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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Andrew F. Gammell and the Battle of Vicksburg

 

The Second Texas Lunette, Vicksburg, Mississippi
NPS Photo
On May 22 it was the scene of furious fighting as Confederates beat back repeated Union attacks.
During the siege Union soldiers dug approach trenches to within 15 feet of the lunette. http://www.civilwaralbum.com/vicksburg/2nd_tx.htm


Situated on the bluffs overlooking a bend in the river, Vicksburg was the most important Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi.  Southerners knew that “if Vicksburg falls, the Mississippi falls, and if that river goes, the confederacy is divided and Texas could fall…and if Texas falls, the world falls.”(1)  By the end of 1862 President Lincoln announced to General Grant, “Vicksburg is the key; the war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”  Victory at Vicksburg would give the Union full control of the Mississippi River.

General Grant posed his army to crush a three-mile-long section of the Vicksburg defense line on May 19, 1863.  Three days later he began the most intense military bombardment he could muster, using hundreds of heavy cannon and every piece of ordnance.  The barrage began at six in the morning, and abruptly ended exactly at ten.  At that moment all units stormed up the hill, 35,000 Union soldiers at once.

Colonel Ashbel Smith
of Texas
Graduate of Yale Medical School
Located in the center of the Vicksburg defense line, and guarding the main road into town, was a crescent-shaped fortification, which later became known as the Second Texas Lunette.(2)  Under the command of Colonel Ashbel Smith, Andrew Gammell and the brave soldiers of the Second Texas Sharpshooters, known for their great accuracy with rifles, held this fortress for forty-six days.  Only when the prospect of starvation was certain did they surrender on July 4, 1863.  Colonel Smith described in vivid detail the events of those forty-six days:

On May 2 [1863], the regiment left camp on Chickasaw Bayou [nine miles above Vicksburg], without a change of clothes and with only a single blanket to a man. Dirty and ragged the men must needs be.  During the siege there were several showers of rain, two of which were drenching.  The loamy soil of this region was rendered a mire.  The men in the trenches were over shoe in mud.  With only a single blanket, they were obliged to bivouac in the mud.  A June sun soon dried it up. Nothing could daunt these men, impassive to fatigue and patient to endure.  My chief apprehension was lest the enemy [Union army] should make an assault when our guns were wet, knowing that he was furnished with every appliance for comfort and for securing his arms and ammunition.

[Vicksburg, Sunday, May 17] Subsequently, the same night, an hour or two after midnight, the men were roused from their bivouac on the ground, and moved out of their brigade position, and changed places with the Forty-second Alabama (a gallant regiment), in order that the Second Texas Infantry might man the fort [lunette] which commanded the Baldwin's Ferry road at the very point where the road traversed the lines to enter the city.  This was the assailable point of our lines; the place of danger; the post of honor: the key of this portion of our works of defense.

An irregular system of valleys covering a considerable distance in front of the fort furnished crests where the Union army could place its canons and find protection from Confederate fire.  Andrew’s company dug a ditch two feet deep on the inside of the fortress to enable the men to stand erect without being exposed to enemy fire.  On May 22, the Union attack began:

At an early hour of the morning of Friday, May 22, the enemy opened a most furious cannonade and fire of musketry, which were continued with occasionally varying intensity till 10a.m.  This was the hour designated in the enemy's orders, as afterward appeared, for a general assault on our lines throughout their entire length.  There was a sudden, sullen silence of the enemy's artillery.  Hitherto the positions of the enemy were known only by the flash of their guns and the clouds of smoke which enveloped their heads.  Instantaneously—the enemy springing up from the hollows and valleys to our right and front—the earth was black with their close columns, and ere Private Brooks could well exclaim. "Here they come."  They were surging on within a few paces of the foot of our works…The Second Texas was ready, standing up boldly on the banquette, and exposing their persons to the fire of ten times our numbers, my men received the enemy with a most resolute and murderous fire; my cannon belched canister; my men made the air reel with yells and shouts as they saw the earth strewn with the enemy's dead…Our men, too, fell thick and fast…

As the shades of the night were setting in, the enemy’s fire slowly and sullenly slackened. It ceased with the dark.  The enemy returned to their covers in the hollows and valleys…The loss of the enemy, considering the numbers engaged on either side, was enormous.  The ground in our front and along the road, and either side of the road for several hundred yards way to the right, was thickly strewn with their dead.  In numbers of instances two and three dead bodies were piled on each other.  Along the road for more than 200 yards the bodies lay so thick that one might have walked the whole distance on them without touching the ground.



Siege of Vicksburg
(Wikimedia Commons)

All our men at all times slept on their arms, and, as they were never relieved, but remained at all times at their post, the fatigue was very great.  They did their duty not only without a murmur, but with gaiety.

From the assault of May 22 till the surrender, the number of the enemy [Union army] operating directly in front and directly against the lines manned by the Second Texas was ten times greater than the strength of this regiment, and he was greatly superior in every appliance.  When the enemy took possession of the lines, after the surrender, officers and men expressed their unfeigned surprise and mortification at the weakness of our defenses.  The spade is a military weapon.

Colonel Smith mentioned by name a few individuals who distinguished themselves for bravery and honor. Among those few he mentioned were “Captain [A.F.] Gammell and Lieutenant [B. S.] Henry, who fell gallantly at their posts.  [They] were models of zealous and active duty.”  Captain Andrew Gammell died in the heat of the battle, before the surrender on July 4:

We laid down our arms—want of subsistence and want of ammunition.  The laying down of our arms, the surrender of nearly 30,000 men, is a misfortune which words cannot extenuate, but it was not a wholly unredeemed disaster.  The Second Texas Infantry achieved one victory—they utterly destroyed any prestige which the enemy might have heretofore felt when the soldiers they should encounter should be Texans.  And this was evinced in the marked and special respect with which the enemy, officers and men, after the surrender, during our stay in Vicksburg, were wont to treat and speak of the members of the Second Texas Infantry.  When the Second Texas Infantry inarched through the chain of the enemy's sentinels, the spirits of most of the men were even then at the highest pitch of lighting valor.  Released from the obligation of their parole, and arms placed in their hands, they would have wheeled about, ready and confident.

Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,


ASHBEL SMITH,
Colonel, Second Regiment Texas Volunteer Infantry.(3)

Soldiers Rest Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi
NPS Photo

Lieutenant Andrew F. Gammell, Company D, Second Texas Infantry, was killed at the rank of Captain, and interred at Soldiers’ Rest Cemetery.  His unmarked gravestone is near the site of the battle.  From Vicksburg he wrote:

Kiss [the children] for Uncle Andy. When he comes home he will do it for himself.
So goodbye for present,

Your brother Andy(4)

The Civil War, the most painful of all United States wars, took a terrible toll on families. The total number of soldiers killed, both Union and Confederate, was 625,000, not to mention thousands who were wounded or maimed for life. On the home front, wives and mothers cared for their families and worked the farm, and after the war thousands of them, including Andrew’s wife Het, were left widows. It was literally a war of brother against brother. The Gammell family was no exception. Jane Gammell Wylie had two sons in the battle: Andrew Gammell serving in the Confederate Army, 2nd Texas Infantry, and James Henry Wylie in the Union Army, 1st Regiment, Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.
______________________
  1. Michener, James, Texas, 1985, p. 629.
  2. The Second Texas Lunette was technically a salient lunette. A two or three-sided field fort, its rear open to interior lines, was called a lunette (French lunette, “little moon”). Lunettes were often named in honor of battery commanders. A salient is an area of a defensive line or fortification that protrudes beyond the main works. In the Civil War, it extended closest to an enemy’s position and usually invited an attack.
  3. The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, United States War Dept., Robert Nicholson Scott, compiled by Calvin Duvall Cowles, U.S. Government, 1889. pp. 383-94.
  4. Andrew Gammell, Letter to his sister, Jane, 14 January 1863, Vicksburg. (Copy from the collections in the Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.)

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