Hamman, William Harrison (1830–1890)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 6, 2019

William Harrison Hamman, soldier, farmer, lawyer, and entrepreneur, was born at Woodstock, Virginia, on January 17, 1830, the son of George and Catherine (Schmucker) Hamman. His father, a poor carpenter, died when the boy was ten years old, and young Hamman worked as a farmer, operated a gristmill, clerked in a store, and taught school to help support his family. He attended the University of Virginia in 1850 and 1851, studying mathematics, German, and chemistry. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Virginia militia on April 13, 1850, and promoted to captain on November 9, 1856. In January 1858 he moved to Owensville in Robertson County, Texas, and on September 21 was licensed to practice law there.

Through the 1850s he had been an ardent Unionist and strongly opposed Virginia's secession. But when Abraham Lincoln was elected president, Hamman lowered the United States flag and raised the Lone Star at Owensville. On December 15, 1860, he was a leader of a mass meeting in Robertson County calling for the immediate secession of Texas. With the outbreak of the Civil War Hamman enlisted on July 15, 1861, as a private in the "Robertson Five Shooters." This unit soon became Company C, Fourth Texas Infantry, of the famed Hood's Texas Brigade, commanded by colonels Robert T. P. Allen, John Bell Hood, and John F. Marshall, and Hamman was elected first to corporal and then, on October 16, 1861, to regimental color sergeant. He was appointed acting regimental commissary sergeant in July 1862 and served as regimental commissary officer from August 6, 1862, until the position was abolished by the Confederate government in August 1863. That month he applied to Confederate postmaster general John H. Reagan for a mission to return him to Texas, and Secretary of War James A. Seddon responded by dispatching him as a messenger to the Trans-Mississippi Department. He remained in Texas and was appointed on December 5, 1863, aide-de-camp to Col. James B. Likins, commander of the First Brigade, Second Division, Texas State Troops. On December 25, 1863, he received permission to raise a company of artillery, but apparently failed to do so. On March 12, 1864, he was promoted to captain of Texas State Troops and appointed adjutant general of the Fifth Brigade District under Brig. Gen. James W. Barnes. With Barnes's resignation, Governor Pendleton Murrah appointed Hamman to fill his post on December 26, 1864, with the rank of brigadier general.

Although his means were reduced by the war, in 1866 Hamman became the first oil prospector in Texas; he drilled his first oil well at Saratoga in Hardin County. Ironically, he owned options and leases at the Sour Lake and Spindletop oilfields but did not drill on them. In August 1870 Hamman helped to incorporate three business enterprises-the Calvert Bridge Company, to build "a safe and substantial bridge" over the Brazos River at Calvert; the Pacific and Great Eastern Railway Company of Texas, to build a rail link between the Red River and the Rio Grande; and the Texas Timber and Prairie Railroad Company, to build a railroad between Beaumont and Bremond. In May of that year he also helped charter the Calvert and Belton Railroad. In 1871 Hamman moved to Calvert when the Houston and Texas Central Railway reached town. There he established a successful legal practice. On July 26, 1871, he married Ella Virginia Laudermilk, who was born in Mississippi in 1851. The couple had five children.

In 1878 Hamman, theretofore a Democrat, became interested in monetary reform and ran as the Greenback party's candidate for governor, finishing second to Oran M. Roberts with a surprising total of 58,000 votes, one-third of the ballots cast. He ran again in 1880 and finished third, behind John Ireland and Edmund J. Davis, with 35,000 votes. His second campaign for governor was his last political race. In 1889 he became interested in the development of the coal and iron deposits at New Birmingham in Cherokee County and helped organize the Cherokee Coal and Iron Company. Hamman died at New Birmingham on July 14, 1890, and was buried in the Owensville Cemetery. His papers are preserved in the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Hamman was an Episcopalian and an ardent prohibitionist.

Dermont H. Hardy and Ingham S. Roberts, eds., Historical Review of South-East Texas (2 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1910). Harold B. Simpson, Hood's Texas Brigade in Reunion and Memory (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1974). Ada Margaret Smith, The Life and Times of William Harrison Hamman (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1952).

Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Hamman, William Harrison,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hamman-william-harrison.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 6, 2019

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