Age: 32, credited to Brattleboro, VTVITALS
Birth: 1829, MassachusettsADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Alias?: None notedDESCENDANTS
Prospect Hill Cemetery, Brattleboro, VT
Check the cemetery for location/directions
and other veterans who may be buried there.
VI Corps Badge
(John Gibson Collection)
FRIDAY, OCT. 17, 1890
The serious illness from which Maj. Elijah Wales was reported as surviving when this paper went to press a week ago, resulted fatally Monday morning, the end coming a few minutes past 6 o'clock. His death removes one of the best soldiers that fought in the war for the Union from Vermont. His age was 61 years.
Maj. Wales was born in Dorchester, Mass. He came to Brattleboro when about 20 years old. After engaging in various occupations he went to work in the Woodcock & Vinton paper mill, where he was employed when Sumter fell, and the call to arms came. It is stated on what is believed to be good authority, that he was the first man to enlist from Brattleboro. His intention was to go out with the three months' men, but it was announced that the quota for these troops was filled, and he promptly transferred his enlistment to the three years' service in Capt. Todd's company, Co. C, at 2d Vermont. This company was mustered into the state's service on the 18th of May, 1861, went to the rendezvous at Burlington June 4, was mustered into the United States service June 20, and the regiment left Burlington for the front June 21, reaching Washington June 24. About July 10th the regiment went to Alexandria, and on the 16th started on a movement which ended at Bull Run in the battle fought on July 21st. Soon after this battle the 2d Vermont was sent to do patrol duty in protecting the aqueduct supplying the city of Washington, and here it remained for some time. On the 16th of the next April it was engaged in the stubborn fight at Dee's Mills, and from this time on its history was a part of the brilliant fighting history of the old Vermont brigade, which has made the name of Vermont famous in the records of the great civil war. A comrade, L. Fay Bowker, who was with Maj. Wales from the beginning to the end of his army service, gives us the following list of the battles in which he bore the part of an absolutely fearless soldier: Bull Run, Lee's Mills, Siege of Yorktown, Williamsburg, Gaines's Mills, Golding's Farm, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Crampton's Pass, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Marye's Heights, Banks's Ford, Second Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Funkstown, Rappahannock Station, Mine Run, Locust Grove, the Wilderness, Opequan, Winchester, Fisher's Hill, Cedar Creed, Petersburg.
This record is a remarkable one, and one which is equaled in the history of comparatively few of the bravest and most enduring men who fought throughout the great struggle. Saying nothing of a slight flesh wound received at White Oak Swamp, Maj. Wales was four times wounded, twice severely. The first of these wounds was received on the first day of the battle of the Wilderness, when a minie ball pierced his left side, passing entirely through his body at the back, coming out through the right lung and the right side. He was then captain of his company, and at the instant the shot struck him his arm was extended as he held his sword and beckoned to his men to come on. Otherwise the ball must have probably torn away his right shoulder and caused instant death. As he dropped to the ground he exclaimed, "I am a dead man," and so he would have been had it not been for his remarkable endurance and his indomitable pluck and persistent courage. He used to relate how he lay upon the field until night, the surgeon being compelled to pass him by for others whose plight was even worse then his. That night he set out to walk 11 miles to a hospital in the rear, and actually accomplished that feat alone, and traveling by night through a strange country, his arms so useless that he could not even put his canteen to his lips. As soon as his condition permitted him to be moved from the field hospital he was sent to the hospital at Brattleboro, where he remained until August, coming slowly back to life and health.
It was at this time that a characteristic trait of the man was developed. When Early came up through the valley of the Shenandoah and raided toward Washington, and Wales knew that his old regiment was to see active service again, he left the hospital in disobedience of the surgeon's orders, went to Washington, pushed on to his regiment, and reported for service, declaring that he had loafed in the hospital as long as he could stand it. At this time he wore only one arm in his coat sleeve, and it was not for weeks after that he was able to put on his coat for himself. The anniversary of the battle of Cedar Creek, when Sheridan made his famous ride, occurs next Sunday. As Sherman came dashing down the Winchester pike and approached the location of his disordered troops, he made his first halt just where Capt. Wales's company lay, and called out to him excitedly, "What troops are these?" "It is the Vermont brigade, sir," answered Wales, "We're all right, then," said Sheridan. "I knew we were," replied Wales, in his characteristic way of always making an answer, no matter what was said. A long chapter of incidents might be given illustrating the steadfast and unflinching bravery which characterized Maj. Wales during the whole of his army service. He left Brattleboro as a sergeant, was soon made orderly, was promoted to second lieutenant in March 1862, and to first lieutenant the following fall. After the August following Gettysburg he was in command of his company, but it is related of him that in any of the great battles, when the thick of the fight was on, he was never satisfied unless he could get hold of a wounded or dead man's gun, and fire away on his own account. He was there to whip the rebels, and his only thought was to attend strictly to business day and night. Most men would say that he had a reckless and daredevil quality, but his old comrades say that it was bravery and nothing else, and that he never exposed himself unless something was to be gained by it. His men believed in him, because he never, on any occasion, asked them to go where he did not lead. At Petersburg he and two or three of his men captured a cannon from the retreating rebels, loaded it, turned it upon them, and fired it while they remained in sight, Wales himself pulling the lanyard. At the battle of Cedar Creek he was in command of his regiment, and at Petersburg, in the following April, he was also in command when the charge was made to break the rebel line. It was on the Sunday afternoon before the battle of Cedar Creed that he received the second severe wound already alluded to. The rebel cavalry were harassing the Union picket line when Wales went out with his men to reconnoiter. While looking over the ground with a field glass a bullet struck him above the left eye, splintering the bone, glanced off and struck a man behind him, killing him instantly. Twice before he was promoted to the captaincy of his own company he was offered promotion but refused it, declaring that he had come out with company C, and should stick by the "boys." Once when he was offered the command of company H, of his regiment, and once was when he was offered the lieutenant colonelcy of the fifth Vermont. His commission as brevet major was given him not long before the close of the war, for conspicuous bravery in action. Enlisted originally for three years, he re-enlisted in the December preceding the end of that term, and was in active service until he was mustered out July 14, 1865. It is needless to say that no man who went from Windham county has held a warmer place in the hearts of his old comrades than has he. The community generally, and especially those in mature life when the war was in progress, have appreciated the gallant service which he rendered, and have paid him sincere honor therefore.
