Summary

Served in the UNION ARMY during the CIVIL WAR for the State of Indiana. Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade & Wilder's Lightening Brigade.

Conflict Period:
Civil War (Union) 1
Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
Brigadier General 1
Birth:
31 Jan 1830 1
Green Co., New York 1
Death:
20 Oct 1917 1
Jacksonville, Florida 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
John Thomas Wilder 1
Also known as:
Colonel John T Wilder 1
Birth:
31 Jan 1830 1
Green Co., New York 1
Death:
20 Oct 1917 1
Jacksonville, Florida 1
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Civil War (Union) 1

Branch:
Army 1
Rank:
Brigadier General 1
Service Start Date:
04 Jun 1861 1
Service End Date:
04 Oct 1864 1
Enlistment Date:
Apr 1861 1
Enlistment Location:
Whitley co., Indiana 1

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John T Wilder Bio

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John Thomas Wilder (January 31, 1830 – October 20, 1917) was an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. As an industrialist, he was instrumental in developing the natural resources of the State of Tennessee.

Early life and career
Wilder was born in the Catskill Mountains in Hunter, Greene County, New York, the son of Reuben and Mary (Merritt) Wilder. He was a descendant of a long line of soldiers. His grandfather and great-grandfather, both named Seth Wilder, fought in the American Revolutionary War. After the great-grandfather lost a leg in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Seth, Jr. took his place. Wilder's father Reuben fought in the War of 1812.

Wilder spent his younger years in Hunter, where he attended school. When he turned nineteen, his school days over, he decided to head west to make it on his own. Wilder soon arrived in Columbus, Ohio, nearly penniless, and found employment as draftsman and then an apprentice millwright at a local foundry. This training would lay the groundwork for his career.

In 1857, eight years after he arrived in Columbus, Wilder relocated to Indiana, first to Lawrenceburg and then to Greensburg, where he married Martha Jane Stewart and raised a large family. He established a small foundry of his own. It rapidly became a success. Wilder invented many hydraulic machines that he patented, and he sold equipment, building mills and hydraulic works in many of the surrounding states. He also became nationally renowned as an expert in the field of hydraulics, patenting a unique water wheel in 1859.

Civil War
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Wilder enlisted as a private in the 1st Indiana Battery in April 1861, and was elected a captain shortly thereafter. Governor Oliver P. Morton appointed him as the lieutenant colonel of the 17th Indiana Infantry Regiment three months later. On March 2, 1862, Wilder became the regiment's colonel. Serving in Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, he saw his first combat at the Battle of Shiloh. In recognition for his performance and potential, he was assigned command of a brigade of infantry.


In the 1862 Confederate offensive into Kentucky, Gen. Braxton Bragg's army left Chattanooga, Tennessee, in late August. Bragg approached Munfordville, a station on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad where Wilder commanded the Union garrison, which consisted of three regiments with extensive fortifications. Wilder refused Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers's demand to surrender on September 14 and his men repulsed Chalmers's attacks that day, forcing the Confederates to conduct siege operations September 15–16. By this time, Wilder's 4,000 men were almost completely surrounded by 22,000 Confederates with 100 artillery pieces. Realizing that Union reinforcements were nearby and not wanting to kill or injure innocent civilians, the Confederates communicated still another demand for surrender. Wilder personally entered enemy lines blindfolded under a flag of truce, and Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner escorted him to view all the Confederate troops and to convince him of the futility of resisting. Impressed, Wilder surrendered his garrison. The formal ceremony occurred on September 17. Wilder spent two months as a prisoner of war before being exchanged.

Monument to Wilder and his Lightning Brigade at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Wilder received wide attention for his performance in the Tullahoma Campaign. He mounted his brigade on horses and mules that his men appropriated from the local area and moved into the battle with such rapidity that his men soon became known as the "Lightning Brigade". (They were also known as the "Hatchet Brigade" because Wilder issued them long handled hatchets to carry instead of cavalry sabers.) His men also carried Spencer repeating rifles, which were capable of a rate of firepower far greater than their Confederate adversaries. Bypassing Army red tape, Wilder had asked his men to vote on purchasing the rifles and they agreed unanimously. He obtained a loan from his hometown bank and each man of the brigade co-signed a personal loan of $35 for his rifle. Embarrassed, the Government paid for the weapons before the men expended any of their personal money. The Lightning Brigade seized and held Hoover's Gap, defeating repeated attempts to dislodge his force, winning the most significant battle in the Tullahoma Campaign. Wilder was the principal commander of a diversion launched against Chattanooga, Tennessee—artillery bombardments known as the Second Battle of Chattanooga—deceiving the Confederates into thinking the Union army would approach Chattanooga from the north in conjunction with Union forces at Knoxville

