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Life of Col. Ormand F. Nims

A history of the 2d Massachusetts Light Artillery will hardly be regarded as complete unless it contains a sketch of the life of its commander, Capt. Ormand F. Nims.

1From the time of the early settlement of America down to the last war in which the United States has been engaged, the Nims family has participated in the offensive and defensive campaigns of the country save only in the war with Mexico. Indeed it may truly be said that the commander of Nims' Battery came of good fighting stock. The family of Nims is descended from the old Huguenots of France, coming from that part of the country where is situated the city Nismes, from which is derived the family name de Nismes, or as it is now written Nims. Godefroi de Nismes, or as known here, Godfrey Nims came to this country in the 17th century, the first mention of his name being found in the records of Northampton under the date September 4, 1667. He was in Turner's Fight, May 18,, 1676 and was a soldier in King Philip's War. He was twice married. His first wife was Mary, daughter of William Miller and widow of Zebadiah Williams. His second wife was Mehitabel, daughter of William Smead and widow of Jeremiah Hall. He had six children by his first wife and five by the second. Rebecca (died young), Rebecca, John, Henry, Thankful, Ebenezer, Thomas, Mehitabel, Mary, Mercy and Abigail. The family of Godfrey Nims were victims of that terrible Indian tragedy which resulted in the destruction of Deerfield, Mass., to which place Mr. Nims had moved in 1686. This calamity occurred February 29, 1704. On that fatal day, Mrs. [86] Nims was captured and was slain on the way to Canada. Her dwelling was destroyed by fire. The eldest surviving daughter, then Mrs. Mattoon, was slain, together with an only child, Henry; the eldest son was captured and slain. Ebenezer, the second son, was captured and carried to Canada. Mehitabel, Mary and Mercy were burned with the house. Abigail, the youngest was captured at the age of four years and carried to Canada, where she married another captive, Josiah Rising, then christened Ignace Raizeune, received a permanent home, and a large domain.

It does not appear that Godfrey Nims was captured at this time. The suggestion has been made that he was with a military company elsewhere. An inventory of his estate was taken at Deerfield, March 12, 1704, or 5, the presumption being that he had died there just previously.

Ebenezer and John were the two surviving sons of Godfrey. John has many descendants in Michigan and other parts of the West. Ebenezer was carried to Canada as was also another captive, Sarah Hoyt. These two were married in Canada and had there one son also named Ebenezer. They were redeemed by Stoddard and Williams with difficulty in 1814 and returned to Deerfield, where four more sons were born, David, Moses, Elisha, Amasa. David, son of Ebenezer, was born at Deerfield, March 30, 1716 and died in Keene, July 21, 1803. He came to Keene while a boy and was appointed scribe by the proprietors July 25, 1737. At the first town meeting after the town was chartered by New Hampshire which was held May 2, 1753, he was elected first town clerk and after that held some town office nearly every year till 1776. In 1740, he was granted 10 acres of upland in Keene, for hazarding his life and estate by living in the place to promote the settlement of the township. Still later he was granted 104 acres in that part of Keene, which is now in the town of Roxbury. This estate is at present occupied by David Brigham Nims, his great great-grandson. He [87] had ten children one of whom Asahel fell at the battle of Bunker Hill. ‘On the morning when Captain Wyman and his men left Keene for Massachusetts, Asahel came into town from his home on the Sullivan Hills where he was clearing land and getting ready to settle with one whom he hoped soon to marry. He saw the military movement and was fired with that spirit of military and patriotic fervor which has been such a characteristic of the Nims family. One fellow who had enlisted did not have the courage to start. Asahel consented to take that fellow's place and lost his life in his first battle. He was buried on the battlefield and his name is recorded on one of the gates of Bunker Hill Park.’

Zadok, another son and the grandfather of Col. Ormand Nims fought at Lake Champlain, and it is a tradition concerning him that at this time he became so exhausted that his commander and comrades believed him dead. They were preparing his body for burial, when to their delighted surprise he came to his senses and afterward fully recovered.

Col. Ormand F. Nims was born in Sullivan, N. H., August 30, 1819, his father, Philander Nims, being a farmer in that vicinity and his mother, the daughter of Col. Solomon White of Uxbridge, Mass.

Colonel White served seven years in the War for Independence and later commanded a Massachusetts regiment at the head of which he marched to Worcester at the time of Shay's Rebellion. An uncle, Frederick Nims, served during the War of 1812 performing creditable military service.

Ormand Nims was twenty-three years old when he left the farm in Sullivan and came to Boston, where in 1854 he bought a drug store on Cambridge Street and set up in business for himself. His first taste of a military career had been when, a boy of fifteen, he had joined the Sullivan Militia commanded by his brother. In 1853 he with his two brothers joined the Lancers and this branch of the militia of [88] Massachusetts had no more ardent members than these three young men from New Hampshire.

