Wilder Dwight.

Life and letters of Wilder Dwight, lieut.-col. Second Mass. inf. vols online

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pickets, wet bivouacs, always within sound, often within
reach, of the enemy's cannon, moving under the hissing
importunity of flying shells and round shot. One morning
at Beverly Ford we took a position from which our forces
had been driven two previous days. Colonel Andrews and
I breakfasted iinder a tree with shell and round shot moving
merrily about us. We held the position. On Monday night
we lay under arms within half a mile of the battle in which
Kearney and Stevens fell, near Fairfax Court-House. The
fight was a fierce one. During most of it a violent thunder-
storm raged fearfully. I can only leave you to imagine the
scene. We were all night under arms, wet through, and
without fires. The worst night I ever spent. Tuesday
night we came in last over the Warrenton Pike, — the very
tail of the Grand Army, as we had been before.

" Our risks and chances have been great, but we were not
in either of the fights about Manassas or Bull Run. I am
glad of it. Unsuccessful battles we have had enough of.
I have been too busy to get news of Charley. We have
been on the march for eighteen days. Colonel Taylor's
account of the matter was encouraging. I met him by
chance on Tuesday. Inquired at once for Charley. His
answer was, ' He is on his way to Richmond.' I was taken
aback. Under all the circumstances, you may regard him
as lucky.

" I hope he will be paroled without being taken to Rich-
mond.

" Our recruits have had a hard time. It is an illustration
of the folly of our whole system of organization and recruit-
ing, that we should have dragged one hundred and fourteen



LIFE AND LETTERS OP WILDER DWIGHT. 287

unarmed recruits through all this business. But I will not
begin about follies. The events of the past three weeks are
incredible. Disaster, pitiable, humiliating, contemptible !
Love to all at home. Now that we are in Maryland, I sup-
pose the absurd order stopping the mails will be rescinded.
I shall write again as soon as I can."

" Camp bbtokd Eookville, Maryland, September 7, Sunday.

" It is a hot, sunny, breezy afternoon. We are in line of
battle with Sumner's corps, as we have been ever since
yesterday noon. The air is full of rumors, but my opinion
is firm that the Rebels will not cross in force into Maryland.
If they do, and if our hearts have not really died within us,
then we shall be fit to strike them. We want soldiers,
SOLDIERS, and a General in command. Please notice the
words, all of them ; for the history of the past fifteen months
is the sad record of that want. Nothing surprising happened
in Virginia. The force brought against us was not larger
than our own, was equally fatigued, and, still more, without
food. But we allowed them, — impotently and with fatal'
blindness, allowed them to outgeneral us. We ignored what
was passing under our eyes, denied the familiar maxims of
military science, blustered up to the moment of defeat, and
then fled back to our base.

" ' No line of retreat.' ' No base of supply.' ' No strong
positions.' What is the issue of that policy ? A starving
army hunting lines of retreat upon the firm base, and up to,
and within, the strong fortification of its capital. We stood
on the banks of the Rappahannock a week, while the enemy
steadily pushed his columns up the other bank, and through
a well-known mountain pass upon our rear. 0, it is heavy
to see life and hope and peace and honor withering away
daily under such influences ! Nor do I see any evidence of
tone or wisdom in power anywhere

" It has come back to McClellan ! I met him as I went
into Washington the other day. His manner was gay, con-



288 LIFE AND LETTERS OP WILDER DWIQHT.

fident, elate. His staff were jubilant. Again he takes the
reins, and what do you expect ? I must hope, though I
know not why."

Once more he wrote from Washington : —

" September 11, 1862.

" I am here now two days getting arms for our recruits.
All is reported quiet beyond Kockville, and I do not return
till to-morrow.

" Charley is spoken of as having shown gallantry and
conduct. His career is an honorable one."



LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER DWIGHT. 289



CHAPTER XVII.

BATTLE OF ANTIETAM. — WOUNDED. — DEATH. — BUBIAL.

THE few lines from Washington Avith which the
preceding chapter closed are the last we have
from Colonel D wight until those written on the morn-
ing of the battle of Antietam, in which he fell. From
others we have an account of the intervening days.
Mr. Desellum,* whose farm, four miles beyond Rock-
ville, was passed by our army on its way to Antietam,
writes : —

" After the disastrous experience of our army in General
Pope's retreat, and its pause behind the fortifications at
Washington to recruit, it again advanced.