Just before the start of the Battle of Chickamauga, Wilder's brigade played a crucial role at Alexander's Bridge on September 18, 1863, defending the crossing of West Chickamauga Creek and helping to prevent the Confederates from flanking the Union army. On the second day at Chickamauga, September 20, Wilder's brigade with its superior firepower was one of the few units that was not immediately routed by the Confederate onslaught against the Union right flank. Advancing from its reserve position, the brigade launched a strong counterattack, driving the enemy around and through what became known as "Bloody Pond". Wilder decided to capitalize on this success by attacking the flank of the main Confederate column. However, just then Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana found Wilder and excitedly proclaimed that the battle was lost and demanded to be escorted to Chattanooga. In the time that Wilder took to calm down the secretary and arrange a small detachment to escort him back to safety, the opportunity for a successful attack was lost and he ordered his men to withdraw to the west.

Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas formally commended Colonel Wilder for his performance at Chickamauga. Wilder did not directly participate in the main Battles for Chattanooga in November, but he led the brigade during much of the Atlanta Campaign in the spring and summer of 1864. He was promoted to brevet brigadier general of volunteers on August 7, 1864. Throughout much of 1863 in 1864, Wilder suffered from bouts of dysentery brought on by a case of typhoid fever in 1862. For health reasons, he resigned from the Army in October 1864 and returned home.

Post Civil War
After the war, Wilder settled in Rockwood, Tennessee, and later in Chattanooga. In 1867, he founded an ironworks in the Chattanooga region, then built and operated the first two blast furnaces in the South at Rockwood, Tennessee. In 1870, he established a company in Chattanooga to manufacture rails for the railroads. From 1884 to 1892, he helped promote and construct the Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad while living in Johnson City, Tennessee. While in Johnson City, he developed the booming industrial suburb of Carnegie, named in honor of fellow industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, and a host of iron making and railroad-related manufacturing facilities. Iron ore was brought to Johnson City via the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, and Wilder constructed a popular 166-room hotel near Johnson City named the Cloudland Hotel near the summit of Roan Mountain to serve tourists via this scenic narrow gauge railway line.


Wilder entered politics and was elected mayor of Chattanooga in 1871. He resigned a year later to pursue his business interests. He unsuccessfully ran for the United States Congress in 1876. In 1877, he accepted the position of city postmaster, serving until 1882.

He moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1897 after receiving an appointment from President William McKinley as a Federal pension agent, then was commissioner of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

He died in Jacksonville, Florida, aged 87, while on his annual winter vacation with his second wife, Dora Lee, and was returned for burial in Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga with his first wife, Martha Jane Stewart.

Two of Wilder's homes in Tennessee, the General John T. Wilder House in Knoxville and the John T. Wilder House in Roan Mountain, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Another that he built in Greensburg, Indiana is commemorated by a historic marker.

John T Weiler From Wikipedia

Colonel Wilder’s Lightning Brigade

Newly promoted rebel brigadier general John Hunt Morgan set out on a cavalry raid into Kentucky on Dec. 22, 1862. His objective: the railroad between Nashville and Cincinnati, the primary supply line for Gen. William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans was getting ready to move his 44,000 men against the 38,000 soldiers under Gen. Braxton Bragg, based in Murfreesboro, just 26 miles from Nashville. The Federal general didn’t have enough cavalry to simultaneously support a movement on Bragg and a hunt for Morgan’s 3,000 raiders, but he could ill afford to let supply disruptions threaten his attack plans: President Lincoln was growing impatient for results.

The same day Morgan’s troops were breaking camp, the Union colonel John T. Wilder arrived in Gallatin, Tenn. to assume command of an infantry brigade. Within days his was one of two infantry units Rosecrans dispatched to catch Morgan’s cavalry. Without horses, it was an unrealistic expectation, and Wilder was completely unsuccessful — an experience that left him seething with anger.

