Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"I think I die in victory": Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight at Antietam

I came across this page on the Massachusetts Historical Society website. It tells the story of Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight of the 2nd Massachusetts at Antietam through primary documents and pictures. If you are not familiar with Lt. Col. Dwight's story, it is one of the more heart wrenching stories of the battle.

Dwight's regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts, began their day with the rest of the 12th corps, in reserve in the East Woods and along the Smoketown Road, listening to the sounds of war bellowing over the landscape as Joseph Hooker's 1st Corps was bloodied and battered in the Cornfield. That morning, the 29 year old Dwight had begun writing a letter to his mother, informing her of the developing battle. However, with the onset of the 12th corps attack, Dwight was forced to leave his letter to his mother behind.

The deployment of the 12th Corps at Antietam is a highly confusing matter, due in large part to the number of green regiments in the corps, as well as the mortal wounding of 12th Corps commander Joseph Mansfield soon after he arrived on the field. Lt. Col. Dwight and the 2nd Massachusetts were in George Gordon's brigade of Alpheus Williams's division. Between 8 and 8:40 AM, the 2nd Massachusetts was on the northern edge of the cornfield, with its flank bordering the Hagerstown turnpike. By 9:30, with Sedgwick's advance into the West Woods, the 2nd Massachusetts, along with the rest of Gordon's Brigade, had been repositioned and then occupied the East Woods, facing due west toward the Confederate lines and the West Woods. With the massive Confederate counter attack in the West Woods and the route of Sedgwick's division, the 2nd Massachusetts and the 13th New Jersey, both 12th Corps regiments in Gordon's brigade, advanced forward to the Hagerstown turnpike in an attempt to stem the losses of Sedgwick's men, as well as to stop the Confederate assault in the West Woods. It was here, along the Hagerstown Turnpike, where Dwight met his fate that day. As the 2nd Massachusetts attempted to stop the advancing Confederates emerging from the West Woods, they took very heavy casualties. Among those casualties was Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight.

As Dwight lay dying on the field, his thoughts drifted home and to his family. Despite his close proximity to Confederate forces, as well as his severe wounds, Dwight picked up the letter he had begun that morning and continued to write his mother (you can see the letter at the link above, complete with Dwight's blood stains still on the paper). You can find scans of the letter itself at the link to the Massachusetts Historical Society webpage. The text of the letter is as follows:

Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 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 --

Dearest mother, I am wounded so as to be helpless. Good bye 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 lay-

Mother, yrs

All is well with those that have faith

 Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight died on September 19, 1862, from the wounds he received at the Battle of Antietam.

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