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Wilder Dwight.

Major 2d Mass. Vols. (Infantry), May 24, 1861; Lieutenant-Colonel, June 13, 1862; died September 19, 1862, of wounds received at Antietam, September 17.

Wilder Dwight, second son of William and Elizabeth Amelia (White) Dwight, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on the 23d of April, 1833. His paternal ancestor was John Dwight of Oxfordshire, England, who settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1636. His mother was descended from William White of Norfolk County, England, who settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1635. His family has belonged to New England for more than two centuries, and during that whole period has been identified with its history, its industry, its enterprises, and its institutions.

In childhood he gave promise of all that he afterwards became,—manly, courageous, self-possessed, acute, original, frank, affectionate, generous, reliable;—he was, in boyhood, not less than in manhood, one in whom to ‘place an absolute trust.’ Yet, in less vital points, he was no pattern boy. He had a quick and irritable temper, which was a source of trouble to himself and to his friends in early life, and which, early and late in life, it was his effort to control. Full of fun, and ever ready with comical suggestions, his drollery was irresistible. Many a reproof did he ward off by it in childhood; many a dark hour did he brighten by it in after years. When not six years old, it was said of him: ‘He has a sincere love of right, and aversion to wrong, though he does not desire to hear preaching on the subject.’ Before he was seven, he was pronounced uncommonly clear-headed and strong in intellect. At the age of seven and a half he began to study industriously; and from that time he was a faithful student.

At the age of thirteen he left home for the first time, to fit [253] for college at Phillips Exeter Academy. ‘There,’ says the preceptor, ‘from the beginning to the end of his course, he was a pattern pupil.’

The following extract from his diary kept at this time shows the character of the boy:—--

December 31, 1846.-To-day is the last day of the old year; and, in commencing the new, I wish to lay out some rules in relation to myself, which I will try to observe. In the first place, I will exercise every morning after breakfast, until school time; and, after school, at night, until supper time. Secondly, I will study after dinner until school time; and I will go to my room after supper and busy myself in studying or in reading a useful book until bedtime. Thirdly, while in school, I will try to busy myself about my lessons; and, at any rate, behave in an orderly manner. And I will observe strictly these rules, except when it is right for me not to do so, that is, at such times as I may think it right, though I may err in that opinion. And may I also try to correct my defects of temper. May I watch every word that comes from my mouth; and may I let my yea be yea, and my nay be nay; and may I not merely write these things down and think no more of them, but may I always keep them in my mind, and remember them most of all when I am angry, as that is the time to control myself.

At the end of two years, he was fitted for college; but not wishing to enter so early, he passed six months at the Private Military School of L. J. D. Kinsley at West Point, in order to secure the advantage of the military drill; while, at the same time, he continued his classical studies, and received instruction in French and mathematics. In May, 1849, preparatory to entering college, he returned to Exeter for a review of his studies. In the following July, he writes in his diary:—

On Monday, July 16th, I was examined for entrance to the Freshman class, and, after due trepidation and effort, on Tuesday, at about four P. M., I received my “admittatur,” overjoyed at finding it an unconditional one.

He took high rank as a scholar, and maintained it throughout his college course. The following extract from his diary shows by what means he accomplished this result.

March, 1850.—. . . .I am somewhat of “a dig,” I suppose; [254] and though the character is rather an ignominious one in college, it is in so good repute elsewhere and among wiser persons than Freshmen or even Sophomores, that I shall endeavor always to deserve the title. Natural geniuses, that is, lazy good scholars, are few and far between. I shall, therefore, estimate myself as a very common sort of a person; and as I desire to excel, I shall choose the way which seems to promise success.

Among the privileges which he enjoyed in college, that which he valued most highly was the instruction received, in lectures and recitations, on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion, from the Rev. Dr. Walker. Not less did he value the pulpit ministrations of this distinguished preacher. His diary at this period, and while he was in the Law School, is filled with abstracts of the sermons to which it was his privilege to listen. The following extract from his journal indicates the influence which these teachings exerted upon his character:—

Sunday, January 4, 1852.—Heard Dr. Walker preach from the text, Ecclesiastes VIII. II, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set on them to do evil.”