That frustration prompted Wilder to respond with startling originality: soon after the new year, he asked permission to convert his command into what he called “mounted infantry.” Granted approval in February 1863, he did not wait for requisitioned horses and instead impressed them from Tennessee civilians. By March his entire command was in the saddle. Unlike cavalrymen, who normally stayed mounted at all times, Wilder’s men used their horses merely to help them move more quickly. But once engaged with the enemy, the soldiers fought dismounted. They even stripped the yellow piping from their uniforms in order to avoid being mistaken for cavalry. The unit became known as “The Lightning Brigade,” and it would have a transformative effect on fighting in the Western theater.

Born among the Catskill Mountains of New York in 1830, by the time he was 19 years old Wilder was in Columbus, Ohio working in a foundry. He stayed there for eight years, gaining experience in mechanical and hydraulic engineering. In 1857 he moved to Indiana, set up his own foundry and began inventing new machines for his production process, several of which won patents. He joined an Indiana battery when the war came, and within a few months was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 17th Indiana Regiment.

 

In 1862 Wilder advanced to colonel and his regiment, at first deployed in Virginia, moved to the Western theater. He did not see action until Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky in the autumn, when he commanded the 4,000-man garrison guarding a railroad bridge at Munfordsville, Ken. Wilder was responsible for one of the largest mass surrenders of the war, after his men were surrounded by 25,000 Confederates. He spent the rest of the fall waiting for his parole to go through; when it did, he was given his orders to hunt for Morgan’s raiders. It was to be Wilder’s last embarrassment.

As his soldiers were impressing horses, Wilder learned he and Rosecrans shared a conviction about the superiority of another transformative innovation: the repeating rifle. While Rosecrans favored what would prove to be a troublesome Colt revolving model, Wilder was drawn to the Henry and Spencer. Under the best circumstances, soldiers could fire three shots a minute with conventional muzzle-loaders – more likely two in the heat of combat – while repeaters could fire six or more times in less than 30 seconds. Moreover, Colt cylinders held 6 rounds, whereas the Spencer magazine had 7 and the Henry 16. The Henry would later evolve into the Winchester ’73, the iconic firearm of cowboys, but during the war it was considered less rugged than the Spencer.

In March 1863 Wilder wrote to the Henry’s manufacturer asking if the firm would supply his brigade, assuming the soldiers paid for the weapons themselves. Indiana bankers agreed to advance the money if each solider would sign, and Wilder would co-sign, a note for his weapon. Nothing came of the Henry letter, but the Spencer’s young inventor happened to be visiting the Army of the Cumberland around that time. His demonstrations ignited Wilder’s passion, which together with the colonel’s potential banking arrangements persuaded the Ordnance Department to release a shipment of Spencers to Rosecrans, who forwarded most of them to Wilder.

The Lightning Brigade first demonstrated the Spencer’s effectiveness at the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, in June 1863, by inflicting about 200 casualties at a cost of only 50 against a larger force. Ordinary soldiers cast aside any remaining doubt after the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863: Wilder’s brigade was an island of firepower that stalled a rebel breakthrough long enough for Gen. George Thomas to set up a defense that, arguably, saved the Army of the Cumberland from destruction.

For most of the rest of the war Wilder was laid low by repeated illness. He contracted typhoid once, and suffered several cases of dysentery. But he envisioned opportunities in Tennessee after the war, and he moved to Chattanooga the same year the Confederacy collapsed in 1865. He organized a coal mining and pig iron production company, built a machine shop in downtown Chattanooga and was elected mayor in 1871. Twenty years later the owner of the Chattanooga Times (and future owner of The New York Times), Adolph Ochs, would write of Wilder, “He is a true-tried never flinching friend of Chattanooga … He cannot be forgotten … but by the ungrateful.”

During Grant’s Presidency, Wilder came to the aid of a former adversary. Owing to his association with the Ku Klux Klan, the former Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest was arrested for violating the terms of his parole from the Confederate army. Wilder visited Forrest at his home in Memphis and, concluding that Forrest only intended the Klan as a vehicle to protect Southerners, Wilder traveled to Washington to press his case to President Grant. With the aid of Senators from Indiana and Illinois, he persuaded the president to release Forrest. Afterward, Forrest and his wife visited the Wilder family in Chattanooga for a week.

