Marylander in great charge

Trimble: A scrappy Baltimorean who was on medical leave and without a command accompanied the Southern army to Gettysburg and wound up commanding two brigades in Pickett's Charge

Gettysburg : A Remembrance

July 04, 1999|By Jacqueline Durett | Jacqueline Durett,Special to the Sun

The general without a command -- that was Baltimorean Maj. Gen. Isaac Ridgeway Trimble in July 1863, just before Pickett's Charge.

Trimble had ridden with Lee to Gettysburg without any official duties, but after Maj. Gen. William Dorsey Pender's death on the second day of Gettysburg, Trimble, who was still on medical leave from wounds received at the Second Battle ofBull Run, was given command of half of Pender's men -- two brigades from North Carolina.

Under Trimble, one brigade was headed by Brig. Gen. James S. Lane and the other by Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Scales.

'A rising star'

Trimble was a man of ambition. He was a "rising star under Stonewall Jackson," Taylor described. One reason for this, Taylor said, was that he repeatedly urged night attacks, which was an uncommon practice at the time.

His performance at the Second Battle of Bull Run helped earn his favor with Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Jackson wrote of Trimble's actions there: "I regard that day's achievement as the most brilliant that has come under my observation during the present war."

Born in May 1802 in Culpeper, Va., Trimble, who was the third and highest-ranking Marylander in gray at Gettysburg, had strong Southern roots. The West Point graduate took up residence in Baltimore in 1832 after 10 years of service as an artillery officer.

He then became actively involved with railroads. "He went to West Point and put his engineering skills to use on the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. General Trimble was serving his tour of duty in the U.S. Artillery when the railroads were coming into their own as a means of transportation. Your West Point graduates were mostly engineers when they graduated, and the railroad saw the opportunity to take some of them to help establish the railroad," said Lee Houser.

Houser is an expert on the life of Trimble -- he's been portraying him for five years as part of the Civil War Heritage Foundation living- history group. Houser chose to portray Trimble for two reasons: "I did a lot of research on various generals and found him to be a very interesting person, [and] I did resemble him to an extent [in] facial features."

Houser explained that Trimble had lived a full life before the war began -- entering the war he was 59, and at the time of Pickett's Charge he was 62. Houser also pointed out that Trimble's life went beyond the military, and according to the re-enactor, his demeanor toward his family is quite a contrast to that on the battlefield.

Houser called Trimble a "Southern gentleman. ... He was always respectful of his two wives and his kids. His family always came first in civilian life or military."

Trimble married two prominent sisters from Baltimore and outlived both women. By his first wife, Maria Ferguson Cattell Presstman, he had two sons (actually four, with twins who had died in infancy).

Maria Presstman died in 1855. Three years later, Trimble married her sister, Ann Calhoun Cattell Presstman, who lived until 1878.

But the family man also a strong sense of patriotic duty.

"He had Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland roots when the war started and believed in states' rights and supported secession from the Union to maintain those rights. Virginia seceded and Kentucky and Maryland were close to seceding but never seceded and were what we consider today border states with support on both sides -- Union and Confederate. Trimble was on the side that supported the Southern states," Houser said.

Houser said that Trimble's writings indicate that he "hated the Union troops and just like other Southern people of that time wanted to be left alone."

A dynamic personality

In addition to his military career and strong support of the South, Trimble was also known for his dynamic personality. "He's definitely a very volatile individual," said Rich Kohr, a narrator of the Gettysburg re-enactment from Gettysburg Military Museum.

Houser agreed with Kohr that Trimble had an domineering personality. "The general was very aggressive, always very outspoken, always telling people what he thought on any topic. This was in his military career, always telling [Lt. Gen. Richard S.] Ewell, Jackson and even [Gen. Robert E.] Lee how the battle should be fought."

Trimble's attitude accompanied him on the battlefield as well, Houser explained. "He was very pugnacious, fiery and aggressive in the field of battle also. For instance at the Battle of Cross Keys, after stopping the federals with a volley which staggered them, he had driven the enemy about a mile ahead of his own lines. General Ewell had to stop him from going on any farther or he might have gone on and destroyed the federal army at that point."

The day before Pickett's Charge, Trimble attempted to assert authority as well, despite the fact that he had been promoted to major general just three months before.

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