The memoir was transcribed by Tim Wyatt, a descendent. A sister of William Trimmer was one of his great grandparents, and she and her brother corresponded until after World War I.
Spellings and missing words or letters are left as they were transcribed. However, the editor has added paragraph breaks to make it more readable in this Web format. In addition, the editor has added some comments in brackets to help the reader understand other events occuring at the some time to other units or to guess at missing words.
How I Was Captured
We were returning from the Savanna River where we had been stationed a month, the detachment consisted of a 2nd Lieuenant, a Sergeant, Corporal and twelve men in charge of one howitzer casson and twelve horses. The officer and the Sergeant also rode their own horses. We belonged to a six gun battery that was now near Fernandina and we had been ordered upon this trip to protect a blockade runner that was loading with cotton. Our camp had been located a little back from the river in a portion known as the Gulf xxxxmuck [hammock?]. The vegetation here is perhaps the most luxuriant in the State, Royal palms, Cabbage Palmetto often seventy feet in height. Live Oaks of giant proportions, gums, Orange and other evergreens. In this luxuriant grove we built our camp.
The news of soldiers being at the river soon brought us numerous visitors principaaly women, and almost every night dancing was kept up. The steamer that was loading cotton was down the river about half a mile and a guard of two men was kept continually at her. We had all been swimming which was a daily occurrence the alligatores were very numerous but kept their distance. They would surround us ten or twelve big fellows the eyes and small portion of their heads all that they exposed. Some that were killed measured fourteen feet.
At one of the many dances an unusual number of girls were present and many of these fair maids walked many miles, all of them carried their shoes and extras as shoeleather and calico were equally scarce. These girls would be dusty and tired but would fix themselves in their starched calico dresses and shoes and looked as pretty and clean as if at their homes. Calico was then selling at from thirty to fifty cents a yard and shoes six to ten dollars a pair.
An old log house with a floor of functions which were pine saplins split and smoothed was the very place for the dance a stick in dirt chimney at the gable end the boys fixed up plank seats on either side and at dark the dance commenced, lightwood was in abundance and a good fire kept up a fiddle borrowed from the steamer played reels and break downs to the satisfaction of all. In an hour most of the girls had taken off their shoes and while resting used snuff freely. The boys smoked and frequently if the fair partner wanted a whiff the boy would take from his own mouth whipe the stem under his shirt sleeve and put it in her mouth. All were in a state of perspiration the night being warm and a big fire in th chimney.
About 10 oclock a general rest was taken and big iron pots of beef bones and sweet potatoes were dished out in everyons hands. The dancing then went on and continued till day. One of the drivers Yates in preparing to feed his horses next morning putted the bark of a hollow tree open to empty the corn into when a large rattlesnake crawled out he was poor but measured after being killed twentyfour inches in circumference. Game was very plenty deer, turkey, wild hogs and panther signs were all about. The vessel as soon as loaded dropped down the river our services being through we were ordered to leave.
The soil now is lime formation and enormous boulders of lime rock lay about in the woods. We are now in heavy yellow pine occasionally an oasis of magnolias, live oaks, cabbage palmetto and mahogany would appear. The lime sinks were all about these show themselves by the rich growth the tangled vines and flowers Now we pass through a sandy soil and large cactus and prickly pear these are covered with bright yellow flowers but the thorns are dangerous. Our horses suffer a good deal as the ground is matted with this particular growth.
Late in the evening we stop at a lime sink for water all the buckets are put in use and a long rope also the rocks decend abruptly and all find difficulty the water clear as crystal and icy. One of the men in climbing back discovered a ledge the body of a grown man and beside it dead a large puma; the man had evidently come after water and the puma must have sprung upon him, the man had defended himself as best he could for in his hand was an open knife which had stabbed and disembowelled the cat. He was terribly bit and clothing torn and had died from wounds and starvation. They had been dead some days so we hoisted the body of the man and buried it in the pine woods. This lime sink was all of 40 feet in depth and to reach the water fully ten more.
Continuing our march day after day the trip across the peninsular occupied ten days passing through virgin forests of yellow pine large herds of wild cattle in which generally deer were found. Many friendly Seminole Indians came to our camp seeking tobacco and liquor thet always had game of some kind to exchange. At Hartz Roads we joined the company.
