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The book version of James Gammell's life story is now available. Click on this image.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

William Gammell and the Battle of San Jacinto, Part II

Battle of San Jacinto
Henry Arthur McArdle, 1895
(Wikimedia Commons, in public domain)

William Gammell was one among hundreds of volunteers from the United States who sat poised on the other side of that field, anxiously awaiting to go into battle.  There were enough volunteers to fill two full regiments, which were organized to augment the Regular Texas Army. One volunteer company was called the Kentucky Rifles. They were raised in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky by Sidney Sherman, and were the only troops in the Texas army that wore formal uniforms.(1)

Private William Gammell served under Captain A.H. Wiley in the Second Regiment of Texas Volunteers Infantry Company. Colonel Sidney Sherman, commander of the Second Regiment,(2) led his troops into battle on that day, and they are said to be the first to utter the famous warcry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!"(3)

After a small skirmish on April 20, both sides camped for the night. On the morning of April 21, 1836, General Houston held a council of war.  Most of his officers advised him that they should hold their position and wait for Santa Anna’s attack. That afternoon Houston announced his decision:  the Texas army would attack. The Mexican soldiers awoke from their afternoon siestas to the sound of shouting and gunfire. Santa Anna had failed to post sentries to monitor the Houston's army, camped only a thousand yards away, and hidden only by trees and a slight ridge.  Having the advantage of  surprise, 800 Texans charged across the open field and defeated the Mexican army of 1,400 men in just eighteen minutes:

At 4:30 p.m. on April 21, after scout Deaf Smith announced the burning of Vince's Bridge (cutting off the primary avenue of retreat for both armies), the main Texan battle line moved forward.  A fifer played the popular tune "Will you come to the bower I have shaded for you?"  General Houston personally led the infantry, posting the 2nd Volunteer Regiment [William Gammell’s regiment] of Colonel Sidney Sherman on his far left, with Colonel Edward Burleson's 1st Volunteer Regiment next in line.

Two small artillery pieces, the only ones they had, were positioned in the center, supported by four companies of infantry.  (The two artillery pieces were named "The Twin Sisters".  See the comments at the end of this post.)   A regiment of Texas regulars made up the right wing, and to the far right, sixty-two Texas cavalrymen planned to circle the Mexican left flank.  The charge began:

The Texan army moved quickly and silently across the high-grass plain, and then, when they were only a few dozen yards away, charged Santa Anna's camp shouting "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!",(4) only stopping a few yards from the Mexicans to open fire.  Confusion ensued. Santa Anna's army primarily consisted of professional soldiers, but they were trained to fight in ranks, exchanging volleys with their opponents.  Many were also ill-prepared and unarmed at the time of the sudden attack. General Manuel Fern├índez Castrill├│n desperately tried to mount a semblance of an organized resistance, but was soon shot down and killed. His panicked men fled, and Santa Anna's defensive line quickly collapsed… their training had left them ill-equipped to fight well-armed American frontiermen in hand-to-hand combat…Santa Anna's once-proud army had disintegrated into chaos. The battle only took 18 minutes.(5)

The Battle of San Jacinto, “one of the biggest military upsets in the hemisphere,” marked the end of the Texas Revolution.  Of the 1,400 Mexican soldiers, 600 were killed, and over 700 surrendered; of the 800 Texans, nine were killed or mortally wounded. Sam Houston was shot in the ankle. Santa Anna, found hiding in the grass and dressed as a common foot soldier, was captured the next day.(6)

For Mexico, the defeat resulted in the loss of nearly a million square miles of territory.  For the Texans, “their victory led to annexation into the United States and the United States' war with Mexico.  In the end, the United States would gain not only Texas, but also New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.”(7)
  3.   At Goliad, Texas, on March 27, 1836, 342 Texans were massacred, most of them lined up and shot at close range, after surrendering to the Mexican army.
  4. Three known survivors of the Goliad Massacre fought at San Jacinto.
  7.  See also Wikipedia articles: Mexican Texas, Republic of Texas, and Texas Revolution.


  1. Patricia Riddell LococoMay 30, 2010 at 11:55 PM

    May Jenette Andrews (niece of James Gammell) married William N Sterns. The grandfather of William N Sterns was Francis "Picayune" Smith. Francis Smith was one of the first white settlers in Texas. On a trip to Cincinnati, Francis promoted the cause of Texas independence. Money was raised and two small cannons were purchased, which Francis brought to New Orleans. These were "The Twin Sisters," made famous by their participation at the Battle of San Jacinto. The story of the Twin Sisters is told in the Handbook of Texas Online, "Twin Sisters."

  2. Thanks, Pat, for your comment about "The Twin Sisters." I did read about it, but decided not to include that story. I didn't want to add too much extraneous detail.

    I did refer to the two small artillery pieces. But now that I know that is actually part of the Gammell story, I'll change my narrative just a bit and add a footnote, so that people will be sure to read your comment.

  3. See the photo of May Jenette Andrews in the May 15, 2010, post or on the side bar.