After returning to Brattleboro at the close of the war, Maj. Wales was for some years engaged in the Smith & Coffin wood-working shop, and was for some years employed in the Estey factories. At the time of his death he was the agent in charge of the town hall. On the organization of the old No. 6 engine company, he was chosen foreman, and led the company until his election as chief engineer of the fire department, holding that office for several terms.
He had never been free from suffering from wounds received in the army service, and a post mortem examination revealed the fact that his death was due to inflammation resulting from the wound at the Wilderness, and not from typhoid fever as at first reported. It is a singular fact that 19 months after the minie ball passed through him he opened with his knife an irritated spot near his shoulder and picked out the "cleaner" which went with that ball. This was a concave piece of zinc fastened to the base of the ball with a copper rivet, which expanded with the concussion [illegible on film] from the barrel of the rifle as it was fired. It was always the belief of Maj. Wales that he could feel the rivet working down through his body at intervals.
His funeral took pace at the house on Wednesday afternoon, and was very largely attended. Rev. F.W. Sprague of the Universalist church officiated. Besides many citizens who thus paid their last tribute of respect, Wantastiquet lodge of Odd Fellows, of which he was a member, attended in a body and performed escort duty. The fire department attended in a body, there was a large attendance of old soldiers, and fifteen members of company C came together, many of them from a distance, to show their affection for their old comrade. Their names were: R.M. Pratt, Dummerston; P.A. Street, Holyoke, Mass.; N.S. Cole, Suffield, Conn.; Albert Mason, West Gardner, Mass.; H.L. Franklin, Geo. B. Prouty, C.S. Gould, R.N. Hescock, C.J. Stockwell, L.F. Bowker, Brattleboro; H.A. Richardson, Hinsdale, N.H.; Joel P. Butterfield, Marlboro; Geo. M. Colt, West Dummerston; Dorr Blood, Chesterfield; Job Long, Brattleboro, honorary member.
The floral tributes were beautiful, comprising a pillow from Company C, a sixth corps badge in flowers, bearing the word "Comrade," given by the old soldiers, and an offering which was the combined gift of the fire department and Odd Fellows.
Maj. Wales was married in his early manhood to Sophia Bardwell of this town. Four children were born to them, three of whom survive: Elijah Wales, Jr., Hattie, wife of F.H. Holden, and Kittie, wife of A.E. Knight. A third daughter died in infancy. Mrs. Wales, who has for many years been an almost invalid, also survives him.
Maj. Wales was a warm personal friend and admirer of the young colonel of his regiment. Col. John S. Tyler, who received his death wound on the same day the Major was shot through the body, and it seemed to many a fitting thing, at the burial on Wednesday, that the two should have their resting places so near together.
With reference to the incident mentioned above when Major Wales is said to have left the hospital in Brattleboro to go to the front of Cedar Creek it may be said that Col. Austine's recollection is that Wales went with his permission as commandant, but all the while he was in hospital he was uneasy, and constantly telling the surgeons that he was well enough to go to the front. It was probably after one of his other wounds that he left the field hospital against the surgeon's orders and joined his command when he knew a fight was coming. It is the recollection of Maj. Wales's family, that while in Brattleboro on furlough after his wound in the Wilderness, he was at home with his family, and not in the encampment hospital as stated.
Contributed by Joann Nichols.
But few men who went to the war from Vermont, or any other State, fought more battles, received a greater number of wounds, and had more hair-breadth escapes than Brevet Major Elijah Wales, of Brattleboro', and he still lives to tell his own story. His record is a most creditable, remarkable, and interesting one. He enlisted as a private, and was mustered into Company C, Second Regiment, May 1, 1861; appointed First Sergeant, June 20, 1861; promoted Second Lieutenant, January 23, 1862; First Lieutenant, October 20, 1862; Captain, March 1, 1863; and Brevet Major, August 1, 1864, for gallantry in the Wilderness and subsequent engagements.
Major Wales participated in twenty-four battles, and says he was under fire more times than he would undertake to count. He was wounded in the battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864 -- a minie ball entering his left shoulder-blade, passing between his heart and spine, and coming out under the right shoulder-blade, near the arm. He was in the field again in less than two months, and was wounded in an engagement at Strasburg, Va., August 4, 1864, by a minie ball, in the head, breaking the bone in over the left eye. He did not leave his regiment, but participated in a skirmish at Stony Point the fourth day afterwards, and was twice wounded, once in the wrist and again in the right leg. He served to the end of the war, was mustered out with his regiment, and was honorably discharged.
During his term of service, Major Wales performed many daring and gallant acts. At Petersburg, on the 2d of April, 1865, he, with two men, captured a piece of artillery, turned it upon the enemy, and fired upon them the charge they had themselves placed in the gun. He returned to Brattleboro' after "the cruel war was over," still resides there, and may he long live to enjoy the blessings of the good government for which he most nobly fought.
Source: Waite's "Vermont in the Great Rebellion," pp. 267-269.