Previous to this trip I had been Quartermaster Sergt of the battery for misconduct, gambling etc the Captain of his own accord had me reduced to the ranks and my cheverons torn off my jacket. Upon my return from the trip, the Captain complimented me upon my good conduct and soldierly bearing and said he would appoint me a corporal, this I refused saying I preferred to remain in the ranks. Our Captain claimed to be a religious man and frequently was seen kneeling.
One night soon after our return the company had been dismissed the Captain was seen kneeling in his bush arbor. He soon got up calling for the orderly sergeant to reform the company immediately which being done the captain stepped to the front and said Men I have called you together to inform you that some scoundrell has grossly insulted me by throwing cow manure ar me while I was engaged in prayer; I know who the man is and intended killing him on sight, he had in his hand a Navy Colt but I prefer that the scoundrell shall acknowledge by stepping out two paces I will give him five minutes or I shall kill him in ranks; turning to his bugler said take the time and call me when the five minutes are up.
All of us felt uneasy I am sure I did many knew who it was but not a word was spoken neither did anyone step to the front. When the bugler Harrison called time our Captain stepped up slowly pistol in hand Men he said I did not think it possible that the scoundrell would take the risk by refusing to reveal his identity, I have my eye on the villain but will give him five minutes more I intend to kill him as he stands, take the time bugler. Another long wait the night was still nothing but the horses munching their corn could be heard at the expiration of the time our captain again came forward this time his pistol was in its holster. Sergeant dismiss the company you will hear of this in the morning. Nothing was ever done further more important events occurred in a few days.
Soon after this the paymaster visited the camp, at the time I was under arrest charged with refusal to testify against a comrade also being present at the killing of a cow. The paymasters name was Teesdale and he ranked as a Major. The company being paraded the Captain and Major under a bush arbor with the pay rolls each man was called, the orderly first then the Quartermaster Sergeant Major please pass that name at present I have that man under arrest. And by the way Major I have four men implicated for cow stealing can you not stop sufficient from each of their pay to reimburse the owner the Major replied why certainly Captain of course I can, give me their names and the amount you wish stopped. So after the men had all signed the rolls and some grumbling with the paymaster I was brought up in charge of the guard the captain said this is the man Major I have under arrest and whose name appears at the head of your rolls, he was formerly Quartermaster Sergeant of my battery but I had to reduce him for misconduct. Turning over the roll and finding my name the paymaster said sign your name here sir pointing to the line I said I refuse to do it Major you have no right to deduct anything because the Captain asks you to. The Captain said sign that roll you impudent scoundrell I again refused and you cant make me. After more words the guard was ordered to take me away. My pay amounted to $115.00 less the six which they had deducted. I never received.
In a few days I was returned to duty, the company also was ordered to a camp near Jacksonville. The Yankees were now in possession of this town as they had landed a force a few weeks before and taken it. This was an exceedingly pretty little place the sandy streets were lined with large live oaks and along the river bank some few small schooners and sail boats were kept; the private houses were frame and surrounded by nice flower gardens one could often see the cows standing belly deep in the sluggish river eating the saltygrass that grew out a hundred yards from the bank. Jacksonville then had only about 3000 people but was a contending point.
Our battery supported by some six hundred men both Infantry and cavalry were one morning instructed to retake the place. The battery was stationed at and near the old Brick Church we succeeded after stubborn fighting in running the Yankees to their boats. The infantry did some hard work our guns used a good deal of ammunition three of our men were killed and several wounded the Infantry lost about seventy five killed & wounded. We only held the town about ten days as the sequel will show. The company returned to the "White House" and remained in camp. A very unfortunate affair occurred here in which we lost a promising officer Lieutenant. He was boarding at a house kept by Pickett and had a room upstairs. Early in the morning Pickett going from room to room making fires found the Lieutenant in his wifes bed and he was shot and killed although defending himself with a chair.