By 1885 Wilder owned mines on either side of the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. He built the luxury Cloudland Hotel atop 6,300-foot Roan Mountain. A line marking the state boundary was drawn down the middle of the dining room, serving alcoholic beverages on one side only. The hotel eventually failed, but the hotel is remembered today with a marker on the Appalachian Trail.

John T. Wilder died at age 87 in 1917. The chaplain general of the Confederate Veterans presided at the funeral, eulogizing, “The World is poorer since General Wilder died … as soldier and citizen he was in the front rank of all good works. He was devoted to the welfare of Chattanooga … This was his town, this was his country and his people.”

 The New York Times article By Phil Leigh

Sources: Richard A. Baumgartner, “Blue Lightning”; Peter Cozzens, “No Better Place to Die”; Glenn Sunderland, “Wilder’s Lightning Brigade”; Steve Cox “Chattanooga Was His Town: The Life of General John T. Wilder,” Chattanooga Regional Historical Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2004; Edward P. Shanahan, “Chickamauga Staff Ride Briefing Book”; Andrew L. Bresnan, “The Henry Repeating Rifle”; Joseph G. Bilby, “A Revolution in Arms”; Samuel Cole Williams, “General John T. Wilder.”

Battle of Chickamauga: Colonel John Wilder's Lightning Brigade Prevented Total Disaster

Historically, the Battle of Chickamauga is recorded as a two-day battle starting on September 19, 1863. For the men of Colonel John T. Wilder's mounted infantry brigade, the fabled 'Lightning Brigade,' the battle actually started a day earlier. And, as events would prove, the Lightning Brigade was not only one of the first units from the Army of the Cumberland to be engaged at Chickamauga, but also the last unit to leave the field.

The men in the Lightning Brigade reflected the fighting spirit of their combative commander. John T. Wilder was an imaginative man who took great pride in his work and was determined to build one of the finest fighting units in the Union Army. Originally from New York, Wilder moved to Ohio when he was 19 and took a job as a draftsman and millwright in a mill in Columbus. Later, he moved to Greensburg, Ind., where he established his own foundry. He became an expert in hydraulic engineering, erecting numerous mills in the North and the upper South.

When the Civil War started, Wilder was determined to form his own artillery battery, and he cast two cannons in his foundry. However, his application was turned down–the state of Indiana had already met its quota of artillery batteries. Undaunted, Wilder joined the 17th Indiana Infantry as a captain and was quickly appointed lieutenant colonel.

As an infantry unit, the 17th Indiana constantly skirmished with Confederate cavalry. One day, frustrated because there was not enough Union cavalry to protect the infantry, Wilder ordered his men to mount mules used to pull the regiment's supply wagons. The mules were not used to being ridden and did not take kindly to the foot soldiers' attempts to ride them. As fast as the men mounted the mules, they were thrown off, much to the amusement of the men from other units who had gathered to watch. Wilder, however, was convinced that his men should be mounted, and he requested permission to do so. Three months later, on February 12, 1863, permission was granted.

Wilder's next goal was to provide his soldiers with the best weapons available, and he attended a demonstration of Christopher Spencer's new repeating rifle. The Spencer had a tubular magazine that held seven rimfire cartridges and, it would soon prove to be one of the most deadly weapons in the Civil War. Wilder arranged for a bank loan back in Indiana to finance the purchase of the Spencers, while his men agreed to have money deducted from their pay to help reimburse their commander. In May 1863, Wilder's men received their new rifles, becoming one of the first mounted infantry units in the Army of the Cumberland to be equipped with repeating rifles.

Wilder's brigade at the start of the Chickamauga campaign consisted of the 17th and 72nd Indiana and the 92nd, 98th and 123rd Illinois. The brigade's artillery support was supplied by Captain Eli Lilly's 18th Indiana Battery, which featured six 3-inch Rodman guns.

The Lightning Brigade had been assigned to Maj. Gen. Joseph Reynolds' division of Maj. Gen. George Thomas' XIV Corps. However, the brigade had what amounted to an independent commission to support all three corps in Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans' army during its advance through Middle Tennessee toward the strategic railroad town of Chattanooga, on the Georgia border.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg planned to lure Rosecrans into a false sense of security, hoping to make him think that the Confederate army was demoralized and retreating toward Atlanta. To convince Rosecrans that his army was in bad shape, Bragg had some of his men pose as deserters and report that the Rebel army was demoralized and unable to offer any resistance to the swift Union advance.

Bragg's plan worked like a charm, and by early September Rosecrans' army was spread out over a large area, with the three corps separated by 60 miles of mountainous, heavily wooded terrain. The rough terrain made it hard for the three corps to maintain contact. Each of the three corps commanders was operating in the dark, not knowing where the enemy army was located.

In truth, Bragg had concentrated his army on the east side of Chickamauga Creek, hidden in the dense forest from the eyes of the Union army. While Federals laboriously inched southward, Bragg's army was preparing for battle. Bragg had been heavily reinforced with two divisions from the Army of Mississippi and an entire corps from the Army of Northern Virginia. The original plan was to attack Thomas' corps as it crossed Chickamauga Creek and began its climb up the Pigeon Mountain, and to crush the corps before help could arrive. Other segments of Bragg's army would wait for Maj. Gen. Thomas Crittenden's corps and then attack it. Finally, the full weight of the Confederate army would be brought down on Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook's corps, destroying the Army of the Cumberland corps by corps.

By September 10, Rosecrans had begun to realize that Bragg's army was not in retreat. Units from Thomas' corps began to report the presence of large Rebel units. Major General James Negley's division encountered a strong Rebel force when it crossed the Chickamauga, and Negley was forced to retreat. Thomas reported back to Rosecrans that the enemy was no longer falling back in disarray, as they had been led to believe. Both Thomas and McCook were concerned about being spread so far apart. After consulting with Thomas, McCook started making plans to shift his corps northward and closer to Thomas' corps.

Wilder's brigade was now attached to Crittenden's corps and on September 11 had marched near Ringgold, Ga., where it had skirmished with Colonel J.S. Scott's brigade of Confederate cavalry, driving it toward Tunnel Hill, then skirmished for half an hour with a second Rebel force before driving the enemy back toward Buzzard Roost.

The next day the brigade was ordered back to Ringgold. About four miles from its destination, the brigade encountered pickets from Brig. Gen. John Pegram's division of Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederate cavalry. The brigade attacked and drove Pegram's units down the road to LaFayette. Soon Wilder learned that Brig. Gen. Otto F. Strahl's Confederate brigade was deployed across the road to Lee and Gordon's Mill. Wilder's brigade was cut off, virtually surrounded by enemy forces. Luckily for Wilder, the Confederates hesitated to attack his brigade, not knowing the composition of the Union force that had suddenly appeared in their midst.

At dusk, Wilder ordered his men to build fires over a large area to make the enemy believe that a large force was camping for the night. While the 72nd Indiana and the 98th and 123rd Illinois formed a line of battle with Lilly's battery, the 17th Indiana started searching for a way out. Scouts were sent out to round up some local inhabitants who were threatened with death if they failed to lead the Union forces out of the trap.

By 8 p.m., the 17th Indiana had found a way out, and the brigade began to march north past the pickets of Strahl's brigade. The brigade got out of the situation without losing a man. Wilder's brigade reached Crittenden's position about midnight, tired and exhausted from the long and arduous march, yet happy to have escaped certain capture.

With more and more units reporting encounters with Rebel units, Rosecrans decided to unite his three corps, and messages were sent to Thomas and McCook to concentrate their forces on Crittenden's corps. The Army of the Cumberland was still vulnerable to attack–and now Bragg was ready to attack.

On September 15, Bragg announced his final plans at a meeting of his senior officers. He intended to march northward and then west to interpose the army between Chattanooga and the Union forces. This would force Rosecrans to either fight or fall back across the Tennessee River to keep his supply line open.

By September 17, the forces on both sides were moving northward, and it was only a matter of time before they would collide with each other. Rosecrans realized that the vital crossings over Chickamauga Creek needed to be defended, yet he was still not fully convinced that the Rebels had anything more than a few cavalry units in the area. To counter any threat by Confederate cavalry, he ordered Wilder's brigade, along with Colonel Robert Minty's cavalry, to defend Reed's and Alexander's bridges. The two brigades were all that would stand in the way of Bragg's effort to cut off the Union army from Chattanooga.

To complicate matters, Wilder's five regiments were now reduced to four. The 92nd Illinois had been sent to Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga to guard the courier line for the army. Minty's brigade consisted of the 4th Michigan, 7th Pennsylvania and 4th U.S. Cavalry troops, along with a battalion of the 3rd Indiana. Supporting his brigade was a section from the famous Chicago Board of Trade Artillery Battery. Due to sickness and lack of fresh remounts, both the units were under strength. Minty's brigade numbered less than 1,100 men, while Wilder's brigade numbered about 2,000.

On the morning of September 17, Wilder's brigade headed for Alexander's Bridge, three miles north of Lee and Gordon's Mill, while Minty's brigade was sent to Reed's Bridge. Both commanders saw evidence of strong Confederate forces in the immediate area. Dust clouds could be seen rising from the east side of the creek. Minty reported his concerns to Crittenden, who discounted the reports, believing that it was only scattered Confederate cavalry.

In spite of continued reports of increased Confederate activity in the area, the Union commanders failed to realize the importance of safeguarding the crossings over the Chickamauga, in effect leaving only two undersized brigades to defend the entire left flank of the army against 16,000 Confederates. During the night of September 17, Minty sent several worried dispatches to Crittenden, stating that he could hear train after train arriving at Ringgold and unloading Confederate infantry. Convinced that an attack was imminent, Minty had his men awakened before daylight. They fed their horses and ate their meal as the first rays of daylight came over the mountains. At daylight, the horses were saddled and the artillery harnessed. Camp was struck and the gear loaded and sent to the rear.

At 5 a.m., Minty sent out two reconnaissance parties of 100 men each to try to locate the Rebels. Men of the 4th U.S. Regiment were sent toward Leet's Tan Yard, and 100 men from the 4th Michigan and 7th Pennsylvania, under the command of Captain Hebert Thompson, were dispatched toward Ringgold. By 6 a.m., Thompson reported the enemy moving in force toward his position. Minty moved the 4th U.S., the 4th Michigan and a section of artillery east about a mile and a half to a ridge overlooking Pea Vine Valley. To buy more time, he reinforced his pickets and sent them halfway down the east slope of Pea Vine Ridge. Meanwhile, the Thompson scouting party fought a skirmish with units of Colonel John S. Fulton's infantry brigade, supported by a battery of Georgia artillery. The intense musketfire, coupled with deadly artillery, forced Thompson and his men to fall back and take cover on Pea Vine Ridge.

At 11 a.m., Minty sent the following message to Brig. Gen. Thomas Wood: 'Sir: The enemy has driven in my scouts from toward Ringgold and are following up apparently in force. Cavalry and infantry are reported. I am now skirmishing heavily. I have had one man killed and several wounded. Please report my signal to Generals Rosecrans and Crittenden.'

For the men of Wilder's brigade, the morning of September 18 was clear and beautiful. The men had foraged for breakfast, and by midmorning the smell of eggs, bacon and chicken wafted over the area of Alexander's Bridge. Units of the 72nd Indiana and 123rd Illinois had been posted on the east side of the bridge to act as pickets. For time being all was quiet, until men of the 72nd Indiana who had been foraging on the east side of the creek returned suddenly, reporting Rebel infantry to the northeast. 'Boots and Saddles' was blown by the buglers of each regiment, immediately followed by orders to fall in. The entire brigade took up positions in preparation for battle.

From atop Pea Vine Ridge, Minty could see long lines of Confederate infantry marching toward Dyer's Bridge and ford a mile to his north. Both crossings were unprotected. Minty sent a courier to Wilder asking him to send reinforcements to guard the crossing points. Shortly after 11 a.m., Wilder received Minty's request and promptly dispatched seven companies of the 72nd Indiana, along with the 123rd Illinois and a section of Lilly's battery.

After sending the units northward, Wilder deployed the 17th Indiana to the right of Alexander's Bridge, with the 98th Illinois on the left side. Dense woods in the immediate area around the bridge on the west side of the creek helped shield the two units. The creek at that point was narrow and deep with steep banks. The enemy had no choice but to try to take the bridge or find another place to ford the creek. Four hundred yards southwest of the bridge, the four remaining guns of Lilly's battery were emplaced on a knoll. Wilder had fewer than 1,000 men to oppose 8,000 Confederate infantry, plus part of Forrest's vaunted cavalry, all supported by artillery.

At Reed's Bridge, the 123rd Illinois was deployed to occupy and hold Dyer's Bridge, while the 72nd Indiana was sent to guard the ford farther downstream. As one company of the 72nd moved near the ford, it was ambushed by enemy troops who had already crossed the ford. A sharp skirmish ensued, driving the 72nd back toward Dyer's Bridge. A few minutes later, the 72nd was ordered to withdraw and report back to Minty.

Minty, in the meantime, had regrouped his command east of the bridge and ordered an advance against the lead elements of the enemy corps, driving them over the ridge and back into the Pea Vine Valley. The Confederates now established a crescent-shaped line that extended from the creek above Dyer's Ford across the ridge into Pea Vine Valley. The men in gray numbered nearly 10,000, including 15 regimental stands of colors.

Minty's men were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the enemy and unable to hold on to the eastern side of the bridge. The best they could do would be to try to delay the Confederates as long as possible before withdrawing across the bridge. To that end, Minty formed a new line 500 yards east of the bridge with the 4th Michigan, two battalions of the 4th U.S. and the remaining companies of the 7th Pennsylvania. He ordered the artillery and one squadron of the 4th U.S. to set up an ambush near the bridge in a densely wooded patch. The rest of the 4th U.S. was ordered back across the bridge. There they formed on the high ground immediately west of the creek.

As the Confederates swept by the Reed house on the battlefield, the ambush was sprung. The four guns of the Board of Trade Battery opened up on the surprised Rebels, raking them with double-shotted canister. When the Southerners stopped to redeploy, Minty sent the 4th Michigan across the bridge, followed closely by the 7th Pennsylvania. To cover the withdrawal, a squadron of the 4th U.S., led by the Lieutenant Wirt Davis, made a brave saber charge that gave the beleaguered cavalrymen time to get across the bridge. Crossing the bridge behind them, Davis and his men stopped under heavy fire and ripped up the flooring on the bridge, tossing the planks into the creek.

Minty now formed a line on the high ground west of the bridge. For the next two hours his brigade held the entire Rebel force in check. But by 3 p.m. the Confederates had crossed the bridge, and other forces were finding shallow places to cross the creek as well. Seeing that he could no longer hold out against vastly superior numbers being brought to bear on his tired troopers, Minty sent word to the 123rd Indiana to withdraw, adding that he was unable to hold out much longer.

Meanwhile, at Alexander's Bridge, Wilder and his two regiments were engaging another large Confederate force. At 10 a.m., a company of Southern infantry made the first attempt to cross the bridge, but was quickly driven back by the pickets of the 72nd Indiana. After the initial attack, members of the regiment ripped up the planking on the bridge and built a lunette fort on the west side of the bridge astride the road. Thirty-seven men from Company A then took up positions in the lunette, waiting for the next Confederate attack.

Lilly's battery of four rifled guns opened fire with long-range canister and percussion shells. Captain William Fowler's Alabama battery returned fire. One of the Rebel battery's first shells landed near Lilly's No. 2 gun, ricocheting and hitting the corner of the Alexander house and bouncing back among members of the battery. Private Sidney Speed alertly ran over, picked up the live shell and hurled it over the log house, where it exploded harmlessly.

For the next several hours, Wilder's men traded fire with the 30th and 34th Mississippi, who had taken positions in a cornfield on the east side of the creek. The Confederates continued to charge the bridge, only to be driven back by Company A, reasonably secure in their lunette.

