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When the Civil War erupted in 1861 and Tennessee ultimately chose cession, Gammon became Clerk of the Court of the Confederate States – a position for which he would later be charged with treason and ultimately pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. Knoxville in particular and eastern Tennessee in general were uniquely affected by the Civil War, as we’ll discuss in another post.

All three of Gammon’s sons enlisted in the Confederate cause. William was wounded and ultimately discharged before the war ended; he then traveled to the north, where he disappeared shortly before the end of the war. His whereabouts were never discovered, but many in the Gammon family suspected he had become a victim of murder. Joseph survived the war, but died just ten years later. George was captured by Union forces and imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indiana, for more than nine months, but survived the war and went on to carry the family name for future generations.

Jennie Gammon also met with danger during the course of the war, evidently being hit by a stray minnie ball in the upper leg. Family legend holds that she refused treatment by any “Yankee” doctor, instead seeking treatment from “the valiant Confederates [who] raised in early each morning so their doctor could treat her wounds!” She also volunteered at the local Confederate hospital in Knoxville, rolled bandages, took food to wounded soldiers, and accompanied her father steadfastly through his trial for treason.

During the hard times of the war, family sources say that Nathan and Mary Gammon turned increasingly to their faith – both were devout members of the First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville – as comfort. Though they remained steadfast in their Confederate sympathies, when smallpox broke out among Federal troops quartered on the Gammon property during the war, sources say that Mary Gammon “treated them all kindly and brought fresh milk to the sick.”

Nathan Gammon’s health declined following the war, but he still managed to assist his son, Joseph, and other ex-Confederate soldiers in leaving Knoxville, where local opinion was decidedly hostile in the aftermath of war. He died on June 14, 1869 at the age of 66. Mary survived him for nearly three decades, passing away on January 6, 1895 at age 89. Jennie survived both her parents, but died tragically in Knoxville on Christmas day, 1925 in an automobile accident. She was 91 years old.

For more information see:

Margaret Gammon Pritchett, “The Gammons of East Tennessee,” McC56750, McClung Collection, East Tennessee Historical Center, July 4, 1992.

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  Nathan Gammon was born on May 19, 1803, at Mount Pleasant, Sullivan County, Tennessee in the far northeastern corner of the state. He grew up in the midst of a prestigious social circle that included close friends and future Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James Knox Polk, and both his father and grandfather were active in Tennessee politics.

As a young man, Nathan Gammon studied law and did practice it, but he also apparently had no political ambitions, and declined to run for public office on more than one occasion, despite the urging of close friends such as Polk. He went into business instead, becoming a very successful merchant, first in Jonesboro, and later in Knoxville.

On July 20, 1824, he married Mary Erwin Hamilton, also a native of Sullivan County, Tennessee. They initially made their home in Jonesboro, where their six children were born: Elizabeth Hamilton Looney, William Hamilton, Jane Leticia (“Jennie”), Joseph Hamilton, George Alexander, and Mary Imogene. With the exception of Mary, all the children survived into adulthood.

In November of 1851, Nathan Gammon moved his family from Jonesboro to Knoxville, which was rapidly becoming a terminus for seamboat navigation and a center of trade for eastern Tennessee. Steamboats were the primary method of transport until the railroad arrived in 1854, and Gammon proved adept at the occupation of commission merchant. He developed a large freighting business that operated out of a warehouse on the Tennessee River at the foot of Gay Street. His eldest son, William, eventually went into business with him as an assistant.

Gammon anticipated the changes railroad transportation would bring, and became the first Passenger and Freight Agent for the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad when it arrived in the city. Skills acquired in that position, and experience as a stenographer, later earned him an appointment as Clerk of the District Court of the United States.

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