Burn Their Houses, Force Them Out
Bonham Daily Favorite, August 22, 1993
Despite the efforts of some novelists and filmmakers to glamorize it, the American Civil War was far from a glamorous part of the American scene. More men were killed in this war than in any other war that this country has fought.
Certainly in the first flush of patriotic fervor countless young men rushed to join the myriad military units which were organized in those first few weeks after the bombardment at Fort Sumter. And certainly many of these young men believed that to go into battle for a cause was a noble accomplishment. What could be more noble than defending your home and your way of life from those who viewed the world in a different way.
These feelings were reinforced by a popular Southern belief that the war would last ony a few short weeks, the Southern Cause would be preserved and Johnny would come marching home again a hero to one and all.
Few envisioned that the conflict would drag out for four years, that countless lives would be lost, that whole cities would be laid to waste, and that no cause could justify the irreparable damage done to this country. The glamor was not there. Only the harsh reality.
Amid the sometime victory in battle, the ground taken and retaken, were countless hardships great and small. Hardships that had little to do with the victory in battle. These were the hardships endured by the families at home or by those uprooted from their homes and cast out before the tide of battle.
As discussed in earlier columns, many of the military companies organized in Fannin County saw much of their action in the war theater played out in Indian Territory, Missouri, and Arkansas. One result of these battles and engagements was the movement of trains of Southern refugees to North Texas. Cherokee Chief Stand Watie, who commanded the Indian Brigade of the Confederate Army in Indian Territory, and others of his command escorted a large number of families to safety during the winter of 1864.
Camps were established near Bonham, Sherman, and just across Red River in the southern areas of the Territory. Most of these families fleeing the war left with little more than provisions for the trek, trusting that the people of North Texas would provide for their needs. Little did the refugees know, but the people of Fannin County, indeed the people throughout North Texas, were not in the best of circumstances. Much of the foodstuffs produced in the area had been sent in support of the men of the Confederate army. Basic necessities were in short supply, and the area was ill equipped to handle a flood of refugees.
Little is known about these refugee camps, their locations, or the numbers of persons who sought protection in them. The only official notice to be found in the annals of Fannin County is a terse statement in the County Commissioners Court records whereby $100 was appropriated from county funds to buy supplies for "the refugee families now residing in the area."
One personal account, written many years after the war, gives us some insight into the hardships suffered by these families. Mrs. P.H. Haggard a resident of Cedar County, Missouri recounted the long journey from her home to safety in Bonham.
The area of Missouri in which Mrs. Haggard resided was one of those regions of middle United States where sentiments ran high supporting both the Southern and the Union causes. Her father, brothers, and fiance all supported the South and enlisted in the Confederate army soon after the outbreak of hostilities.
According to Mrs Haggard, the majority of the men in the area were Southern supporters and when they all left for military service, a large group of abolitionists gained control of the area, both politically and militarily. A campaign of harassment against the families of the men serving in the Confederate army was instituted. Mrs. Haggard quoted one official as saying that he was in favor of "driving the Southern women and children out of the country, rob them of their sustenance, burn their houses and force them out, if by no other means, to strap them astride a hickory pole and get them out of the way."
Shortly after this an order was isssued for all Southern families to leave. If anyone failed to obey the order their houses were to be torched and all driven out of the area .
On September 6, 1863 Mrs Haggard and nine other families fled Cedar County heading for safety in Texas. Accompanying Mrs. Haggard was her brother's widow , Mrs. H.D. McPherson and her small daughter.
The party knew that they were some 250 miles behind the Union lines and it would be weeks before they could be reasonably assured of safety in the territory controlled by the Confederate army.
To describe the trek as being arduous would be an understatement. Almost from the beginning the group experienced trouble with the wagons, wheels breaking and the like. The oxen which pulled the vehicles often sickened and before the end of the journey most of them died.
On several occasions they were attacked by an unsavory element of the rag tag Union forces in the area. With each assault, food, supplies, and animals were lost to the thieves. Once they were attacked by a scouting group of about 35 militiamen of the Union army. From this foray the group lost all their horses but the oxen were spared.
The wagon train finally reached the vicinity of Van Buren, Arkansas and began to turn to a more southwesterly direction finally crossing into Indian Territory. The next days passed uneventfully until they made camp near a Confederate encampment. At this point some of the oxen proved to be too ill to continue so help from the army camp was sought. The commanding officer was a Captain Martin of McKinney, Texas who soon provided help with their transportation and sent them on their way south.
In the meantime Mrs. Haggard's mother and other family members who had left Missouri several weeks earlier had arrived in Fannin County. Mrs. Haggard's father had joined his wife in Arkansas a few days before and when news of this second wagon train was received, he set out to find the party. They traveled all day and night before reaching his daughter's group some sixty miles from the Fannin County refugee camp.
Under the guidance of Captain Hezekiah McPherson, his daughter and the others arrived to a safe haven in Fannin County on October 28, 1863.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas