150 years ago
The above video clip is, of course, the opening scene from Glory, which is a dramatized recreation of Robert Gould Shaw’s experience at Antietam with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. As part of Gordon’s brigade of Williams’s/Crawford’s Division of Mansfield/Williams’s XII Corps, the 2nd Massachusetts was involved in two significant actions on 17 September 1862, the fight with D.H. Hill’s forces in the Cornfield and an advance alongside the 13th New Jersey from the East Woods to the Hagerstown Pike in the aftermath of Sedgwick’s disaster in the West Woods.
Shaw later wrote:
Of course there are mistakes made in every battle; that day we were the victims of one; for Gordon’s Brigade was sent forward to support Sumner in [the West Woods] which he had already been driven out of. Instead of finding friends there, we were met by a volley of musketry; we didn’t return fire for some time, thinking there was some mistake, and when we did fire, we did very little execution, and had to retire. Colonel Andrews saved us there, fo rif we had gone as far as we were ordered, we should probably have been overwhelmed.
Also with the 2nd Massachusetts that morning was Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight.
Near Sharpsburg. Sept. 17th 1862.
On the field
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 —
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 & love you all to the last. Dearest love to father & all my dear brothers.
Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay —
All is well with those that have faith
Dwight died from his wounds two days later in Boonsboro.
Dwight’s story is prominently featured in the episode of the American Experience PBS is airing tomorrow night, Death in the Civil War. “Enjoyment” is probably not the right word to describe what the viewer will experience watching it, but they will find it a superbly done and sobering look at an important aspect of the Civil War.