Brush Men and Vigilantes
Civil War Dissent in Texas
Texas History - Civil War
6.125 x 9.25, 248 pp.
4 b&w photos., 6 maps.
Pub Date: 04/21/2004
Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce
Price:        $16.95

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2000 Runner-up for the Kate Broocks Bates Award for Historical Research, presented by the Texas State Historical Association

Brush Men and Vigilantes

Civil War Dissent in Texas

By David Pickering and Judy Falls

As Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain dramatized, dissenters from the Confederacy lived in mortal danger across the South. In scattered pockets from the Carolinas to the frontier in Texas, some men clung to a belief in the Union or an unwillingness to preserve the slaveholding Confederacy, and they died at the hands of their own neighbors. Brush Men and Vigilantes tells the story of how dissent, fear, and economics developed into mob violence in a corner of Texas—the Sulphur Forks river valley northeast of Dallas.

Authors David Pickering and Judy Falls have combed through court records, newspapers, letters, and other primary sources and collected extended-family lore to relate the details of how vigilantes captured and killed more than a dozen men. The authors' story begins before the Civil War, as they describe the particular social and economic conditions that gave rise to tension and violence during the war. Unlike most other parts of Texas, the Sulphur Forks river valley had a significant population of Upper Southerners, some of whom spoke out against secession, objected to enlisting in the Confederate army, or associated with "Union men." For some of them, safety meant disappearing into the tangled brush thickets of the region. Routed from the thicket or gone to ground there, dissenters faced death. Betrayed by links to a well-known Union guerrilla from the Sulphur Forks area, more men of the area were captured, tried in mock courts, and hanged. Other men met their death by sniper fire or private execution, as in the case of brush man Frank Chamblee, who for years eluded his enemies by clever tricks but was finally gunned down after the war, reportedly by one of the area's most prominent men.

Anyone with an interest in the new history of the Civil War or Texas should find much to digest in this compelling book, whose authors Richard B. McCaslin congratulates for taking their place "in the ranks of Texas' literary reconstructionists."

The late David Pickering had a long career as a newspaper journalist, primarily with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Judy Falls is an award-winning teacher at Cooper High School in northeast Texas.

What Readers Are Saying:

“This well-written, copiously footnoted work is a fine example of how, with breadth and depth of research and a good grasp of the historiographical issues, local history can personalize the great events of politics and war. Its innovative research and demythologizing effect make it a fine choice as the inaugural volume of the new Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life.” --The Journal of Southern History

“David Pickering, long time newspaperman from Corpus Christi (now deceased), and Judy Falls, high school English teacher in Cooper, Texas, have provided an entertaining and well-told story of the vigilantes who killed more than a dozen men during the Civil War. . . . Most Texans fought for the Confederacy, but many stayed home, remaining loyal to the Union. Forced to become brush men, they hid in the thickets from the vigilantes who sought their blood. This is their story.” --East Texas Historical Association

“An absorbing account of a violent episode in Texas Civil War history involving Unionists and Confederates in a small northeastern section of Texas once known as ‘the dark corner of the Confederacy.’ This is a good reconstructionist description of how clashing political, economic, and social values led to so much violence. Highly recommended to general and academic readers at all levels.” --Choice

“It is a handsome book and it recounts a valuable chapter of Texas history that was all but lost.” --Corpus Christi Caller-Times

In their fine effort at reconstructing the tragedies of internal civil war in northeast Texas, David Pickering and Judy Falls have written a chilling tale of wartime murder and revenge. As such, Brush Men and Vigilantes adds to growing evidence of civil war within the Confederacy, where guerrillas fought loyalists wand where neighbor fought neighbor.” --Civil War Book Review

“It offers a revealing insight into what may be termed the seamy side of the Civil War and makes a useful contribution to the growing literature on the civil war that took place in those parts to the Confederacy where the strains of ‘Dixie,’ if heard at all, sent chills, not thrills, down people’s spine.” --The Journal of Military History

“Pickering and Falls do a wonderful job of integrating their local history research with the larger stories of secession and Civil War in Texas vigilantism and violence in the South, and the meaning of Unionist dissent for interpretations of the Confederacy. Readers should enjoy this interesting, well-written, and thoroughly researched book.” --Military History of the West

“Here is local history, rich in the violence and intrigue necessary to captivate a national audience. Those fascinated by the little stories that contributed to the gruesome nature of our most destructive war, as well as those curious about the circumstances contributing to the violence that convulsed east Texas in the late nineteenth century, will find this book a must for their collections.” --The Journal of American History

“This landmark study in local history shows that the savagery characteristic of the Civil War west of the Mississippi was not confined to the battlefield.” --Journal of the West

“To fully understand the Civil War and its impact on Texas, one must know about the intense danger existing during this time. There is no better place to learn about this time than in Brush Men and Vigilantes.” --Mexia Daily News


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