In October of 1862 in Gainesville, Cooke County, Texas, 40 men suspected of Union sympathies were hanged by an extra-legal "Citizens Court," of which the majority were slaveholders. Two other men were shot trying to escape. North Texas (which included Cooke and neighboring counties) was the center of opposition to secession from the Union. The opposition was fueled when the Confederate Conscription Act of April, 1862 was enacted with an exemption from the draft for the largest slaveholders. Those who were in opposition formed a Peace Party, whose primary goals were "to provide for the families of those at war, to protect members from Confederate authority, and to restore the Union." (McCaslin, pg.91)
The Confederate Citizens Court was not an established legal authority and consisted of a majority of slaveholders. Seven of the twelve jurors during Gainsville lynchings were slaveholders and they insisted on a simple majority rule in the decisions for execution. The slaveholder jurors alone could condemn a person to death! The wealthy slaveholders exerted power and influence far out of proportion to their numbers. Two of the largest slaveholders in Cooke County were Colonel James Bourland and Colonel William C. Young.
Men were also killed in neighboring Grayson, Wise, and Denton counties.
Most of the men killed during this time, were accused of treason or insurrection, but very few had actually conspired against the Confederacy, and many were innocent of the charges for which they were tried.
The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas 1862 has been called the largest mass lynching in American history by some historians.