saac Ridgeway Trimble (1802-1888)

Isaac Ridgeway Trimble (May 15, 1802 - January 2, 1888) was a U.S. Army officer, a civil engineer, a prominent railroad construction superintendent and executive, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War.

Youth, education, building railroads

Trimble was born in Culpeper County, Virginia. He moved to Kentucky and was nominated by that state to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, from which he graduated in 1822, commissioned as a second lieutenant of artillery.

He served in the 3rd and 1st U.S. Artillery regiments, but left the U.S. Army in 1832 to pursue the emerging business of railroad construction.

Trimble helped survey the route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He was a construction engineer for the Boston and Providence Railroad, and Pennsylvania Railroad predecessors Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, and Baltimore and Potomac Railroads. In his final job, as a superintendent, he relocated permanently to Maryland.

American Civil War: Confederate General

When Trimble realized that Maryland would not secede from the Union, he returned to his Virginia home and joined the Confederate army as a colonel of engineers in 1861.

He was promoted to brigadier general on August 9, 1861, and by November 16 was in command of a brigade in the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac.

Trimble first saw combat as part of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley and he distinguished himself in the Battle of Cross Keys by ordering a dangerous close-in musket volley that routed Union troops under John C. Frémont. During the Seven Days Battles under Jackson, his brigade fought hard at Gaines' Mill and he sought to follow up the unsuccessful assault on Malvern Hill by making a night attack, but this foolish request was refused.

In the Second Battle of Bull Run, Trimble's brigade defeated a Union brigade at Freeman's Ford. He then marched with Jackson around Maj. Gen. John Pope's main force and captured a supply depot in their rear, along with two artillery batteries, which eventually compelled Pope to attack Jackson's strong defensive positions and suffer a severe defeat. Trimble was wounded in the leg with an explosive bullet and he had to deal with poor health (due in part to his advanced age) for many months in his recovery. Although he was promoted to major general in January, 1863, he was unable to command a division due to his health, and he was assigned to light duty as commander of the Valley District in the Shenandoah Valley.

By June, 1863, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had crossed the Potomac River on its second invasion of the north and Trimble was desperate to get back into action, particularly because he was familiar with the area from his railroad days. He joined Lee's headquarters unsolicited, but wore out his welcome hanging around without formal assignment. Riding north, he caught up with Lieut. Gen. Richard S. Ewell on the way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and joined his staff as a supernumerary, or senior officer in command of nothing. He and Ewell quarreled frequently due to this clumsy arrangement and Trimble's lack of tact.

On July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg began and Ewell's Second Corps reached the battlefield in early afternoon, smashing into the Union XI Corps and driving them south through the town to Cemetery Hill. Trimble wrote the following about his encounter with Ewell: "The battle was over and we had won it handsomely. General Ewell moved about uneasily, a good deal excited, and seemed to me to be undecided what to do next. I approached him and said: 'Well, General, we have had a grand success; are you not going to follow it up and push our advantage?' He replied that 'General Lee had instructed him not to bring on a general engagement without orders, and that he would wait for them.' I said, that hardly applies to the present state of things, as we have fought a hard battle already, and should secure the advantage gained. He made no rejoinder, but was far from composure. I was deeply impressed with the conviction that it was a critical moment for us and made a remark to that effect. As no movement seemed immediate, I rode off to our left, north of the town, to reconnoitre, and noticed conspicuously the wooded hill northeast of Gettysburg (Culp's), and a half mile distant, and of an elevation to command the country for miles each way, and overlooking Cemetery Hill above the town. Returning to see General Ewell, who was still under much embarrassment, I said: 'General, there,' pointing to Culp's Hill, 'is an eminence of commanding position, and not now occupied, as it ought to be by us or the enemy soon. I advise you to send a brigade and hold it if we are to remain here.' He said: 'Are you sure it commands the town?' 'Certainly it does, as you can see, and it ought to be held by us at once.' General Ewell made some impatient reply, and the conversation dropped."

Observers have reported that the "impatient reply" was, "When I need advice from a junior officer I generally ask for it." And that Trimble threw down his sword in disgust and stormed off. A more colorful version of this account has been immortalized in Michael Shaara's novel, The Killer Angels.

On July 3, 1863, Trimble was one of the three division commanders in Pickett's Charge. He stepped in to replace W. Dorsey Pender, of A.P. Hill's Corps, who was mortally wounded the previous day. Trimble was at a great disadvantage because he had never worked with these troops before. His division participated in the left section of the assault, advancing just behind the division led by J. Johnston Pettigrew (formerly by Henry Heth). The slaughter of the assault is well known. Trimble rode his horse, Jinny, and was wounded in the leg, the same left leg as at Second Bull Run. His leg was amputated by Dr. Hunter McGuire and he could not be taken along with the retreating Confederates, because of fear of infection that would result from a long ambulance ride back to Virginia, so he was left to be captured by Union soldiers.

Gettysburg was the end of Trimble's military career. He spent the next year and a half in Northern hands at Johnson's Island and Fort Warren. He was recommended for parole soon after capture, but former U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron recommended against it, citing Trimble's expert knowledge of northern railroads. He was finally paroled in Lynchburg, Virginia on April 16, 1865, just after Lee's surrender.

Post-war years, heritage

After the War, he was equipped with an artificial leg. Trimble returned to Maryland and resumed his engineering work. Records of the Pennsylvania Railroad indicate that he resigned as chief engineer of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad in July, 1867.

In 1849, Trimble built Baltimore's historic 1849 President Street Station. The oldest big city train station in America, it was restored in 1997 to serve as the Baltimore Civil War Museum.

Isaac Trimble died in Baltimore, Maryland and is buried there in Greenmount Cemetery, probably the most famous Maryland resident who fought for the Confederacy.