Two of our guns were now taken and sent to General Finnegan about Lake City who had then collected quite a little army one of the cassons had broken down and left in the road abandoned At night a detail of five men and two horses was sent to bring in the casson we succeeded in getting back to camp about midnight. The night was very cool and frosty the men were sleeping out in the open the camp being alongside the Rail road. The lightwood fires had been allowed to die down we were cold and threw on some knots standing up warming ourselves. Without warning no pickets giving the alarm, a body of galloping horses and cursing men charged upon the sleeping camp fireing their carbines and slashing with their swords shouting surrender you Rebel sons of bitches as I was awake and standing by the fire I just had time to run and cross the rail road hiding behind a big yellow pine tree entirely in the dark. [Editor's note: The Union cavalry was advance guard of Col. Henry's Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry. As stated in one report: "He caught them entirely by surprise, capturing four field guns, two brass twelve pound rifles, two iron six-pounders, several infantry, and a quantity of stores. The guns reportedly belonged to Dunham's and Abell's batteries. They had been waiting for a train from Lake City to carry them to safety."]
The camp was completely surprised and in the hands of the cavalry men who made all surrender that they captured I witnessed the whole performance never moving from the tree. In a few minutes horses were hitched to the four guns the cassons battery wagon and what camp equipage they could collect in their hurry setting fire to the rest, then left. Bob Murray received a terrible slash on his forehead cutting the scalp, he came over to me and I bound up his wound with a piece of my shirt; neither of us had anything but what we stood in not even a blanket. Bob said several men were killed but more wounded. After all was again quiet we took the rail road considering ourselves fortunate to get away.
Befor day we arrived at Baldwina station where the Cedar Keys & Fernandina rail road and the Tallahassee & Jacksonville cross one another, here back from the platform was a large frame building known as the Askham house we entered the public room where several soldiers had congregated round a fire some had escaped from the captured camp like ourselves. I had been in the room but a short time when who should come in but my captain truly in a deplorable plight, all made room for him at the fire he told us that at the alarm he just had time to throw himself on his horse --- as he was asleep close to where the animal a fine black stallion was hitched without bridle or saddle only the head stall the leather strap he put in his mouth and left the horse having little to guide him floundered into a cypress pond bogging himself and the captain in the black mud; thinking it wise to abandon the horse and save himself. He said he had a terrible time and only with great difficulty getting out, being well baptized. He had neither coat, or cap, had his sword belt and scabbard, but no sword, also pistol in holster he was covered with mud. I felt sorry for my captains sad condition and told him so. I did not see him any more till after the surrender.
About day break some one gave the alarm save yourselves men the Yankees are coming, the cavalry were sure on us I ran but was ridden down by a trooper and fell in the palmetto , finding that I was unhurt I crawled into thicker grass, Soon the women were screaming the chickens squalling and loud cursing indicated foraging. Late in the evening the troopers found a pen of beef cattle, these they turned loose amusing themselves by shooting them, the cattle frequently ran over me but I laid still. About dark bugle calls were heard the tramping of horses, jingling of chains getting closer. I hear orders to stretch the picket rope, to dismount and hitch, later to the cooks to be careful to keep fire out of the grass. In spite of the caution I soon found myself obliged to get out as the fire was heading for me; at the picket rope I was grabbed in the collar and without ceremony taken to the Colonel thinking me a spy.
I was at once taken before General Seymore he with his staff occupying the hotel we had left so hurriedly. Good evening Colonel who have you there asked the General.Why only one of those dammed Florida swamp foxes replied the Colonel my men have just burnt out The General then asked what I was doing hid away in the grass I told him how his troopers had captured our camp and how I got away he said are you hungry I told him I was but wanted water, he told one of the guard to give me some. Sergeant he said seeing the places where chevrons had been what battery do you belong to I told him he replied yes it was some of your dammed gunners that killed my men at the brick church continuing he said about how many men has General Finnigan and told me that his troopers had captured four guns of your battery where are the other two. After more questions Sergeant you seem to be an intelligent fellow if you will take the oath I will turn you loose. I replied I am no fellow General our negroes are fellows well said he you are an intelligent man here take the oath. I have taken one oath to support and defend the Confederacy surely you do not wish me to violate that. Well he said I shall send you North this closed the interview take this incorrigible rebel Corporal and put him with the other prisoners.
