While the armies were locked in a deadly stalemate around Spotsylvania Courthouse, a private and poignant scene was being played out a several miles to the north at a Federal military hospital in Fredericksburg. Captain Samuel W. Fiske, Company G of the Fourteenth Connecticut, was dying with his young wife and his two little children at his bedside.
If you have not already done so, please read my post a.k.a Dunn Browne to learn more about how and why this minister of the gospel became an officer in the infantry. Also of special interest is my post Captain Fiske: Dead or Alive about his capture during the Battle of Chancellorsville.
In his last letter to the Springfield Republican, Captain Fiske revealed his pastor’s heart as he wrote of his belief that if the general officers would simply talk to the men, and explain what was needed and why, the men might be inspired to even greater service to the army and the country. He closed that final letter as follows:
I believe a good deal more might be made by a different course of proceeding, that our boys are something more than shooting machines, or if machines, that there are strings and pulleys and wheels in them that mere military orders don’t reach, and yet which might have much effect in deciding battles—these great and terrible battles that are to decide this opening campaign, and probably bring the war to an end—these coming successes (as we devoutly hope) that are to atone for the disgraceful reverses our arms have this spring sustained in every quarter where they have been engaged. Oh for power to speak a word that might thrill the breast of every Union soldier and rouse in him that holy enthusiasm for our right cause, which should make every blow struck irresistible, and carry our arms victorious right into the citadel of rebellion, and conquer a right peace. One or two of Meade’s modest, earnest orders, published to the army near the Gettysburg times, had a wonderfully happy effect. I trust more may be issued, and that every opportunity may be taken to inspire the patriotism and enthusiasm of our troops, and keep before their minds the great principles which first sent them forth from their peaceful homes to fight for endangered liberty and republican government, for God and freedom throughout the world.
Yours truly, DUNN BROWNE
Early on the morning of May 6th, during the Battle of the Wilderness, Captain Fiske was leading his company in an attempt to stem the frenzied assaults of Longstreet’s corps when he was struck in the chest by a single bullet. When his men were forced to fall back, they carried their stricken captain to the rear. After receiving cursory treatment at a field hospital, he was sent to Fredericksburg by ambulance.
The bullet had penetrated his right lung. At the time, internal surgery was in its infancy, and efforts to extract the bullet were not successful. The sad news was telegraphed to his wife, Lizzie, who traveled by train to Fredericksburg. She was able to spend several days with her husband, who was in good spirits until the end. But on Sunday, May 22nd, he knew his time had come. “Today I shall receive my marching orders,” he said. “Well, I am ready.”
Amen, Brother Fiske. You fought the good fight to the end.