The Unreconstructed Rebels
Bonham Daily Favorite, September 19, 1993
A phrase often heard in those post war years of the Civil War was "unreconstructed rebel" describing those men who fought for the Confederacy and those families whose sympathies for the Southern cause were deep rooted. As might be expected, surrender and defeat were not to be found in the vocabularies of these men. The very presence of an Union soldier generated undisguised animosity.
Even with the lack of continuous presence of Union troops in Fannin County the occasions when such troops were sent to Bonham on particular expeditions created much unrest. Those persons who might be suspected of exhibiting any courtesy or helpfulness towards the troops were almost instantly branded as collaborators and it was expected that Fannin County citizens were to be uncooperative.
The early years of the Reconstruction did produce two situations that were undoubtedly the most violent occurrences of that era. The first and most famous of these events was the Lee - Peacock Feud. Details of this bloody and costly engagement have been detailed many times and in many publications including a retelling in the pages of this newspaper in the recent past. For this reason we will not dwell on the facts of the feud except to note how the principal participants and the events of this occurrence had in some measure an influence on the second event.
Less well known than the Lee - Peacock affray was the attempted assassination of Judge Hardin Hart who had been appointed District Judge of Fannin and Hunt Counties by the military authorities. The attempt on Hart's life was not from any direct participation in the Lee - Peacock affair but was simply a matter of the public perception of Hart as being an instrument of the occupying forces and his extremely well known support of the Union.
A little background information on the Hart family is instrumental in understanding the forces that Hart faced on the road south of Bonham in 1869.
Hardin Hart was the second oldest of the children of John and Rebecca Johnston Hart. He was born in Hardy County, West Virginia (then a part of Virginia) in 1814. During Hart's childhood the family moved to Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri before coming to Texas in the early 1830's. The family settled at Jonesborough on Red River in present day Red River County. After Fannin County was created in 1837 the clan moved to this area.
The family patriarch, John Hart, had something of a violent past and the children in the family must have been accustomed to a life of unrest and upheaval. In a dispute over land ownership Silas Colville killed John Hart in the streets of Fort Warren in early May 1841.
On trial for the murder of Hart, Colville' s defense was such that he was found innocent of the murder charge. It was widely assumed by the people of Fannin County that Colville's innocence would not be accepted by members of the Hart clan who would exact their own form of retribution. Colville wrote to his brother-in-law in Nashville, "Since the affair between their leader and myself they have watched my path for an opportunity to assassinate me."
In the summer of 1843 Colville was killed on the road from Fort Warren to Preston. At the time his death was
attributed to Indians, but it was generally believed that Hardin Hart and his brother Martin were responsible for the death.
After his marriage to Nancy J. Green, in Fannin County, Hardin Hart moved to the southern section of the county, which would become part of Hunt County, and opened his law office with brother Martin. Both Hart brothers were staunch Republicans and vocal supporters of the Union.
As the cries for secession rang through out Texas in 1860 and 1861, the brothers became more vocal in their opposition. Martin Hart, a delegate to the Secessionist Convention from Hunt County, voted against the declaration of secession.
Little is known of Hardin Hart's activities during the Civil War other than he remained in Greenville and engaged in the practice of law throughout the duration. His brother Martin organized a group of men, ostensibly to fight for the Confederacy. The group rode into Arkansas and almost immediately a number of crimes against families of Confederate soldiers were attributed to the group. Later Martin Hart was tried and found guilty of being an Union spy and was hanged at Fort Smith.
After Hardin Hart assumed the District Judge's position he was required to travel from Greenville to Bonham on alternate months when the Bonham Court was in session. Evidently Hart felt that his life was in danger because of his reputation and he was always accompanied by Union soldiers as he made the trip from one town to the other.
Although no such records exist, it has been held that Hart was influential in sending troops to search for Bob Lee during that period when he had taken refuge in Wildcat Thicket in southern Fannin County.
After Hart's court had recessed on September 3, 1869 he and his military escort left Bonham on the return trip to Greenville. About five miles south of town near the community of Arledge Ridge, the group was ambushed by a group of men.
Two eye witness accounts of the ambush generally agree on the facts. The first of these was written by J.E. Carraway who was escorting his mother and sister on a visit to relatives in the southern part of the state. According to Carraway as they approached Arledge Ridge they met a squad of Union cavalrymen in full gallop toward Bonham. As they passed Carrway they shouted that both Judge Hart and Judge Gray had been assassinated just a short distance down the road.
Carraway took his family to the home of Sam Stone, a former Confederate soldier who had served with Quantrill in Missouri. At the Stone home they waited until a group from Bonham arrived on the scene. Proceeding to the site they discovered that Hart had only been shot in the arm and Judge Gray had escaped harm.
The other account written to The Greenville Banner by Major John Kirk who was a member of the Hart party tells essentially the same story, adding that one soldier was shot in the leg. Kirk also identified the party as being Bob Hayes, a lieutenant in Bob Lee's organization and Simp Dixon (cousin of John Wesley Hardin) who had also been involved in the feud.
Hart lost his arm as a result of his wound, but he continued to sit on the bench for many years. He died in Greenville in 1883.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas