Charles W. Tilden
October 7, 1862
When the 16th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment left Washington, D.C., on September 6, 1862, morale among the 960 men was high. Theirs was a noble mission and there was little sense of anything going wrong.
The regiment grabbed weapons and ammunition and headed west. The men left behind their tents, knapsacks, bedrolls and other supplies, believing that their mission would be brief..
They were mistaken.
Day after day became week after week.
Through the heat of the day, the chill of the night, the torrents of rain, and the quagmire of mud, the 16th Maine soldiered on without blankets, without tents, without a change of clothes. The robust physical and mental health of the men from Maine began to suffer.
The regiment’s commander, Col. Charles Tilden, besieged headquarters to send the men’s supplies. Letter after letter received the same response. The equipment was in storage and perhaps something could be done. Nothing was done.
In mid-October, Tilden writes to his commanding officer, "I would earnestly request that the within order be forwarded with your approval, as men in my command are suffering for the want of a change clothing, (some without shirts to their backs and many without underclothes.)"
October gave way to November and still the 16th Maine felt abandoned. To make matters worse, other regiments who enjoyed the small comforts of Army life of water-repellent blankets, tents, and fresh uniforms, derided the outcast state of the 16th Maine, giving them the mocking nickname of the "blanket brigade."
The hardship endured through to Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, when the regiment finally received overcoats, blankets, and clean underwear.
By then, however, a lot of damage had been done.
By December 12, and the battle at Fredericksburg, the ranks of the 16th Maine had dwindled to 427 men, less than half of the original strength, because of illnesses such as pneumonia, typhoid, influenza, dysentery, and homesickness.
The fighting at Fredericksburg also proved costly. Twenty seven men were killed, 170 wounded, and 34 missing in action.
- What could Tilden have done to help his regiment?
- What could have gone so wrong to leave the regiment without basic supplies?