Bayard Wilkeson

Bayard Wilkeson

From: (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Wilkeson
To answer Doug M's question about Sam Wilkeson.

The best resources for Sam Wilkeson would be Louis M Starr's "Bohemian Brigade - Newsmen In Action" (1954), J Cutler Andrews' "The North Reports The CW" (1955), and me.

"Judge" Samuel Wilkeson was newspaperman Sam Wilkeson's father. Though he was dead by 1849, he was a founder of Buffalo (having talked DeWitt Clinton into ending the Erie Canal there) and of the American Colonization Socty. The Wilkesons were big-time wealthy - shipping, iron foundries, etc - and nextdoor neighbors of Millard Fillmore. The Judge's politics influenced his grandsons when the CW came. In addition to Sam's son Bayard, eight other grandsons were in the Union army and many not even 18. There was a 78th NYV Major, a Lieut killed with the 100th NYV, Col of the 11th NY Cav, pvt in 15th PA Cav, Lieut in the 21st NYV, Lieut in 1st Pa Btn, and Bayard's brother Frank who eventually took his place in Battery G.

In command of Battery G, 4th US Artillery, on July 1, First Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson took his Napoleon guns twelve miles on the Emmitsburg Road to reach Gettysburg that morning. Passing directly through the village, he reported to General Francis C Barlow whose XI Corps division was engaged north of town. Having noted Confederate activity on his right, Barlow dispatched Wilkeson to an elevation that would later be dubbed "Barlow's Knoll." Wilkeson initially deployed along a ridge on which the county poorhouse stood, ahead of federal infantry. Leapfrogging to the knoll's summit, Wilkeson's battery quickly drew fire from artillery battalions under Lieutenant Colonels Hilary P Jones and Thomas H Carter. Wilkeson went down "almost at first fire," wounded in his right leg. Eleventh Corps artillery chief Major Thomas W Osborn met Bayard being carried to the rear. "One leg had been cut off at the knee by a cannon shot," he recalled, "I knew at a glance that the wound was fatal." When XI Corps fled their field, Wilkeson was left behind at the poorhouse.
New York Times correspondent Samuel Wilkeson reached Meade's headquarters that night, learning only that his son had been wounded and captured. Sam found out about Bayard's death and recovered his body after federal forces regained the battlefield. Before returning to Buffalo with the remains, "Samuel Wilkeson's Thrilling Word Picture Of Gettysburgh" was filed.


Who can write the history of a battle whose eyes are immovably fastened upon a central figure of transcendingly important interest - the dead body of an oldest born, crushed by a shell in a position where a battery should never have been sent, and abandoned to death in a building where surgeons dared not to stay?

The battle of Gettysburgh. I am told that it commenced on the 1st of July, a mile north of the town, between two weak brigades of infantry and some doomed artillery and the whole force of the rebel army. Among other costs of this error was the death of Reynolds. Its value was priceless, however, though priceless was the young and the old blood with which it was bought . . . the marvelous outspread upon the board of death of dead soldiers and dead animals - of dead soldiers in blue, and dead soldiers in grey - more marvelous to me than anything I have ever seen in war - are a ghastly and shocking testimony to the terrible fight . . .

Oh, you dead, who at Gettysburgh have baptized with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied! I rise from a grave whose wet clay I have passionately kissed, and I look up and see Christ spanning this battlefield with his feet and reaching fraternally and lovingly up to heaven. His right hand opens the gates of Paradise - with his left he beckons to these mutilated, bloody, swollen forms to ascend."

Sam brought Bayard's body home to Buffalo and it was buried without military overtones, though his marker is an upturned Napoleon tube. His son Frank ran off and joined the army soon after, and the frantic father spent weeks hunting for him. But that's another story. The entire Wilkeson clan is planted on a knoll in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery. Every so often I go up there and think about how, one of these days, I'll write the article on Bayard et al that I owe the CW Society's Bill Miller.

PS -A&E's Civil War Journal contacted me about Wilkeson, gladly took my stuff, and then didn't list me in those credits that fly by at the end of each episode. But I'm in good company. They did that recent thing on the Lincoln assasination and left out Jim Getty's name even though he did Lincoln's voice.

Ben Maryniak

Subject: Re: Wilkeson

Ben; Thanks for the grea post on Wilkeson.

Can you shed some light on the Wilkeson "myth". I first heard the story from a GB guide a few years ago as to how, after receiving the shot, Bayard cut off his loosely hanging leg with his pocket knife and crawled on hands and knees to a house over a mile away (probably all up hill too).

After hearing this story, I began looking for references to it in print. The oldest one I found in William C. Oates "Battle of Gettysburg" essay from his "Lost Opportunities..." work. Oates goes one step further and says Wilkeson was offered water but gave the canteen to someone more needy, then expired. What great romantic stuff!!


From: (Benedict R Maryniak)
Subject: Wilkeson

Jerry asked about Bayard's battlefield legends.

Although the leg-lopping is probably accurate (the Time-Life Gburg volume shows the actual knife from someone's collection!), it has obscured much of the less-sensational aspects of Bayard's story. My worst nightmare would be to have a gung-ho kid like him as a commander. Imagine you're satisfied with three squares, etc, in the US Regulars and here comes this teenager who gallops the battery when everyone else trots, who rushes out ahead of the Corps to deploy, who cuts away his own leg 'cause it's in his way, and then orders the men who carry him to the almshouse back to their posts! But, then, many battery commanders were pistols - Alonzo Cushing, Hubert Dilger, Pelham, Pegram, etc.

Ben Maryniak