Here I met several comrades and others, many were wounded, all were hungry. I had eaten nothing for 36 hours and when at midnight buckets of boiled rice without salt were passed to us to help yourselves Johnnies each digging into the starchy mass ravenously. Soon after day a line of empty wagons came up the wounded were carried out first and laid on straw we then got in six men to a wagon a guard from the 112th N.Y. [Editor's note: Perhaps he means the 115th New York] going along. Each guard had full haversacks which they divided on the journey of 23 miles. Arriving at Jacksonville we were turne over to a company of the 54th Mass. Regiment Negroes who were the Provost guard. They had but just come from Battery Wagner where they had suffered Putting us into a long brick building upstairs opposite the St Johns River as the wagons passed along the sandy street we saw numbers of obstructions and abates the beautiful live oaks had been cut down their trunks sharpened outboard
The negro sergeant in charge of us soon had meat, and bread, issued to us, getting me to divide it out. The wounded were taken to the hospital saving themselves a future imprisonment The sergeant proved to be a clever fellow named Welsh educated very civil rendering me many little services I saw him years after he then had a position in the Custom House at Pensacola. A few days before we were put on the transport an opportunity to take the oath was given. Welsh had told me they were going to send us North also that they, General Seymore had met a severe reverse at Olustree. Some six or eight took the oath among them two of our drivers named Genton one of these men had killed the cow for which I had been arrested and humiliated.
The transport a small propeller twelve negro guard detailed to take us in charge. There were about 68 of us some were seafaring men and it was arranged to overpower the guard who were with us between decks ???ing up the coast the plan was to seize the guns of the guard off duty stacked in the rack. The white Lieutenant was up above two guards marched back and forth in front of us these were secured, their guns taken and a rush made for the arms rack. Alarm was given above before any could get up the companion way the hatches were battened down. The guard below were in charge. Soon sailor men with the Lieutenant came through the hatch each with short cutlass and pistol prepared to kill the last one the negroes were released and for punishment our rations were entirely stopped. Some of the prisoners were clubbed none seriously.
Arriving at Hilton Head the day bitterly cold 17th Feb 1864 [Editor's note: It had to be a later date as Timmer relates he had heard of the Federal defeat at Olustee before leaving Jacksonville, and the battle didn't take place until February 20th. Or, since Trimmer was writing this years later, perhaps he inserted his hearing of the Federal defeat earlier then he actually heard of it.] we were put into a shed where we were confined for two weeks scanty rations and no blanket or overcoat given to any. While here we learned particulars of the Olustree fight. We are again put on transport this time it was the Steamer Baltic formerly running in the Collins Line to Europe arriving at New York we were transferred from the steamer to Castle William... Island... crowded...
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CSA pension file no. A06286
William Henry Trimmer
Born: 7 Sep 1835 in Kent England
Soldier's Claim for Pension (CSA service)
State of Florida, Escambia County
On this first day of September 1903 personally appeared before me, Clerk of the Circuit Court in and for said county and State, Wm. H. Trimmer who being by me duly affirmed, declares he is the identical person who enlisted on or about the 24th day of March 1861 in Captain Wm E Cropp. Company, county of Franklin, in the State of Florida and that while in actual service in said company and in line of duty as such soldier, at Pensacola, State of Florida, on 1861 and was honorably discharged at the expiration of his service on the 4th day of April in Montgomery County, State of Alabama from first twelve month service. He reenlisted in Richmond, Va. Was at the Battle of Seven Pines May 30, 1862. Detailed as clerk of hospital on Cary St. Richmond; transferred to Selma, Ala. Worked on Ram Tennessee; detailed to serve on court martial at Lake City, Fla; transferred to Abel's Battery of Artillery as Quarter Master Sergeant. Captured by Yankees at Olustee about Feb. 12, 1864 and carried as prisoner of war to Jacksonville, Fla. Thence to Hilton Head, thence to Governor's Island, New York Harbor where I remained till May 20, 1865 when I was paroled with ten thousand others. I did not receive one dollar from Confederate Gov. for 18 months.
Affirmed and subscribed before me this 31st day of August 1903 (signature illegible) Clerk Circuit Court Escambia County
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