Friday, January 19, 2018

History up close: Wilder Dwight's bloodstained Antietam note

Bloodstained battlefield note written by Wilder Dwight to his mother as he lay mortally wounded.
(Massachusetts Historical Society)
The second page of Wilder Dwight's blood-stained battlefield note to his mother. After he was wounded on
the morning of Sept. 17, 1862, he struggled to complete it. (Massachusetts Historical Society)

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In the last act of his short military career, Wilder Dwight implored his soldiers in the 2nd Massachusetts to keep their heads down as fighting raged near the Hagerstown Pike. Just before he was about to give further orders during the Battle of Antietam, a bullet struck him in the left hip, sending him crashing to the ground. "They have done for me," the 29-year-old lieutenant colonel said after he was shot.

Wilder Dwight
Also wounded in the left wrist,  Dwight complained of intense pain, but while his regiment fell back a short distance, he refused to be moved. The pain was simply too much to bear. As the fighting swirled near the Dunker Church, the Harvard-educated officer struggled to complete the short note he had begun to his mother earlier that misty morning of Sept. 17, 1862, well before the fighting reached a crescendo:

"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 lay.

"Mother, yours,


Across the opposite page, in much larger letters, he wrote:

"All is well with those that have faith."

The note was stained with his blood.

Finally rescued from the battlefield by comrades, Dwight died in private residence in Boonsboro, Md., two days after the battle.

At the Massachusetts Historical Society this afternoon, I examined for the first time Dwight's heart-rending note to his mother, Elizabeth. It was an extraordinary experience.

"All is well with those that have faith," grievously wounded Wilder Dwight concluded his note to his mother.
(Massachusetts Historical Society)

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-- Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, Lieut.-Col. Second Massaschusetts Infantry Volunteers, Boston, Ticknor and Fields, 1868.


  1. Allan3:47 PM

    wow! very powerful letter! you can get a sense of his life slipping away as his writing got worse....his final moments in life forever captured in his writing

  2. Interesting and timely post. Earlier this month I purchased a note written "On the March" by Lieut. Col. George Leonard Andrews of the 2nd Mass Infantry to the regimental Chaplain, Alonzo Hall Quint. The note was written September 19 and in it Andrews asks Chaplain Quint to contact several doctors he names to assist with Lieut. Col. Dwight. Unfortunately Dwight died that same day.

  3. Jeff: thanks for this. I am writing a piece on Wilder for a magazine. Would love to see your note. You may contact me at

  4. Darla8:57 PM

    That letter sent a chill down my spine when I read it at the Massachusetts Historical Society's website.

  5. His burial is recorded in Findagrave:

  6. I just this past Monday posted on my own blog, about one of my husband's CW ancestors. He survived the war but was plagued by illness for the rest of his life. I was even able to obtain pictures of him.
    I have 10 more CW pension files to review and write about. It is my favorite subject. One of my earlier pensions contained a letter written by a young man to his sister. That young man died two months later.
    Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking letter. Here’s the link to my recent Civil War post.

    1. thanks for sharing, Diane... John Banks

  7. Robert Gould Shaw (who was in the 2nd with Wilder, and later became the Colonel of the 54th Mass.) mentions his wounding in one of his many letters. Very fascinating how history connects the dots....