After a long abstract of the sermon, he writes:—

. . . . This is the sermon on which I may well found the first resolutions and actions of the opening year. All my life has been a series of violations of law, though I have ever had a theoretic veneration of it. Memory runs back over a sad list, and time passes on swift wings. To-morrow is to-day ere it is spoken, and yesterday was lost in irresolution and weakness. Now, now, now! God, God, God! Eternity, eternity, eternity! Action in the one, mercy and justice in the second! Pain or pleasure, joy or grief, in the last! Let me remember, then, that “though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him” ; that no man knoweth the ways of God, they are past finding out. Then I will trust in the goodness which is inscrutable but inexhaustible. I will apply my heart to know, to search, and to seek out wisdom, and to know the wickedness of folly. And may these thoughts glow in my mind, may they rouse my energies till I seek [255] to embody them in my actions, and make their spirit felt in my life; and may not these aspirations be transient and shadowy.

On leaving college he entered the Law School at Cambridge, with ardent enthusiasm for the profession. There too he took a prominent position, receiving the first prize in 1855. On leaving the Law School, he passed fourteen months in foreign travel.. He sometimes spoke with regret of this interruption to his studies, because it placed him further from the attainment of the main purpose of his life. He resumed his studies immediately on his return, and completed them in the offices of Hon. Caleb Cushing, the Attorney-General of the United States, Hon. E. R. Hoar, and Horace Gray, Jr., Esq., of Boston.

He was admitted to the bar in 1856, and commenced practice in 1857. Of what he was as a lawyer Judge Abbott says:—

I can say, in reference to my appreciation of him, what I know will be appreciated as the highest evidence, in my judgment, of his qualifications as a lawyer, that I have come up before the tribunal which I respect above human tribunals, depending entirely upon briefs furnished by my associate, this young man. I have trusted, beginning with the first cause he ever had occasion to try after being admitted to the bar,—trusted, what I should rarely do, the entire preparation of causes to him, and sat down to the trial of them without any personal attention to them myself.

He soon became the partner of Horace Gray, Jr., Esq., in whose office he had formerly been a student. Judge Gray says of him:—

I think I may say that I have never known any young man who combined, in such just and equal proportions, the theory to be learned from the books, with a readiness of practical application to the facts of cases as they came up.

Of his position and prospects at the time of the breaking out of the war, his friend, Francis E. Parker, Esq., speaks as follows:—

He had everything which a man of high ambition most desires: he had youth and health, fortune and friends, a profession in which [256] he delighted, the practical talents which smooth the way in it, and the confidence in himself which made labor light. But when the trouble of our country came, he thought that all advantages and successes which did not aid her were to be trampled under foot. He gave up to his country, without a moment's hesitation, all that he had gained and all that he was.

The first gun fired on Sumter was his summons to arms. When the awful tidings came, he closed his law books, never again to return to his beloved profession. While a school-boy at West Point, as the term drew near its close, he had playfully written home: ‘I shall, “to the right about face,” and “forward, quick march,” when the term is over, and I shall never evince any desire hereafter to shoulder a musket or wear a sword.’ Even now, his taste was unchanged. Truly did Mr. Parker say of him: ‘He looked the dangers of his new profession in the face, not fascinated by its glitter nor drawn from weightier thoughts by the sound of martial music, but deliberately, for the defence of the law and the support of a cause which he solemnly considered to be just.’

The Hon. Richard H. Dana, Jr., said of him, after his death:—

He had that combination of qualities which led to success in whatever he undertook. . . . . His love was for that kind of intelligent labor which looks to specific results. . . . . He had an intuitive knowledge of himself, and instinctive knowledge of other men. He adapted his means to his ends. He knew what he was suited to do, and he had a power of will, a faculty of concentration, and patience, perseverance, and confidence, which insure success. . . . . When the war broke out, he determined to become a soldier. His friends knew he would make himself one. He determined to offer the first regiment of three years men to the army, and he did so. He went to Washington to obtain advantages and opportunities most difficult to secure; but we felt that he would succeed, and he did succeed.

