2nd Massachusetts Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight (1833-1862)
On September 17, 1862, Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight was on his horse waiting for the order to go into battle at Antietam. He took out a paper and pen and began to write his mother a letter. He wrote:
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 —
The lieutenant was interrupted by the call to battle. As he commanded his regiment amidst heavy fighting, a bullet tore through his left wrist and into his hip, shattering it. He went crashing to the ground in agony. His men offered to move him, but the pain was so intense he refused. The battle moved on away from him, and he was left there alone for a while. Knowing he was badly wounded and probably would not live, he took out the letter he had begun earlier that morning and continued. The pages are stained with Dwight’s blood, and the words are difficult (but not impossible) to decipher:
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 & 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 — Mother, yours Wilder
Later, Dwight was carried into a nearby farmhouse where he died two days later. Sometime during those two days he finished his letter with these few words:
All is well with those that have faith
“I am very well, so far,” Dwight said before the battle, not yet wounded and still full of life. Later on that same morning he was mortally wounded, and life was ebbing out of him. Yet, he could still write, “All is well with those that have faith.” Living or dying, he is well. I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite hymns:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Refrain: It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul. Refrain
But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul! Refrain
–Horatio Spafford, 1873
Romans 14:8-9 — If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Revelation 14:13 — Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Luke 10:20b — (Jesus said), “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Psalm 23:4a — Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.
Psalm 116:15 — Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
II Timothy 4:7 — I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Today’s prayer is from the last words of another Union Soldier who was mortally wounded that same day at Antietam. Basil DeShetler was a 32 year-old Methodist minister. He had a wife and eight children. He kept a diary of his military service. His last entry was made at 7:00 in the morning on September 17, 1862 (the actual date does not match the date on the page image below). He wrote:
“7 AM at which I am wounded. This is written on the spot wherein I lay.
May God bless me and forgive all my sins, through Jesus Christ.”
Private Basil DeShetler, 7th Michigan, (1830-1862)