It happened that about this time General Sherman's Battery of United States artillery came to Boston from Newport for the purpose of giving an exhibition in encampment, parade, and drill on Boston Common. Young Nims saw the drill and was delighted; after this nothing would do for him but the artillery.

Early in 1854 he enlisted in a new battery raised under command of Capt. Moses G. Cobb, and was made first sergeant on the night of his enlistment. After three years of service, he was made fourth lieutenant and later received command of the battery. During his term of command he made this battery famous for its efficiency and perfect organization.

‘I resigned from my command in 1860,’ said Colonel Nims in an interview some years since, ‘and my last appearance with it, my last parade in fact, was on the occasion of the review on Boston Common by the Prince of Wales, the late King Edward, who was on a visit to America.’

Then came the Civil War. The battery with which Colonel Nims had been connected was among the first to volunteer and although he was not a member he rendered efficient aid in equipping and drilling the men, accompanying them as far as New York when they started on active service. Just as he took the train, a prominent official said to him, “Nims, we will have six guns ready for you when you return.”

The organization of the 2d Massachusetts and its service in the field has already been recorded in the pages of this book and this naturally includes the military career of its captain.

A few quotations may serve to show the more personal side of Colonel Nims and the relations existing between the commander and his men.

The following extract is from a letter written by an officer while at Franklin, La.Captain Nims is the hardest working officer I ever saw, always looking out for the interests of the [89] battery and the men. Hardly ever in his quarters, nothing escapes his observation. He is a man of strict probity and has none of the minor vices, always reliable and reminds one of the hero Garibaldi. Although proud of his battery and its reputation, and pleased at anything written or said in its praise, he thoroughly detests personal flattery and indeed I would not venture to say this much to him for my commission.’

A quotation from the Boston Transcript at the close of the war: ‘It is a remarkable fact that during the three and a half years that Captain Nims commanded the 2d Battery, punishment was to its members almost unknown. Splendid discipline was maintained solely by esprit de corps and by the respect and affection entertained for the commander on one hand and by the fatherly care and solicitude always exhibited by Captain Nims for his men under all circumstances. The slight mortality by disease in this battery is attributed by the members to the efficiency of their leader.’

Some years after the war a niece of Colonel Nims was visiting in the South and dined at the home of a former Confederate captain. She was told that at one time during the war, orders were given to the Confederate officers to kill Captain Nims at any cost as his battery was inflicting so much damage upon their forces.

After the discharge of the original Nims' Battery at the end of three years, Captain Nims immediately secured enough enlistments for another battery and at once returned to New Orleans. But an injury to his ankle received while he was at home to muster out his men, and the fact that most of his boys were no longer with him led him to resign his commission and accept a position in the Chief Quarter-Master's department at New Orleans, where he remained till after the close of the war. After peace had been fully restored and the work of reconstruction had been begun, Captain Nims returned to Boston and bought back the little drug store he had left at the beginning of the war, where he remained for nearly a half [90] century until at the age of ninety he retired from business, in 1910. After the return of peace the attention of the government was directed to Captain Nims' services and on March 13, 1865, by special enactment of the Senate he received the titles of ‘Brevet MajorBrevet Lieutenant—Colonel—and Brevet Colonel, for gallant and meritorious service during the war,’ thus explaining the title Colonel Nims.

After leaving the army, Colonel Nims took almost no part in military or political affairs—except in connection with Nims' Battery Association and for a short time serving as commander of Post 7, G. A. R. He was also a member of the Loyal Legion. He would never accept a pension. To quote his own words on the subject, ‘I don't want a pension. It doesn't seem right to me that a man should be paid by the Federal government simply because he was in the army. I served my country to the best of my ability and I don't want any pay for it either. If one were incapacitated for earning a living that would be a different matter.’

During the half century that Colonel Nims maintained his drug store at the West End he saw many changes in that neighborhood. Someone has said that he served the poor and needy from his little store as faithfully as he ever served his country in the days of the war. Everyone in that section regarded him as a friend and helper, and he was always ready to give aid to those who needed it. He made it a practice to give away one prescription at least, every day. If the families of any of his men were in need, it was his delight to care for and assist them.

Colonel Nims died at his home, 42 Blossom Street, on May 23, 1911, at the age of 91 years. His funeral was held at Trinity Church on May 25 and was attended by the remaining members of the battery and by members of the Loyal Legion together with many friends who honored and loved him. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.

A Christian patriot and soldier.

1 The facts concerning the early history of the Nims family have been taken from addresses given by Rev. J. L. Seward, Dd., Keene, N. H.

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