Every step he took towards the prosecution of his work illustrates the truth of Mr. Dana's words,—‘He had determined to become a soldier.’ ‘Adapting his means to his ends,’ he began by associating himself with two gentlemen [257] of West Point education and acknowledged military ability and experience. He was no less faithful as a student under them, in military tactics, than he had been, under other teachers, in more congenial pursuits. He determined to raise a regiment for the war; consulting daily with Messrs. Gordon and Andrews, formerly of the United States Army, the future Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, he made it sure that no want of military experience on his part should prove a hindrance to the perfect accomplishment of his work. He suffered not a day to pass, after the news from Sumter, before opening a subscription paper, to guarantee the expenses which would be incurred in the enterprise. His cheerful presence met a warm welcome from all whom he approached, and he had but to present his claim to meet a cordial response. The money thus raised enabled him and his associates to prosecute their enterprise without delay. The practical difficulty in their way was, that there was no law, at that time, either of the United States or the Commonwealth, under which it could be carried into operation. It was necessary to obtain from the Secretary of War special authority for the enlistment and control of the proposed regiment. For this purpose, on the 25th of April, 1861, while the excitement which followed the Baltimore riot was at its height, and the usual communication with the seat of government was cut off, Mr. Dwight and Mr. Andrews left Boston, and went by the way of Annapolis to Washington. They reached there on the evening of the 27th, at which time he wrote to his father a brief account of this eventful journey through hostile country, saying that he was to have an interview with the Secretary of War that evening.

After submitting his plan to the Secretary in conversation, he addressed to him a written statement of the same. On the next day the following letter was received from the War Department:—

The plan which you communicated for raising a regiment in Massachusetts for service during the war meets my approval. [258] Such a regiment shall be immediately enlisted in the service of the government, as one of those which are to be called for immediately. The regiment shall be ordered to Fort Independence or some other station in Boston Harbor, for purposes of training, equipment, and drill, and shall be kept there two months, unless an emergency compels their presence elsewhere.

I am, gentlemen, very respectfully,

Simon Cameron, Secretary of War.

From this time Wilder Dwight seemed to have but one interest in life. To see the Massachusetts Second become, in organization and in discipline, a perfect regiment, and to do, in connection with it, all that such a power could do, towards suppressing the Rebellion,—this was the aim which bounded his horizon. He was appointed, by Colonel Gordon's recommendation, Major of the regiment, which position he held until June 13, 1862, when he was promoted by Governor Andrew as its Lieutenant-Colonel. During what remained to him of life, the history of the regiment is his history. ‘All I want,’ he once wrote, ‘is the success of the regiment itself,—nothing more or less; and there is room enough for distinction for any one who does his share in any regiment to make it a good one.’ To no service assigned him by his superior officers was he ever found unequal. And as at the very entrance upon the practice of the law he had the confidence of one who had spent his life in courts, so now, a beginner in military duty, he was relied upon by his superiors in command. The spirit which he carried into his new profession is best illustrated by extracts from his own letters. On the 15th of July, 1861, just one week from the day the regiment left Boston, while ‘in bivouac at Bunker Hill,’ he writes:—--

We have just received our orders for an advance upon Winchester; a very good place is assigned us. . . . . I hope for a big, worthy battle, one that means something, and decides something; and I hope to have strength, courage, and wisdom to do my duty in it. I never felt happier or more earnest than for the last few days, and I never realized more fully the best significance of lifer I have always had a dream and theory about the virtues that were called [259] out by war. I have nothing to say of the supply which I can furnish, but I am vividly impressed by the demand. The calling needs a whole man, and it exacts very much of him. Self gets thrown into the background. It straggles out of the column, and is picked up, if at all, very late, by the rear-guard.

This letter closes with the words, ‘If anything happens to me, remember I meant to do my duty.’

A month later, after giving a schedule of a day in camp, he says:—

One day treads closely on another, and variety is always at hand. Here I give you the prose of it, the treadmill without the song. But there is poetry in it, too. There is a sentiment which gives the impulse to this duty and hallows the effort. I have been to Washington, and I return with a sort of desperate, teeth-set determination to do all I can in the sphere of my duty. It seems to me that the country wants active, busy, self-forgetting endeavor.

After writing earnestly of the need of improvement in discipline and organization, throughout the army, he says:—

But out of this nettle I pluck one flower, namely, that I can be of service; and it cheers me to hope, that, by active and constant endeavor, I may, perhaps, do my small mite towards organization and efficiency. I wish I could do more. To will is present with me.

Judge Gray, in the remarks from which we have already quoted, says of him:—

To those who really knew him, his warmth of feeling was not less remarkable than his purity of principle and strength of character. None but his intimate friends knew how much of his time was taken up in acts of kindness and charity. From the time he became a soldier, he was devoted to the care of his men, both as a matter of military judgment and of right feeling; in this, as in other things, showing how his intellect and his heart worked together.