" Amidst the perils and dangers thickening around us,
the friend of Colonel Dwight, Colonel Batchelder, of the
Massachusetts Thirteenth, rode up. He informed us that
Colonel Dwight was alive and well, would soon be up, and
had determined, in conversation when at Arlington Heights,
to call and see us. The news animated us. How charac-
teristic of the man, to think of obscure friends while sur-
rounded by the horrors and dangers of the battle-field.

" Colonel Dwight, with Colonel Dalton, called upon us as
expected. The time and circumstances will never be for-
gotten. Immense armies were in motion, the Colonel in
haste : none knew the danger better than he, or was more
ready to meet it. But oh ! the inroads upon the Colonel's
health by unmitigated service ! He had imdergone ex-

* See page 86.
19



290 LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER DWIQHT.

cessive fatigue, and was then tortured with pain. Riding
up, apparently indifferent to suffering, all hastened to meet
him. His first remark was, ' Where are all the spinning-
wheels ? Are they going yet ? ' A cordial greeting fol-
lowed. He called all the colored children up to him,
showed them to Colonel Dalton, asked them questions, and
amused himself with their replies. He then gave us a nar-
rative of the regiment and himself, after which sister and
myself, waiving all formality, stated our domestic troubles
occasioned by the war, to which he patiently listened, and
kindly replied.

" It was evident he needed rest and refreshment, and
while enjoying both 'he requested his ' friend of the spin-
ning-wheel and the flower-garden ' to show Colonel Dalton
her domestic manufactures of linens and woollens.

" He appeared to feel a momentary relief, and in con-
versation was animated. While sister was trying to ad-
minister to his comfort on a couch he remarked with a
pleasant smile, ' How well you know how to make me feel
comfortable ! '

" In a short time he felt refreshed, and determined to
press forward. I implored him to stay a few days with us,
at least, to recruit his shattered health ; entreaties were vain.
He well knew the terrible ordeal before him, and said, with
emphasis full of meaning, ' I expect active service ! ' He
appeared to have but one wish, — his country's good, — to
which health and all other considerations were subordinate.

" Bidding sister, colored children, and all a final farewell,
he remarked to me, ' Come to our camp at Damascus,' and
' I wish you to correspond with me by letter.'

" Mounting their horses, Colonel Dwight, as he rode
away, politely and gallantly bowed and waved his hat three
times to sister.

" I went a short distance with them, speaking as encour-
agingly as a full heart would permit. At the gate the final
parting ; he rode away.



LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER D WIGHT. 291

" With subdued feelings, I could only invoke the Divine
protection in his behalf.

" Onward he went through pain and suffering, severe
inarching, privation, battle, victory, wounds, and death."

Chaplain Quint writes : —

" On the 12th of September, Friday, Lieutenant-Colonel
Dwight, who had for some days been in Washington on busi-
ness for the regiment, rejoined us. It was near the close of
the day, and his horse bore marks of his haste to find us.
We were near the end of the day's movement, and he and
myself, with the ambulances, were some half a mile behind,
while he told me what he had done and learned. He soon
rode on and joined Colonel Andrews. He had been suffering
pain in the early part of the week from a carbuncle on his
face, and was still weak.

" At night he slept in a tent with Colonel Andrews, Dr.
Stone dressing the face. In the morning, after sunrise, we
left our camping-place, and soon after noon reached the
vicinity of Frederick. After camp was in order Colonel
Dwight, Colonel Andrews, and myself rode into Frederick,
where Colonel Dwight was joyfully welcomed by the numer-
ous friends he had made the preceding winter.* He always
made, friends, he never lost one. On Sunday we marched to
the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge ; a most fatiguing day
we had, and it was past midnight when we lay down supper-
less. Colonel Andrews, Colonel Dwight, Dr. Leland, and
myself were side by side. We anticipated a battle ; but the
enemy had left during the night, and in the morning we
crossed the ridge, passed through Boonesboro', and biv-
ouacked. We rode together nearly all day, and at night
my arm touched him if I moved. He was cheerful as ever,
but far from well. On Tuesday morning his blanket and
mine were put together on rails so placed as. to insure a

* See Appendix IX.



