Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bond Forged under Fire

Monday, October 21, 1861
Under the intense fire of battle and the grueling retreat the officers and enlisted men formed a bond of mutual respect and preservation. The officers behaved nobly, sacrificing their safety for the sake of the enlisted men. Colonel W. Raymond Lee, the commander of the regiment, followed this principle to his own detriment. During the retreat Captain William Bartlett of Company I found Colonel Lee sitting behind a tree. He refused to leave, saying that he would not leave his men, and felt that it was nobler to surrender to save the men from slaughter. Captain Bartlett and Adjutant Peirson each took one of Colonel Lee's arms and led him down the path to the riverbank to escape immediate capture or death. Colonel Lee refused to cross the river and abandon his wounded regiment, but encouraged and accompanied by other officers he sought a means of transport downriver near Smart's Mill, where he was captured by the Confederates.

At the riverbank Captains Bartlett and Tremlett and Lieutenants Abbott and Whittier took charge among their commands, Company I and A respectively, encouraging those men who were able to swim across the river while the officers covered their escape. Most of the men made it across to safety, and led by Captain Bartlett, the officers and remaining enlisted men raced along the riverbank towards Smart's Mill, the same route that Colonel Lee followed earlier. Captain Tremlett paid a man near Smart's Mill five dollars for a partially sunken skiff. Captain Bartlett directed the men across the river by fives. All the officers remained on the riverbank until every enlisted men was safely across the river except for Lieutenant Whittier, who was sent over to direct landings on the opposite shore.1

1Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 75-80; Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett (Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton, Osgood and Company, 1878), 26-29.

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