Did these limits permit, there could be furnished from his letters many illustrations of the interest he took in everything which could promote the comfort of the men. A few extracts must suffice. On August 3d, ‘in bivouac on Maryland [260] Heights,’ he writes: ‘I am giving personal attention to every detail of food and clothing, and expect to get the system so organized that it must always work right.’ Again, he says:—

The event of yesterday was the arrival of the coffee-mills. Colonel Gordon reports that the men are in ecstasies with them. I am only a witness by his report, for I was ordered off on this duty just as the coffee-mills arrived. I know how badly they were needed, and I hear how admirably they work. Night before last accumulated the evidence from reports of Captains and Quartermaster about the want of tea, hard bread, salt pork, &c. I went up to General Banks's Headquarters and had a long talk with him, urging the remedies which have occurred to my mind. The General promises to change all this, and to accomplish the regular and constant issue of the ration to the soldier, in the form and at the moment required by law.

Again, he writes:—

I wish you to buy and forward, by express, a large coffeeroaster, which will roast thirty or forty pounds of coffee at a time. It would be of immense advantage to us.

On its arrival he writes:—

The coffee-roaster is lovely, and wins golden opinions. At last, also, we have tea; and, indeed, we have waked up our Commissary to something like activity.

At one time he writes:—

We had a visit from General Banks yesterday. The General visited our kitchens, and tasted, with apparent approval, my doughnuts. I say mine, because I regard as perhaps the most successful endeavor of my military life the general introduction of doughnuts into the regiment. If you could have seen the helplessness in which the flour ration had left us, and the stupidity of the men in its use, you would hail as the dawn the busy frying of doughnuts which goes on here now. Two barrels are a small allowance for a company. They are good to carry in the haversack, and “stick by a fellow on the march” ; and when the men have not time to build an oven, as often they have not, the idea is invaluable. Pots of beans baked in holes in the ground, with a pan of brown bread on top, is also a recent achievement, worthy of Sunday morning at an [261] old Exeter boarding-house. The band produced that agreeable concord yesterday, and contributed from their success to my breakfast. Our triumphs just now are chiefly culinary; but an achievement of that kind is not to be despised. “A soldier's courage lies in his stomach,” says Frederick the Great; and I mean that the Commissary of our division, and the Commissary of our regiment, and the captains and the cooks, shall accept the doctrine, and apply its lessons, if I can make them.

Much as he enjoys the success of these achievements, he soon complains that no opportunity is offered them for ‘teaching the men to take care of themselves on the march and in active duty.’ At one time he writes: ‘It is idle to disguise the fact, that it is a heaviness to the natural and unregenerate heart to see no prospect of achievement, no opportunity of action.’ And again: ‘I must say, I think the tonic of victory would be of most happy and invigorating influence. Give me a little of the ecstasy of strife; bother this constant rehearsal.’ After rejoicing over the victories at Roanoke, in Tennessee, and in Missouri, he exclaims:—

Exploit, achievement, victory! and I not there! I may feel and express foolishness, and I think I do; but I had rather lose my life to-morrow in a victory than save it for fifty years without one! When I speak of myself as not there, I mean the Massachusetts Second, in whose fortunes and hopes I merge my own. I ought, perhaps, to burn this letter; but I'll send it, I believe. In an hour or two I shall be cheerful as ever, and continue the service of standing and waiting with good heart, I hope.

He did so; yet at times his eagerness for action would express itself. Once he exclaims:—

I presume I love life, and home, and friends as much as any one; but I should sooner give them all up to-morrow, than to have our regiment go home empty. . . . . If you have any prayers to give, give them all to the supplication that the Second Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers may find a field whereon to write a record of itself. Do not spend your days in weakly fearing or regretting this or that life,—lives whose whole sweetness and value depend upon their opportunities, not upon their length.