292 LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER DWIQHT.

shelter from the sun, and we read and wrote letters* until a
sudden order to move preparatory to going into action. We
moved about a mile and a half, were drawn up in position,
but only artillery fire was had, and at night we camped.
He was so weak that Colonel Andrews and myself urged
and induced him to lie in an ambulance which Dr. Leland
offered. He entered it reluctantly. We had not been quiet
over an hour when orders came to move. He and myself
again rode together, generally in silence. It was half past
ten when we halted, and his last march ended. Near by
were some wheat-stacks. We took a little and lay upon
it ; Colonel Andrews, Colonel Dwight, and myself together.
He said but little, and we slept until about five, A. M., when
we were roused by cannonade. Our corps was speedily moved
towards the front, but a little distance off."

At this time Colonel Dwight wrote, in pencil, to
his mother as follows : —

"Neae Siiaepsbueo, September 17, 1862. On the field.

" Dear Mother, — It is a misty, moisty morning ; we are
engaging the enemy, and are drawn up in support of Hooker,
who is now banging away most briskly. I write in the
saddle, to send you my love, and to say that I am very well
so far."

Chaplain Quint again writes : —

" Colonel Dwight was as active and efficient as ever. It
was not for several hours that our regiment went into action.
Of the action others can tell infinitely better, as I was caring
for the wounded who were brought to the rear.

" I am told of his bravery and daring, — that after our
regiment had captured a Rebel flag he galloped up and

* Whatever may have been written by Colonel Dwight on this morning was
lost in the confusion which followed the battle of Antietam, and never re-
covered.



LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER D WIGHT. 293

down the lines with it in his hand, waving it amid the cheers
of the men, reckless of the fire of the enemy.

" Colonel Andrews was with him as he was shot, and
will tell the circumstances.

" His last act before receiving the fatal wound was to walk
along the line of the regiment, which was drawn up under
the shelter of a fence, and direct the men to keep their
heads down out of the reach of the enemy's fire."

Colonel Andrews writes : —

" Lieutenant-Colonel D wight was mortally wounded within
two feet of me. He had just come from the left of the regi-
ment, and was about to speak, when the ball struck him in
the left hip. He fell, saying, ' They have done for me.'
He then complained of intense pain. The ball also wounded
him in the left wrist. The regiment soon fell back a short
distance, and men were ordered to carry him, but the pain
was so intense that he refused to be moved."

Here, while alone upon the field, under the fire of
the two armies, he took from his pocket the note
which he had written in the morning, and added to
it the following : —

" Dearest Mother, — I am wounded so as to be help-
less. Good by, if so it must be. I think I die in victory.
God defend our countiy. I trust in God, and love you
all to the last. Dearest love to father and all my dear
brothers. Our troops have left the part of the field where
I lay.

" Mother, yours,

" Wilder."

In larger and firmer characters, across the opposite
page, he wrote these words : " All is well with those
that have faith."



294 LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDEK DWIGHT.

The paper is stained with his blood, and the
scarcely legible lines show with what difficulty he
accomplished this last effort of a life filled with acts
of fidelity and love.

We next hear of him from Private Rupert Sadler,
who crept up to him at great risk. He writes : —

" After we had got out of the reach of the enemy, I went
out to see what had become of Colonel Dwight. When I
got near the road, I had to crawl on my hands and knees.
The Rebels had not advanced any, and I saw a horse which
I thought was the Colonel's. While I was examining it a
squad of Rebels saw me, and began firing at me. I laid
down behuid the horse until they stopped. After I had
looked about for a few moments I saw a man with his head
lying on a rail. I felt that it was the Colonel, and I hurried
to him. It was as I thought. I gave him a drink of water,
and asked him where it was he was wounded. He said that
his thigh-bone was shattered. I saw his arm was bleeding,
and asked him was it serious. He said, ' It is a pretty little
wound.' I saw two of our men coming, and I called them
over. The Rebels saw them, and began firing. After the
firing had ceased Colonel Dwight wanted us to go back to
the regiment. Said he, ' Rupert,* if you live, I want you
to be a good boy.' I wanted to bind up his wounds, but he
said it was ' no use.' He gave me a paper that he had been
trying to write on, and the pencil. The paper was covered
with his blood. I gave them all to Colonel Andrews, except
the pencil ; I have that now. He then gave us directions
as to carrying him. We lifted him carefully, and carried
him into a cornfield. In the evening I was detailed, by

* This brave, devoted boy, then a private of Company D, did not long sur-
vive the friend and benefactor for whom he so freely risked his life. Soon after
the battle of Antietam he was made color-corporal. He was killed in action at
Gettysburg on the 3d of July, 1 863, while carrying the colors.



LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER D WIGHT. 295

Colonel Andrews, at Colonel Dwight's reqnest, to go and
take care of him. I was with him until he died."

Magee, one of the men who helped carry him from
the field where he fell, says : " When we first came
to him to lift him up he said, ' Boys, don't think that
because I am wounded I feel any less spirit than I
did before, for I feel just the same.' We were look-
ing for an easy place to put him down, when he said
to us, ' Put me down anywhere, boys ; any place is
good enough for me.' "

He was here joined by- General Gordon, who
writes : —

" As Wilder was brought back from the fatal spot to the
wood that skirts the battle-field, I rode to his side. He had
just been laid under a tree, the blanket in which he had
been carried under him. As I reined up my horse his eye
met mine, and he almost exultingly saluted me. At this
moment bullets whistled over our heads, shot and shell
crashed through the trees ; the wood was no longer a safe
place for the wounded : I said, ' I must have you imme-
diately removed from here.' He replied with heroic firm-
ness, ' Never mind me ; only whip them.' .... I ordered
six men to take hold of the blanket and carry him to the
rear, where he could be cared for. I would have gone my-
self, but my command had no other leader. I never saw
my friend again. I am sincerely a mourner that I shall
meet liim no more on earth. I can also rejoice that such
an example is left me."

Chaplain Quint writes : —

" My servant found me and told me that Colonel Dwight
was wounded. I immediately began to search for him ; but,
though I was in the saddle, could not find him for an hour.
I then discovered him with friends in the garden of a hos-



296 LIFE AND- LETTEKS OF WILDER D WIGHT.

pital somewhat in the rear. He was lying on a stretcher,
covered by a blanket, with his eyes closed, and quite pale
from loss of blood. As I kneeled down beside him he opened
his eyes and smiled, as he took my hand : ' Is that you,
Chaplain ? ' said he. I expressed my sorrow for his wounds ;
and, doubtless, he saw my deep feehng in my face, for he
immediately added, in a coaxing tone, * Don't feel bad ' ; and
with a firm look and natural smile, said, ' It is all right, all
right.' I replied, ' I thank God you feel so cheerful.' When
he added, ' Now, Chaplain, I know I 'm done for, but I want
you to iinderstand I don't flinch a hair. I should like to live
a few days, so as to see my father and my mother ; they
think a good deal of me ; especially my mother ; too much
(this was said smilingly), but, apart from that, if God calls
for me this minute I 'm ready to go.' Colonel Andrews
soon came, and, bending over him, yielded to the grief which
overwhelmed him. Colonel Dwight threw his arm around
his friend's neck, and drew him down to him, saying, ' Kiss
me, dear, don't take it so hard, dear fellow, don't take it so
hard ; think how much better it is that I should be lying
here than you, who have wife and children at home.' He
then talked with him freely on the subject of the day's fight,
and other matters. He said to him, ' I want it distinctly
understood that, in dying, I have no personal regrets ; my
only regret is, that I cannot longer serve the cause.' He
gave him the history of the boy Sadler, who had been his
charge before the war, and for whom he now asked Colonel
Andrews's sympathy and care. He said, too, that he should
like, if he had strength, to prepare something which might
be read to the regiment from him ; adding, with a smile, ' if
it is military to do so.' He also told him that he wished a
soldier's burial ; and, turning to me, he said, ' I do not like
display, but I think this appropriate, don't you ? ' I replied
thut I did. He afterwards enlarged upon the subject, say-
ing, ' 1 have lived a soldier, I die a soldier, I wish to be
buried as a soldier.' He wanted the papers from Sadler.
I sent for them and obtained them.



LIFE AND LETTERS OF WILDER DWIGHT. 297

" It was determined to try to move him to Boonesboro'.
I had already sent for an ambulance before Colonel Andrews
came. When it arrived we lifted him upon the stretcher
into it, but at the first movement of the ambulance the pain
was so intense that we had to cease the attempt. We took
him out, and replaced the stretcher in its old place in the
garden of the hospital.

" I found that he could be moved only on the stretcher,
so I sent for a detail of men at our wagon camp, some miles
distant. While waiting for them he said but little, only
adverting now and then to some item of business for the
regiment which he wished attended to. I lay down beside'
him."

