Maine Infantry in May of 1861. Tilden joined with the rank of lieutenant. By the time his enlistment had expired in June of 1862 he held the rank of captain.
The 16th Maine mustered into service during the late summer of 1862 with Tilden as the lieutenant-colonel. With their colonel absent, Tilden commanded the regiment during the battle of Fredericksburg. Although they suffered heavy casualties, the men were impressed with Tilden. They remarked how cool and inspiring he was under fire. The men were delighted when he was promoted to colonel and given permanent command of the regiment.
During the afternoon of July 1, 1863, Tilden and the members of the 16th Maine found themselves in a very difficult situation on Oak Ridge at Gettysburg. Confederate solders were converging towards Gettysburg from three directions. Things looked bleak for the outnumbered Union soldiers. It looked like they would be overrun and defeated before they could reform on the high ground south and east of town. Union division commander General John Robinson would basically sacrifice the 16th Maine in an attempt to delay the Confederates long enough for the rest of his division to make their way toward the high ground!
First an aide arrived with the order to hold at all cost, and then Robinson conferred directly with Tilden. As the rest of the Union soldiers quickly left the ridge, Tilden and the less then three hundred men of the 16th Maine began to advance toward the edge of the Mummasburg Road with Tilden in the lead limping badly. Earlier in the fighting, Tilden’s horse had been shot from under him and his leg was bruised but he had refused to leave the field. In a testament to his leadership ability, one of Tilden’s men later recalled that “every man knew that the movement meant death or capture”, yet every man followed him to the edge of the road. With Confederate soldiers converging from three sides, the 16th began to fall back firing, contesting every inch of ground. Eventually Tilden and over one hundred of his men would be captured near the railroad cut, but their heroic action undoubtedly saved the lives of countess Union soldiers who were able to reform on Cemetery Hill.
Don’t panic, and keep calm when confronted by difficult situations
Keeping ones composure and thinking with a clear head is important in any situation. Tilden had the utmost respect from his men because of his coolness under pressure. He showed this ability at both Fredericksburg and Gettysburg so his men responded likewise. Had Tilden panicked, been unsure of himself, or been outwardly upset it is doubtful that the regiment could have advanced to the road in an orderly manner and been successful at delaying the Confederates. The attributes that Tilden displayed would be applicable in any situation today.
Lead by Example
It is important for any effective leader to have the respect of his men, and there is no better way to do this then lead by example. Through out the afternoon of July 1, 1863, Tilden was with his men urging them on, and he was right out front leading them towards the Mummasburg Road. Tilden also set an example by refusing to leave the field when his horse was shot from under him.
Take Commitment Seriously
Under the circumstances it would have been easy for Tilden to order his regiment to fall back much more quickly than he did. However, he had given his word to General Robinson that the regiment would delay the Confederates as long as possible. Tilden took this commitment seriously, and the fate of the Union Army at Gettysburg may have been saved as a result of his actions. Prior to being captured, Tilden was confronted by a young Confederate soldier who threatened to kill him if he did not surrender his sword. The sword had been presented to him by the people of Maine, and Tilden had undoubtedly promised to guard it with his life and he did so at Gettysburg. He broke his sword rather then surrendering it. Following Tilden’s example the men of the 16th Maine showed commitment by tearing up their precious flags to keep them from getting captured.
Copyright 2014 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Please forward this article to a friend who can sign up for our free blog by clicking here.