Friday, April 8, 2011

George Washington Diamond's Account of the Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862

"George Washington Diamond's Account of the Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862," edited by Sam Acheson and Julie Ann Hudson O'Connell, can be accessed here on the The Portal to Texas History website.  This account was published by the Texas State Historical Association in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 66, July 1962 - April, 1963.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 66, July 1962 - April, 1963, H. Bailey Carroll, editor, Journal/Magazine/Newsletter, 1963; digital images, ( : accessed April 08, 2011), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas State Historical Association, Denton, Texas.

George Diamond's brother, James Diamond, was one of the key players in trying to rid Cooke county of anyone with Union sentiments. George Diamond was asked to use the records of the court to prepare an "official account" of the court proceedings, with the purpose of "preserving them and so disposing of them that the history of its (Citizen's Court) transactions might be perpetuated and justice done to those who participated (Jurors & accusers) in its deliberations."  Diamond's compilation of "memoranda" was to be offered to the public as a just vindication of the conduct of those whose judgements were under national criticism. So, basically, Diamond's job was to make the court look good.

In his conclusion, Diamond states, "The proceedings of the Citizens Court are characterized with as much wisdom, justice and moderation as may anywhere be found in the history of criminal procedure."  Was he biased or what???  Naturally, the members of the court examined Diamond's account and gave their unanimous and unqualified approval.  Diamond apparently completed the manuscript before the end of 1876, but it was not published during his lifetime.  In 1963, Diamond's account was transcribed and edited by Sam Acheson and Julie Ann Hudson O'Connell, and then published by the Texas State Historical Association. 

On page 27 of CIVIL WAR RECOLLECTIONS OF JAMES LEMUEL CLARK, L. D. Clark gives his opinion of Diamond's Account:
"Diamond had been a newspaper-man before the war and in 1862 held a commission in the Confederate army.  When he went to Gainesville not long after the affair to visit a brother who had helped round up the Unionists, he was entrusted with the court records with the understanding that he would write a thoroughgoing vindication of the hanging.  Not until the mid-1870's did he undertake to fulfill his promise, and what he produced was left unfinished and unpublished at the time of his death.  He arranged some of the testimony from papers in his possession, thought we have no way of knowing whether he transcribed it verbatim.  He introduced a background of sorts and a narrative of events interspersed with commentary, all of it written in a determination to give a noble cast to the outrage, even to the extent of arguing that the action must have been right since it was undertaken by the "best men" in the county...  To make matters worse, while no one can say whether he himself destroyed the records, at best he seems to have taken no care to preserve them, though he did see to the preservation of his own manuscript."

It seems that Diamond's Account published by the Texas State Historical Association was transcribed and edited from Diamond's manuscript, which he in turn had edited and condensed from the actual court proceedings.  Anytime a record is transcribed, even if it is transcribed word for word, there is room for error.  But, as Clark states above, we have no way of knowing "whether he transcribed it verbatim." 

Diamond concluded with the following explanation concerning his edited version.
"We have now written what we designed to write concerning the proceedings of the "Citizens Court."  The Jury as well as all others who were connected with the scenes of that day desired that all the evidence in each case should be published.  It is to be regretted that it has not been done.
But it is the opinion of all that a complete transcript from the record of the Court would have been unnecessary to vindicate the course pursued, and would also have made a volume to too large a size for the general public notice." (Diamond's Account, page 405)

Diamond was not kidding when he stated it was "to be regretted" that all the evidence in each case should NOT be published.  All who are now interested or who will ever be interested in the history of the Hangings, REGRET Diamond's decision to edit and leave to history only his condensed version of the Court!!  And, one has to wonder just how much Diamond edited, changed, or left out from the original "Citizens Court" records?

It is not known what happened to the actual records of the Citizens Court.  We are very much aware of the historical value and significance of Diamond’s account of the Hanging, especially since his account is the only "official" record remaining.  But, it is really, really unfortunate that the complete and original "Citizens Court" records are lost to us.  Were the originals destroyed when Diamond was finished using them or are they still lying around in some dusty attic?

A short biography of George Washington Diamond can be found on the Handbook of Texas Online.

1 comment:

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