A day later we find him returning to the cheerful acquiescence [262] in events as they are, which was the principle and habit of his life. He writes: ‘I buried hope yesterday, had a glorious wake, and resolved to sink every other wish in the absorbing one of the success of the war, without or with the Massachusetts Second, as it may happen.’ Thanksgiving day occurred during the month, when, owing to the absence of his Colonel and the illness of his Lieutenant-Colonel, he was in command of the regiment. He enjoyed making the arrangements requisite to secure a happy season for the men. After a graphic and spirited account of the festivities of the day, he says: ‘I hope on our next Thanksgiving we may be all together; but if not, at least we can hope to be as thankful as we are now.’ ‘Our next Thanksgiving’ found us standing by his grave; but these words of his were not forgotten. Many lessons of thankfulness and hope had he given us in the darkest hours of our country's trial. After the disaster of Ball's Bluff, he was asked if his heart did not sink. ‘Sink?’ he replies, ‘it swims like a duck when I think of the future that some of our eyes shall see; and will not they swim, too, with intense delight, when the sight dawns upon them? For myself, even now I cannot look upon the flag which we brought away from Boston without a glow and heart-bump, which I take to be only faint symptoms of the emotion that is to come.’

In December, 1861, when everything looked darkest, he writes:—

I can confidently wish a merry Christmas to you, and look forward to a happy New Year. We are fighting a good fight; if only we can be true to ourselves and to our cause, we have a right to indulge the brightest hopes and rely on the best promises. God is with us. Hang up every sign of Christmas,—the freshest green. Commemorate the message and the Prince of Peace. Gather the Christmas family circle, and remember the absent; for family ties are never so close as in the days of separation and trial.

As late as May 9th, the service of the regiment was still to ‘stand and wait.’ Then he writes: ‘Of course, this is a severe trial to me,—the severest, I think of my life,—but, [263] equally of course, I keep a cheerful spirit, and mean to do my best to the end.’

Two weeks later, the regiment saw its first action in the field, on the occasion of General Banks's retreat in May, 1862. From General Gordon's official report of his portion of the retreating forces we quote the following:—

Major Dwight, of the Second Massachusetts, while gallantly bringing up the rear of the regiment, was missed somewhere near or in the outskirts of the town. It is hoped that this promising and brave officer, so cool upon the field, so efficient everywhere, so much beloved in his regiment, and whose gallant services on the night of the 24th instant will never be forgotten by them, may have met with no worse fate than to be held a prisoner of war.

Chaplain Quint of the Second wrote at this time:

Our hopes that Massachusetts will be proud of the late history of the Second Regiment are clouded by the anxiety felt by every man as to the Major's fate. . . . . You will know how nobly he commanded the little band of skirmishers on Saturday night last; when his small force was formed against cavalry and infantry, with entire success; how his clear, cool, deliberate words of command inspired the men, so that no man faltered, while, in ten minutes, one company lost one fourth of its number.

Of this command of the skirmishers, Major Dwight's journal contains the following:—

At General Jackson's Headquarters I saw the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fifth or Second Virginia Regiment. He asked who it was at the Run near Bartonsville. I told him I had that honor. He said that he had three companies of his regiment deployed there; and he added, that he did not care to fight us again in the dark.

Many were the tributes to his bravery at this time. Of these, none so deeply affected him as one which he received from a wounded man of the regiment, whom he was endeavoring to cheer by telling him how well he and his comrades had done in the fight. The man looked at him, with tears in his eyes, and said, ‘Ah, Major, I'm afraid we should n't have done so well if it had not been for you.’

Chaplain Quint wrote:—-- [264]

I hope you have heard that he fell behind the column, coming out of Winchester, by helping and encouraging along a wounded soldier.

In his journal he tells the story as follows:—

As we went down the hill, a few of our men would turn and fire up the hill, reloading as they went on. I delayed a little to applaud their spunk. We passed down into the edge of the town. As I came along, a young soldier of Company C was wounded in the leg. I gave him my arm, but finding that he was too much wounded to go on, I took him into a house and went on. The regiment was forming in line when I reached it. Before I had time to go to the left, where Colonel Andrews was, the regiment moved off again. I followed. Just as I was near the edge of the town, one of our soldiers called out to me, “Major, I'm shot.” I turned to him, took him along a few steps, and then took him into a house and told the people they must take care of him. I laid him down on a bed, and opened his shirt. I then turned to go out, but the butternut soldiery was all around the house, and I quietly sat down; “Under which king,” &c. A soldier came in and took me prisoner. I made friendly acquaintance with him. He went with me to get a surgeon for my wounded soldier, and to pick up my overcoat, which I had thrown off in the heat. . . . . In the afternoon I went upon the field with some of the prisoners from our regiment, and buried our dead. I read a portion of Scripture over their grave.

Later in the week he writes:—

I have furnished bread and some vegetables to our prisoners at the Court-House every morning. On Wednesday I attended the funeral of Sergeant Williams, Company F. General Jackson gave permission to eight of the Second Massachusetts prisoners to go out with me, as an escort for the burial of their companion.

Thus was he occupied during the week when he was reported ‘missing’ and mourned as dead.

The Hon. Richard H. Dana, Jr., in illustrating his talent for success, says:—

When he was made a prisoner at Winchester, and the Rebels were taking all their prisoners to Richmond, he determined not to go to Richmond, and he did not go, but was paroled. Some of us know the sagacity and perseverance by which he gained his point.


On his arrival within the Union lines, he writes, ‘I cannot describe our thankfulness and heart-swell’; and on reaching his regiment, ‘I cannot describe their welcome; God knows I should be proud to deserve it. I have never known greater happiness or thankfulness than to-night.’ Of his return to the regiment, another, an eyewitness, has given the following account:—

It was in the dusk of Monday evening, June 2d, just after evening parade, while officers and men were in or about their tents, many talking of the Major and his probable fate, that a stir was perceived among the officers. The lamented Captain Cary was heard to exclaim, “Good heavens, the Major!” as he rushed forwards; then the Major was seen running on foot towards the regiment. The officers ran to meet him. More than one lifted him in his arms. The men ran from their tents towards the limits of the camp. They could not be restrained: they broke camp and poured down upon the Major with the wildest enthusiasm.

At this time our informant left the scene to telegraph to his family the news of his safety.

‘On my return to camp,’ he says, ‘the scene of noisy excitement was changed for one of profound calm. The regiment was drawn up around the Major, who was reading to them from a paper which he held in his hand. Not a face there but was wet with tears. He gave them the names of those of their comrades who were prisoners in Winchester. He told them who were wounded and the nature of their wounds. He told them of their dead, and of the burial upon which even the Rebels of Winchester had looked with respect. Then he said: “And now, do you want to know what the Rebels think of the Massachusetts Second? ‘Who was it ambuscaded us near Bartonsville?’ asked a cavalry officer of me. I replied, ‘That was the Massachusetts Second.’ An officer of Rebel infantry asked me, who it was that was at the Run near Bartonsville. ‘That was the Massachusetts Second,’ said I. ‘Whose,’ asked another officer, ‘was the battery so splendidly served, and the line of sharpshooters behind the stone wall, who picked off every officer of ours who showed himself?’ ‘That was the Massachusetts Second,’ said I. On the whole, the Rebels came to the conclusion that they had been fighting the Massachusetts Second, and that they did not care to do it again in the dark.” ’


The next day he wrote from Washington:—

I am here to see about my exchange, &c. I am sorry you had so much anxiety about me, but thankful to be able to relieve it. My reception by the regiment is reward enough. I must get back to them.

His return was long delayed; and of all the trials of his life, this was the greatest. ‘This is not the life for me,’ he said repeatedly, during the weeks when he was flattered and caressed at home. A still severer trial awaited him. On Monday, A. M., August 11th, the day on which his exchange was effected, he heard of the battle of Cedar Mountain, in which his regiment had lost so heavily. Every true soldier can appreciate the bitterness of his feeling, at hearing that his regiment had been in action without him. The loss of his friends who had fallen cut him to the heart. He suffered as he had never suffered before. Some hours were given to visiting the friends of the wounded and the killed, and to making arrangements for serving them. Then he left us, never again to return. He had repeatedly said that he did not expect to come back. Those who met him that morning saw in his face what he felt. To more than one he said in parting, ‘It is the last time.’ Yet he was not depressed by the thought. ‘My life is God's care, not mine,’ he often said; ‘and I am perfectly willing to leave it in his hands.’ Now his only desire was to rejoin the regiment, and, as he said, ‘help those poor fellows.’

On reaching their camp, near Culpeper, he writes:—

A sharp, sudden half-hour's work, under desperate circumstances, has crippled us sadly, as you must have heard only too well. . . . . Our five brave, honorable, beloved dead are on their way to Massachusetts. She has no spot on her soil too sacred for them, no page in her history that their names will not brighten. The regiment looks well, but oh, so gloomy! . . . . As for myself, I look forward.

Soon after this, a prohibition was put upon the mails, and no letter reached us from him until September 3d, when he wrote from Washington:— [267]

After an experience of sixteen days, here I am, humiliated, exhausted, yet well and determined. Pope's retreat, without a line and without a base, is a military novelty. We lived on the country with a witness,—green corn and green apples. Twice cut off by the enemy, everything in discomfort and confusion, forced marches, wakeful bivouacs, retreat, retreat! O, it was pitiful!

Some days later, from ‘Camp near Rockville,’ he writes: ‘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.’ On September 10th he wrote from Washington: ‘I am here now, two days, getting arms for our recruits. All is reported quiet beyond Rockville, and I do not return till to-morrow.’ This is the last he wrote us until the morning of the fatal day. From others, we have an account of the intervening days. Chaplain Quint has recorded his return to the regiment on the evening of Friday, September 12th, when ‘his horse bore marks of his haste to find them,’ the movement of the regiment during the three following days, and his last march on the evening preceding the battle of Antietam, when, ‘at half past 10 they halted.’ They were roused the next morning at five A. M., by cannonade, and their corps was speedily moved towards the front. At this time he wrote, in pencil, to his mother as follows:—

dear mother,—It is a misty, moisty morning. We are engaging the enemy, and are drawn up in support of Hooker, who is 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 writes:—

Colonel Dwight was as active and efficient as ever. It was not for several hours that our regiment went into action. . . . . I am told of his bravery and daring,—that after our regiment had captured a Rebel flag he galloped up and down the lines with it, amid the cheers of the men, reckless of the fire of the enemy.

His last act before receiving the mortal 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 [268] down out of reach of the enemy's fire. Colonel Andrews writes:—

Lieutenant-Colonel Dwight was mortally wounded within three feet of me. He had just come from the left of the regiment, and was about to speak, when the ball struck him. He fell, saying, “They have done for me.” The regiment was soon ordered to fall back, 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 between 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 helpless. Good by, if so it must be; I think I die in victory. God defend our country. 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 lie.

Mother, yours,


On the opposite page, in larger and firmer characters, he added these words, ‘All is well with those that have faith.’ 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.

Private Rupert Saddler crept out to him at great risk. He writes:—

I saw a man with his head lying on a rail. I felt that it was the Colonel, and I hurried to him. I gave him a drink of water, and asked him where he was wounded. He said his thigh-bone was shattered. I saw his arm was bleeding. I asked, was it serious? He said, “It's a pretty little wound.” I saw two of our men coming, and I called them over. The Rebels saw them, and began firing. 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 't was no use. He gave me a paper he had been trying to write on, and the pencil; the paper was covered with his blood. He then gave us directions how to carry him, and we lifted him carefully and carried him into a cornfield.


Magee, one of the men who helped carry him, says: ‘When we first came to lift him up, he said, “Now, boys, don't think that because I'm wounded I've any less spirit than I had before. I feel just the same.” ’

General Gordon writes:—

As Wilder was brought from the fatal spot, I rode to his side. 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. I said, “I must have you removed from here.” He replied, “Never mind me,—whip them.” I ordered six men to carry him to the rear.

Chaplain Quint writes:—

I found him in the garden of a hospital, 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. Doubtless he saw my sorrow in my face, for he said, “Don't feel bad,” and with a firm look, and natural smile, he said, “It's 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 understand 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. Dwight threw his arm around his friend's neck, and, drawing him down, said, ‘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 freely. He said: ‘I want it distinctly understood that I have no personal regrets in dying. My only regret is that I cannot longer serve the cause.’ He gave him the history of the boy Saddler, who had been in his charge before the war, and for whom he wished Colonel Andrews's sympathy and care. He also told him that he wished a soldier's burial Turning to Chaplain Quint, he said, ‘I don't like display, [270] but I think this appropriate, do not you?’ The Chaplain assented; and he added, ‘I have lived a soldier, I die a soldier, I wish to be buried as a soldier.’ To another member of the regiment, a son of his clergyman, the Rev. John S. Stone, he said that he wished Dr. Stone, as his minister, to receive his last message in case he did not live to reach home and talk with him. He said: ‘Tell him I am ready to die. I look back upon the past with many regrets for failings and for misused opportunities, but still with the self-respect of a man who has tried to do his best. As for the future, there is but one hope, no putting forth of one's own claims, but reliance on the merits of Another: you know what I mean.’

He was placed in an ambulance for the night. The men lay around it. At daybreak his wounds were dressed. He examined them in a 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 the thigh, won't do so well.’ It was now determined to carry him to Boonesborough, where a house had been found for him. Twelve men from the new recruits were detailed for the purpose. They were divided into six parties, who relieved each other by turns. During the journey of three miles and a half, he called out the reliefs himself. On their way, they met the drum and fife corps of the regiment. He stopped them and requested them, as a last favor, to play him the Star-spangled Banner once more. He thanked them, repeating the sentiment of the song in the wish that ‘The star spangled banner in triumph may wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ One of the men happened to ask where the rest of the regiment was. Colonel Dwight called out: ‘Who asked for the Second Regiment? I'll tell you where the Second was yesterday. In the foremost front of the battle, fighting like men; and we drove them, boys, drove them.’ Chaplain Quint writes of him on this journey: ‘If water was given him, or any service rendered, his old “Thank you” was never omitted. Indeed, the night before, in the garden, he repeatedly sent his servant and others to relieve the wounded men around him, while in pain himself.’ [271]

About one P. M., (September 18), they reached Mr. Thomas's house, where a bed was prepared for him. By following his own suggestions, they were able to place him in bed without his suffering in the process. As they lifted him, he said, ‘Steady and true,—steady and true.’ As they turned to leave the room, he roused himself and said: ‘Wait a minute, boys; you've taken good care of me; I thank you very much. God bless you.’ They then partook of a dinner he had provided for them.

‘That afternoon,’ says Chaplain Quint, ‘he suffered very much. The next morning I had no thought but that he would live several days; but he felt that he should not see any of his family. He spoke of it and of the time required. It was not until nearly noon that a marked change took place. I was in the kitchen, giving directions for the preparation of beef tea, when his servant came to me, saying, “The Colonel is wanting you quick, sir.” I went in, instantly saw a change, and took his lifted hand. After looking earnestly in my face, he said, “Chaplain, I cannot distinguish your features; what more you have to say to me, say now.” (I had, of course, remembered his dying condition, and conversed accordingly.) I said, “Colonel, do you trust in God?” He answered, with ready firmness and cheerfulness, “I do.” “And in the Lord Jesus Christ, your Saviour?” “I do.” “Then,” said I, “there is no need of saying more.” I said a few words of prayer over him, with a blessing, after which his own lips moved in prayer and he added audibly, “Amen.” Then I said, “Now what shall I say to your mother?” He answered, with his whole face lighted up: “My mother! Tell her, I do love my mother” (he emphasized every word); “tell her I do trust in God, I do trust in the Lord Jesus. Nothing else.” No more did he say then. He was soon sinking. The last was a few minutes later, and about fifteen minutes before he died, when he said, “O my dear mother!” About twenty-five minutes past twelve, he died; so peacefully, that we could hardly tell the time. He died, as he had lived, a brave, gallant, noble man, a hero, and a Christian; cheerful to the last, considerate, happy.’

When he breathed his last, every face, among soldiers as well as officers, was wet with tears. Colonel Andrews had sent him word of our success in the battle. ‘It is a glorious time to die!’ was his joyful exclamation. [272]

‘So died,’ writes Colonel Andrews,

one of the most faithful, brave, unselfish, and devoted officers of our army. He was, I think, the officer most beloved and respected throughout the regiment by officers and men.

His conduct as an officer and as a man was noble. On the battle-field he appeared to me to retain his self-possession most completely, and to have his soul bent upon doing his best to uphold the honor of his country's flag. He showed no consciousness of danger, although there was nothing rash in his conduct. He was uniformly kind to every one. How we all feel here in the regiment, you can perhaps imagine. It is not the same regiment.

His friends have every consolation possible: his memory is their pride.

Mr. Justice Hoar, in his address to the Suffolk bar upon the occasion of the death of Wilder Dwight, closes with the following words:—

Tender and loving son, firm friend, true soldier, Christian hero, —we give thee up to thy fame! For thee life has been enough.

Goodness and greatness are not means, but ends.

For us there is left the precious legacy of his life. Brethren, it is well that we should pause, as we are entering upon our stated and accustomed duties, to draw inspiration from such an example. For who can think of that fair and honorable life, and of the death which that young soldier died, without a new sense of what is worthiest in human pursuits, a stronger devotion to duty, a warmer ardor of patriotism, a surer faith in immortality.

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