At this time he was joined by Lieutenant James
Kent Stone, of the regiment, who afterwards wrote
to his father * as follows : —

" 1 watched by the side of Colonel Dwight, on the ground
among the wounded, on the night after the battle, and the
next day I helped carry him three or four miles on a
stretcher, and helped place him in the bed where he died.
As I sat by him in the night he took my hand, and talked,
with me for quite a long time. He said he hoped to go
home once more, and see his friends, and talk with you,
before he died. He tried to look on the bright side, to speak
in an earthly way ; still, he was prepared calmly to meet the
worst, and was ready to die there where he was. He looked
upon you as his minister, and wished me to give you his
last message, if he never saw you. I will render his words
as nearly as I can. He was ready to die. He looked back
upon the past with many regrets for failings and for misused
opportunities, yet still, with the self-respect of a man who
has tried, on the whole, to do his best ; as for the future,

* Rev. John S. Stone, D. D., then rector of St. Paul's Church, Brookline,
Massachusetts.



2C8 LIFE AND 'LETTERS OF 'WILDER D WIGHT.

there was but one hope ; no putting forward of one's own
claims, but rehance on the merits of Another. ' You know
what I mean,' said he. When he had finished, wishing to
go to sleep, he took a drink of water from me, and pressing
my hand, said, ' Good night, dear boy. I hope your future
will be as bright as it promises and ought to be.'

" The men admired Wilder D wight more than any other
officer in the regiment. They talk often of how he rode
along on the battle-field, laughing and cheering, rallying
them on. Hal * and I feel that the one great friend we had
in the regiment is gone. All are kind, but there was none
so true as the Colonel."

Chaplain Quint continues : —

" After our men arrived it was too late to move him any
distance in the darkness. I sent for an ambulance, satisfied
that the best thing to do was to place him inside for the
night, where he would be sheltered from the dews. When
the ambulance arrived we carried him to it, having placed
it in a good position, and arranged it as well as possible.
The men lay around it, and he was well sheltered. At day-
break we lifted him from the ambulance, and Dr. Leland
dressed his wounds."

Lieutenant Stone again writes : —

" When his wounds were dressed he examined them in a
most cool, naive manner. Looking at the hole through the
forearm, he said, ' Now that 's a very neat little wound ;
a proper wound ; but the other (pointing to his thigh) won't
do so well.' By this time Dr. Leland had found a farmer,
named Thomas, who owned a substantial house f about

* Henry Van Dyke Stone, a younger brother of Lieutenant Stone. Eager
to serve their country, these young men waited not for commissions, but has-
tened to join the Massacliusetts Second as privates daring the dark days of
August, 1862, which immediately followed the battle of Cedar Mountain.

t When, four years later, friends of Colonel Dwight visited this house, and



LIFE AND LETTEES OP WILDER D WIGHT. 299

three miles off, where the Colonel could have a good bed
and be well cared for. It was determined to carry him
thither. Twelve men from the new recntits were detailed
for the purpose. He divided them into six parties, who
relieved each other by turns. During the journey of three
miles and a half he called out the reliefs himself. At one
time one of the third relief carelessly stumbled. It jarred
him very much, and he said, ' Third relief, to the rear !
Now, boys, put on my best team.' We were obliged, in one
place, to ford a rapid stream about two hundred feet broad.
It must have caused the Colonel great pain in crossing, but
he did not show it at all outwardly. He was generally
silent, but he now and then spoke pleasantly to the men,
asking them their names and occupations. Once he asked
us if we had had any breakfast. Upon our answering no,
he said, ' Ah ! young soldiers. An old soldier would never
have left his wagon-camp with his haversack empty.' One
incident I must not forget. As we were passing through
a piece of woods we met a man with a Rebel flag which had
been captured the day before by one of our regiments.
Rupert Sadler got him to show it to the Colonel. It was
the State flag of the First Texas. The names of the various
battles in which it had been borne were inscribed on it.
Colonel Dwight read off the names : Seven Pines, White Oak
Swamp, Ethan's Landing, Gaines's Farm, Malvern's Hill,
&c. As the Colonel read the last name Hal called out, in

learned from Mr. Thomas's own lips that he was a whole-souled Union man,
they told him that they were grateful to know that Colonel Dwight did not die
under the roof of a Rebel. . He replied : " I think it most likely that if he had
heen taken to any house nearer the battle-field than mine it would hare heen
to a Eebel's. I was almost alone here as a Union man through the war; but
when they threatened me with the loss of my property, I always told them I 'd
never be afraid to stand by the flag."

Mr. Thomas was, withal, a good Christian, and did not omit to mention that


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