico or by skirting rebel areas making their ways back to the northern states. The Union army sent recruiters to Mexico where they were successful in signing many of these men to terms of enlistment. Whatever their reasons, these men were generally regarded as traitors.
As might be expected in those early days of the gathering conflict, confusion reigned throughout Texas and the South. The Southern leaders were immediately faced with an almost insurmountable task of organizing an army. Excitement ran high among the younger southern men, many of whom were ready to mount their horses and head out "to whip the Yankees."
Cooler heads and more experienced hands managed to gain some semblance of control and through Texas a remarkable program of local militia groups were rapidly organized. The two statewide organizations were the Texas Militia and the Texas State Troops.
These local groups helped to give vent to some of the steam created by young men who were ready to go to war with the least provocation. Early on some of the Fannin County groups were marched to positions in west Texas, Indian Territory and to the neighboring states of Arkansas and Louisiana.
Several older men had had extensive military service in their younger days. At least two, Samuel A. Roberts and Robert H. Taylor, were graduates of West Point. Doubtless this experience was to prove influential in insuring that the organization of area military units would proceed in the most orderly manner.
Within two months after the attack on Fort Sumter dozens of Fannin County men answered the call to arms and eight local militia units were organized, officers elected, and recruits signed for indeterminate terms of service. By mid-summer several of these groups had marched to the areas previously mentioned and remained there through the autumn months. Many of the men returned home by winter.
The first group organized was the Orangeville Independent Home Guard. The call went out to men in the southwest corner of the county and a meeting was held on May 25, 1861 at a church in the small village. Officers of these groups were chosen by popular vote and those with previous military experience of any sort was usually placed in some position of authority. The Orangeville group elected five officers, Captain Daniel B. Brown, 1st Lt. George W. Aldridge, 1st Lt. Benjamin Trimmer, and 2nd Lts William W. Aldridge and Ambrose G. Hall. Other positions were three sergeants, four corporals, an ensign, and a bugler. The company was rounded out by 51 privates.
Two weeks later the first of three Bonham units was organized on June 19, 1861 at the Fannin County Courthouse. Styled the Bonham Dragoons comprised sixty-four privates, four sergeants, four corporals, and an ensign. The ranks of officers had three lieutenants and Captain Jack Rogers Russell. Russell was one of the area's experienced military men having served in Major Chevalier's Company of Texas Rangers during the U.S. - Mexican War.
Three days later the second Bonham group, the Fannin County Cavaliers was organized on June 22 at the Fannin County Courthouse. Elected Captain was Gideon Smith who was to distinguish himself in the service of the Confederacy. Also elected were three lieutenants, four sergeants, and four corporals. Seventy three men were enlisted in the private's ranks .
One large group organized in Fannin County met at the Caney Creek Meetinghouse on June 29th when the Caney Creek Mounted Infantry came into being. Fourteen men were elected to positions of responsibility under command of Captain William Dulaney. Three lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, a bugler, and a secretary completed the complement with 84 privates signing on. This group distinguised itself many times over when they later became known as Company E of Almarine Alexander's regiment of the famed Thirty-fourth Texas Cavalry.
Across the county on the same day a group of men gathered at Honey Grove to organize the Honey Grove Mounted Riflemen. Commanded by Captain Thomas Shaw, the company had three first lieutenants, one second lieutenant, the usual complement of four sergeants and four corporals, plus an ensign.
The largest company was organized at Bonham on July 6, 1861 when at the courthouse the Stanley Light Horse, named for its commander Captain W.A. Stanley enlisted 91 privates, 3 lieutenants, four sergeants, four corporals, and an ensign. In the documents submitted to the county clerk the group stated that the company was organized under an act to incorporate all uniformed companies now organized or to be organized in the state; said act approved February 15, 1858. This last piece of legalese can probably be attributed to the enlistment of several area attorneys.
The smallest group, Fannin Guards, was organized in the northeast part of the county at Sandy Creek Academy. This group, commanded by Captain J.C. Smith had the usual number of officers and non-commissioned officers, but only 27 privates.
The last group organized was at beat #7, southeast Fannin County in the Oak Hill Community. On July 25, 50 privates were enrolled, three officers headed by Captain James M. Smith, and eight non-commissioned officers.
Most of these men were to later be absorbed into regular units of the Confederate army and served in nearly every theatre of the war.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas