At Bonham They Tore Down the Flag
Bonham Daily Favorite, September 12, 1993
The appointment of A.J. Hamilton as provisional governor of Texas was deeply disturbing to many citizens of Fannin County. In this area Hamilton was considered to be a traitor and most considered that his assumption of the governorship was the first of many misfortunes that would befall the people of Texas.
Hamilton, an Alabama native, came to Texas soon after the arrival of statehood. He practiced law and became an active participant in Texas politics. He served as Texas Attorney General and was elected to Congress in 1858. An ardent opponent to secession, Hamilton retained his Congressional seat even after other Southern senators resigned in protest to the policies of the Federal government. He returned to Texas at the outbreak of the war but when threatened with military arrest in 1862 he fled to Mexico and then to New Orleans where he entered the Union army as brigadier general commanding a troop of volunteers.
Basically Hamilton's term as governor proved to be ineffectual since the military authorities allowed him little opportunity to exercise his powers. However, for most of his short term of office he was blamed for nearly every order, regulation, and command issued by the military authorities.
Among the first of these odious orders to arrive in Fannin County was General order #23 from Headquarters of the Gulf, June 24, 1865, entitled Plantation Regulations. Fannin County had very few of the so-called plantation sized agricultural operations before the war, but even many of the smaller sized yeoman operations in the county had made some use of slave labor in order to produce the necessary crops.
With the loss of this slave labor, declining demand for farm produced commodities, and the loss of any sort of monetary system by supporters of the Confederacy, not only the large plantation operator but the small farmer was in no position to obey the dictates of General Order #23. The order, titled "Hire and Compensation of Laborers" contained the following requirements:
Voluntary contracts heretofore made between planters and laborers or which hereafter, may be made, will be submitted to the Superintendent of Freedmen and if found by him to be honest and fair to the laborers will be by him confirmed and approved and stand as the contract of the parties thereto for the present year. But all such contracts must secure support, maintenance, clothing, and medical attendance to the laborer.
The following schedule will be observed in all other cases as the rule required by the government. In addition to just treatment, wholesome rations, comfortable clothing, quarters, fuel, and medical attendance and the opportunity for the instruction of children, the planters shall pay as follows: Male hands, First Class, $10.00 per month: Second Class, $8.00 per month; Third Class $6.00 per month. Female hands, First Class $8.00 per month; Second Class $6.00 per month; Third Class, $5.00 per month. Boys under age 14, $3.00 per month. Girls under age 14, $2.00 per month.
These were orders issued to a people who could hardly afford to pay teachers, clerks, ministers, and other skilled persons $10.00 per month not including housing, clothing, food, and medical attention. The result of course was that many of the freed slaves simply were unable to fend for themselves or find gainful employment. Case after case was reported of those who had been freed remaining with their former owners and working for little more than food and shelter despite the illegality of such action. As might be expected, those who were unable to find work roamed the countryside. In some areas crime became rampant, not always committed by the former slaves. Opportunists of all kinds had poured into the State and many came with criminal backgrounds.
Addressing the situation, orders came from the military authorities for all unemployed freedmen to report to the various Union military establishments throughout the area. Some obeyed the orders, others fearful of once again being enslaved continued to roam the land.
Fearful and suspicious citizens took measures to protect themselves against real or imagined threats from the freedmen. Local authorities issued orders such as the one eminating from the Fannin County Commissioners ordering the arrest of these persons who could not produce the proper papers.
Governor Hamilton requested of the military authorities that military forces be sent through counties where there were no such troops stationed and in response to a feared uprising among the freedmen, Hamilton authorized the organization of a police force in each county. T. D. Bartley was appointed Chief of Fannin County Police.
Practically every order or directive issuing from the headquarters of the military authorities was viewed as just one more attempt to gain total control over the lives of the people of Texas. Even those orders which realistically offered some measure of protection for the citizenry was viewed with suspicion and alarm.
The presence of the federal troops in Fannin County was viewed as just one more calculated attempt by the authorities to exercise total control. The result was that a number of incidents against the Federal troops were reported. In the autumn of 1865, R.B. Sanders reported to authorities, as found in Official Correspondence, that a mob at Bonham, tore down and destroyed an United States flag at the courthouse, and fired at a number of freedmen.
Typical of the directives which so angered the people of the area was one that was issued on November 1, 1867. After a duly constituted election of County officials, orders came from the military authority ordering the removal of James K. Blair as Chief Justice, John Carr, Anthony Brown, and G.W. Moore as County Commissioners, A.P. Carter as District Clerk, Thomas J. Gates as Treasurer plus all the Justices of the Peace and the Constables.
In their places were appointed F.D. Piner, Chief Justice; C.C. Yoakum, Allen Smith,and Joseph Stone as Commissioners; C.M. Wilcox as District Clerk; and S.G. Alexander as Treasurer. M.W. Bledsoe was appointed to fill the vacant Sheriff's office.
The order was signed by Brevet Major General J.J. Reynolds, Headquarters District of Texas, Austin, Texas. Once again the people had no say in their destiny.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas