"It is a glorious time to die!": Accounts of the wounding and death of Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight

Andy Cardinal

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Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight
(Massachusetts Historical Society)

Captain Charles Morse (Co. B) -- “Now came our turn again; Gordon’s brigade was ordered to attack the woods on the right [i.e., West Woods]. We crossed a high rail fence into a lane [i.e., the Hagerstown Pike] and ensconced ourselves behind the fence on the other side within fifty yards of the woods; we had on our left and right two new regiments. We had hardly taken our position when the rebel line came out of the woods, so near you could distinguish the features of the men. We gave them a volley which sent them back in quick time; then, without any cause the new regiments bolted, officers and men, and we were left alone. We stood it for about ten minutes, losing a third of our men and several officers, when the order was reluctantly given to fall back. This we did in good order (though it was hard work getting over that high fence in our rear, with much appearance of dignity), for about a hundred yards, where the regiment made ready for attack or defense.

"Now, too, it was sad to look at our thinned ranks; I found that I had lost two killed and five wounded; many of the companies had lost more severely, but our greatest loss was Colonel Dwight. I saw his horse shot, and saw him dismount and try to hold his horse by the head, but the animal struggled so violently that he broke away; almost immediately afterward, Colonel Dwight received his death wound. He was within six feet of Colonel Andrews at the time, and as he was struck and sank to the ground, said, ‘That’s done for me.’ As soon as our regiment halted, four men immediately volunteered to bring him in; this they succeeded in doing, though all the time under heavy fire…."

Colonel George Andrews -- “Lieutenant Colonel Dwight was mortally wounded within two feet of me. He had just come from the left of the regiment, 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 hip. 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.”

Private Rupert Sadler -- “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 behind 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 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 gave us directions as to carrying him. We lifted him carefully and carried him into a cornfield. In the evening I was detailed, by Colonel Andrews, at Colonel Dwight’s request, to go and take care of him. I was with him until he died.”

Chaplain Alonzo Quint -- “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 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. I expressed my sorrow for his wounds; and, doubtless, he saw my deep feeling in my face, for he immediately added, in a coaxing tone, ‘Don’t feel bad’; and with a firm look and a 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 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 am 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 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 a wife and children at home.’ … He said to him , ‘I want it distinctly understood that, in dying, I have no personal regrets; my only regret is, that I can no 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’ sympathy and care…. He also told him he wished a soldier’s burial…. ‘I have lived the life of a soldier, I die a soldier, I wish to be buried as a soldier.’ …

"It was determined to move him to Boonsboro. 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 only be moved on the stretcher, so I sent for a detail of men at our wagon camp, some miles distant."

Lt. James Kent Stone (letter to his father, Rev. John S. Stone of St. Paul’s Church, Brookline) -- “I 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 the bed where he died. As I sat by him in the night he took my hand, and talked with me quite a long time. He said he hoped to go home once more, and see his friends, and talk with you, before he died…. 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’"

Chaplain Quint -- “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 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 daybreak, we lifted him from the ambulance, and Dr. Leland dressed his wounds."

Lt. Stone -- “Twelve men from the new recruits 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…. 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, Malvern’s Hill, &c. As the Colonel read the last name Hal called out, in the same tone of voice, ‘Boonsboro.’ ‘Good for that man!’ cried the Colonel; ‘if I knew who he was I’d give him a dollar.’ But Hal kept still. At one time one of the men asked 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!’”

Drum Major Henry Kesselhuth -- “I was with Colonel Dwight, and helped to dress his wounds. The morning after the fight, while going to join my regiment with with my drum-and-fife corps, which had been at work with myself in the hospitals, we met him, lying on a stretcher, on his way to Boonsboro. He stopped us, and requested, as a last favor, that we would play him the Star Spangled Banner once more. As we played, he raised himself up, suffering terribly, for he was mortally wounded. When we had finished he thanked us; and, repeating the last line of the song, he said, ‘I hope that glorious old flag will wave over the whole country again. So may it be. So shall it be.’”

Lt. Stone -- “It was between one and two o’clock when we reached Mr. Thomas’s house. It was a brick building, airy and comfortable. We carried the Colonel into a bedroom As he was very fatigued by the journey, we left him awhile to rest. In a short time we were called in to help lift him into bed…. I could see that he had failed very much since the morning. He was very pale, and his eyes sunken. As we lifted him he said, ‘Now boys, steady and true! steady and true!’ These words he repeated a great many times. Having arranged him comfortably, we at once turned to leave the room; but he roused himself and said, ‘Wait a minute boys; you’ve taken good care of me, and I thank you very much. God bless you!’ This was the last I saw of our dear Colonel. We then partook of a dinner, which the Colonel had promised us while we were carrying him.”

Chaplain Quint -- “That afternoon, he suffered considerably; the pain in the limb was great. The next morning, I had not thought but that he would live several days, although he was very weak; he seemed quiet; the blinds were kept closed, and I allowed no one to enter…. About ten he seemed considerably weaker; but it was not until near noon that a marked change took place…. John, his faithful servant, who was with him, came to me and said, ‘The Colonel is wanting you quick, sir.’ I went in, instantly saw a change, and took his lifted hand.

"After looking me earnestly in the face, ‘Chaplain,’ said he, ‘I cannot distinguish your features; what more you have to say to me, say now.’ … I said, ‘Colonel, do you trust in God?’ He answered with ready firmness and cheerfulness, ‘I do.’ ‘And in the Lord Jesus, 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 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 his death, when he said, ‘O, my dear mother!’ About twenty-five minutes past twelve he died; so peacefully that we could hardly tell the time….

"Colonel Andrews had sent him word of our success in the battle. ‘It is a glorious time to die!’ was his joyful exclamation.”
 

ErnieMac

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The Dwight family was firmly invested in the Union cause. Three of Wilder's brothers - William, Howard and Charles also served in the War. William was a West Point graduate who obtained the rank of brigadier general, serving in both the Eastern and Western theaters. Captain Howard Dwight was killed by Confederate guerillas during the Port Hudson Campaign. A cousin, Lieutenant Colonel August Dwight was killed at Fort Stedman.
 
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