Von Gammon

Von GammonRichard Vonalbade “Von” Gammon played on some of UGA’s earliest football teams. He quarterbacked the team in 1896, then played fullback and on defense for the 1897 team. That team won their first two games against Clemson and Georgia Tech. The third game was against the University of Virginia, played in Atlanta on October 30. Early in the second half, Von Gammon charged into a large group of players in an attempt to make a tackle. When the play was over and the players unpiled, Gammon lay motionless on the ground. Several teammates tried to communicate with him, but he was unable to speak. He was carried to the sidelines, where he began vomiting. Two doctors in the stands came to Gammon’s aid and injected morphine into his chest in an attempt to revive him, but they soon determined that he had a severe concussion. He was rushed to Grady Hospital in an ambulance, but there was nothing more the house surgeon could do. Von Gammon died from his injury early in the morning of October 31. The Macon Historic Newspapers Archive includes an article from The Macon Telegraph that reports the events of October 30.

The Macon Telegraph, Oct. 31, 1897
October 31, 1897

News of his death spread throughout the state causing shock and outrage. There were accusations that the Virginia players had been intentionally rough on the play, but this was quickly denied by players of both teams. In fact, the Virginia players were as devastated by the news as were the citizens of Georgia. As a result of the incident, every college in Georgia with a football program voluntarily disbanded their teams (this included the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Mercer). The Georgia General Assembly was in session at the time, and on November 1, 1897, a member of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution outlawing football in the state; it passed by a vote of 91-3. The Senate followed with a vote outlawing football on November 18; it passed 31-4. The bill only needed the signature of Georgia governor William Y. Atkinson to become law and end football in the state. Several articles from the Athens Daily Banner, available in the Athens Historic Newspapers Archive address the status of football at the University of Georgia.

Other newspaper editorials supported the movement to end football in Georgia, whether by legislation or voluntarily on the part of the players, such as this one from The Macon Telegraph.

The Macon Telegraph, Nov. 21, 1897
November 21, 1897

It was at this point that Von Gammon’s mother, Rosalind Burns Gammon,  intervened. Despite her grief at her son’s death, she did not want the sport outlawed. She penned a letter to her local representative, which said:

It would be the greatest favor to the family of Von Gammon if your influence could prevent his death being used for an argument detrimental to the athletic cause and its advancement at the University. His love for his college and his interest in all manly sports, without which he deemed the highest type of manhood impossible, is well known by his classmates and friends, and it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause he held so dear injured by his sacrifice. Grant me the right to request that my boy’s death should not be used to defeat the most cherished object of his life. …

After learning about the letter and Mrs. Gammon’s feelings, Governor Atkinson vetoed the resolution on December 7, 1897,  and ended the movement to ban football in Georgia.

The Athens Daily Banner, Dec. 8, 1897
December 8, 1897

Mrs. Gammon is now revered in Georgia lore as the woman who saved college football for the state. In 1921, surviving members of the University of Virginia football team presented a plaque to the University of Georgia in honor of Von Gammon and his mother when the two schools met to play on November 5.

The Red and Black, Oct. 28, 1921
October 28, 1921
October 28, 1921
October 28, 1921

On October 30, 1997, one hundred years to the day after the game in which Von Gammon was fatally injured, the University of Georgia’s student newspaper The Red and Black ran a story on him and his mother; it showed UGA’s senior linebacker Greg Bright reading the plaque presented by members of the Virginia football team in 1921, and the written plea from Mrs. Gammon to Governor Atkinson to keep Georgia football alive.

The Red and Black, Oct. 30, 1997
October 30, 1997

Digital Library of Georgia resources used for this blog entry:

Macon Historic Newspapers Archive

Athens Historic Newspapers Archive

The Red and Black: An Archive of the University of Georgia Student Newspaper

GeorgiaInfo Von Gammon Page

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Secession Debated in the Athens Press

Southern secession from the United States was not a foregone conclusion with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860. The state had already endured previous secession crises, most notably in 1850.  The Compromise of 1850 averted secession for a decade, as did the state’s issuance of the Georgia Platform, which affirmed Georgia’s commitment to the Union, with the insistence that Southern rights remained protected. With Lincoln’s election, however, Southerners who wished to extend slavery into new territories and enforce the Fugitive Slave Law felt once again that their rights and values were under threat. Lincoln was openly hostile to slavery, and insisted it should not be allowed to expand (though he had also insisted that he had no right or intention to interfere with it where it currently existed). To many Southerners, his victory signified that the only recourse to protecting their rights was to secede. But many others still believed compromise was possible, and wanted to wait and see what Lincoln would do once he took office before making any decisions on leaving the Union.

The debate over secession took place on many fronts–both in politics and in the press. The Georgia legislature, then in session in Milledgeville, hosted a series of speeches in the evenings presenting both sides of the secession controversy. A similar, albeit less wordy and formal, debate took place in the Athens, Georgia press during the time between Lincoln’s election and Georgia’s secession. The city’s  Southern Banner advocated immediate secession, while the Southern Watchman took a more conservative wait-and-see approach. The debate began shortly after the election; the Watchman urged its readers to “Keep Cool,” while the Banner argued that “Delay is Submission.”

The debate continued with some name quoting; the Watchman printed editorials using the terms “Precipitators” and “Submissionists,” and insisted that those who wanted to wait (like themselves) were not submitting to anything. The Banner responded by insisting that they were not being “rash” by wanting to escape a falling house, and and equated the circumspection of those who wanted to “be calm” with staying in a burning house.

The editors of the Southern Watchman weren’t the only people who believed in a cautious approach; one of the most vocal and eloquent proponents for this policy was the man who would become vice president of the Confederate States of America,  Georgia native Alexander Stephens. The Watchman praised an argument he raised against immediate secession in a Milledgeville speech; their editors agreed that such action should be considered only as a “last resort.” The Banner, on the other hand, printed a special issue with a lengthy argument advocating secession; the introduction mentioned the ominous term “Civil war.”

The two newspapers used  similar wording in the titles of two mid-December editorials, but with very different meanings. The Watchman reported that the movement to cooperate within the Union was gaining strength, while the Banner rallied for secessionists to vote in an election that would send delegates to Georgia’s state convention on January 16, 1861, where secession would be deliberated.

The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina, on December 20, 1860. Response to this momentous event was different in the two Athens newspapers. The Watchman reported the information more objectively as a news event; the same issue also included an editorial piece rejecting accusations of submission to Northern enemies. The Banner, on the other hand,  reported enthusiastically about a “Great Secession Jubilee” after South Carolina’s news reached Athens.

As the year 1861 dawned,  Georgia elected its delegates for the state convention which would consider the matter of secession. The Banner reported with glee when secessionists won the local elections, opining that Clarke county had “covered herself in glory.” The Watchman countered with a lengthy piece which argued that disaster was hovering over the entire country.

As Georgia’s secession convention met on January 16, 1861, the two Athens newspapers again expressed differing viewpoints. The Watchman acknowledged that secession was likely, but felt “gloomy” about the nation’s prospects. The Banner‘s response was just the opposite; their editors rejoiced in the prediction that Georgia would soon be out of the Union, along with all the other slave states to follow.

Three days later, Georgia adopted an Ordinance of Secession on January 19, 1861.

For more articles like these, and many covering other subjects, visit the Athens Historic Newspapers Archive.

For more on the events leading to secession, and the Civil War in Georgia, visit This Week in Georgia Civil War History.

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