For almost five hours, Wilder's brigade held off the Rebel attack. But eventually Confederate units began to find places where they could cross without opposition. With Minty withdrawal from Reed's Bridge, the Southerners gained a secure foothold on the west side of the creek. At 4 p.m., Wilder reported the crossing of the enemy: 'The enemy are crossing [infantry and cavalry] Chickamauga Creek at Alexander's and Byram's Ford below. Colonel Minty has fallen back toward Roseville; has two of my regiments. Colonel Minty reports cannonading toward Cleveland last night. This forenoon a column of dust arose in Napier Gap; three hours in passing. A large camp fire is now seen at Napier's. The column that attacked me came through Napier's Gap; another column came from the direction of Peeler's. Colonel Minty reports infantry flanking him on both flanks.'

Wilder's men were being pressed from all sides. Time was rapidly approaching when they could no longer hold their position and would have to withdraw. Wilder had already received word from Minty that he was being forced to withdraw from Reed's Bridge. With Minty gone, the Confederates began streaming across Chickamauga Creek and heading south towards Alexander's Bridge and Wilder's left flank.

At 5 p.m., Lilly's battery fired its last rounds, limbered up its guns and withdrew. The 17th Indiana covered their withdrawal, and the 98th Illinois slowly fell back, fighting as they withdrew. After these units started withdrawing, the men of Company A realized they would soon be surrounded and captured if they did not try to escape. The men knew that they could not all leave at once, so they decided to let two men at a time slip away. Sergeant Joseph A. Higinbotham, in running 30 yards, was shot five times–in the head, face, right arm, left side and right leg. Remarkably, he recovered from his wounds, but later died at Corinth, Miss, in January 1864. In all, the company lost two wounded, as well as 31 of their 37 horses killed.

Wilder's brigade fell back about three miles before stopping and setting up a new defensive line. There they threw up breastworks of fence rails, rocks and trees. The horses were sent to the rear, and the brigade prepared to meet another onslaught from the Confederate army. The 72nd Indiana and 123rd Illinois rejoined the brigade and were placed in line on the left. Minty's brigade took up positions to the right of Wilder's brigade.

Five Confederate brigades moved down the west bank toward Lee and Gordon's Mill. Marching as fast as they could, they ran right into Wilder's brigade. The Southern skirmish line was halted immediately by the deadly fire of the Lightning Brigade's Spencer rifles.

Captain Joseph Vale of Minty's command found General Crittenden, accompanied by General Wood and Wilder, at the Viniard house. He reported that Minty had been engaged since 7 a.m. Crittenden asked the captain: 'Who is it that is coming? What have you been fighting out there?' Vale responded, 'Buckner's corps, Hood's division of infantry and artillery, and some of Forrest's cavalry.' Crittenden refused to believe the report, saying, 'Wilder has come in with the same outlandish story; there is nothing in this country except Pegram's dismounted and Forrest's mounted cavalry, with a few pieces of artillery.'

Minty himself rode up a few minutes later and reported to Crittenden that the Rebels were now on the west side of the creek and advancing toward his position. Crittenden, still believing that the enemy did not have such a force in front of them, ordered Wood to take a brigade of infantry and drive off the Rebel units. While Wood was organizing his brigade, Wilder and Minty rode back to their units.

Wood moved his brigade up to Wilder's position and, accompanied by Crittenden, rode up to Wilder and demanded to know where the enemy was. Wilder replied, 'Ride forward, General, ten paces, and you will see for yourself.' Wood ordered his brigade to form a line of battle in front of Wilder's men. Crittenden added a further dig at Wilder, smirking, 'Colonel, we expect to hear a good report for you.'

Wood's infantry advanced into the woods and suddenly met a tremendous volume of musketry from both front and flank. The infantry broke and ran, bowling over Wilder's and Minty's men in panic. Wilder turned to Minty and remarked loudly, 'Well, Colonel Minty, the general has got his report.' Wilder and Minty then rushed forward to counter the enemy attack. Meanwhile, Wood galloped off toward Lee and Gordon's Mill, but not before exclaiming, 'By Gad, they are here!'

The Confederates advanced toward the rail barricades behind which Wilder's and Minty's men waited. When the Rebels got within 30 yards, Wilder ordered his men to open fire. Both brigades sent a hail of bullets from their Spencers into the enemy. The Confederates were cut down in droves. The graybacks wavered and fell back, leaving many casualties on the field.

The survivors of the first attack re-formed in the tree line and emerged again with fresh units, advancing toward the men of the Lightning Brigade. As soon as they were close enough, the brigade again opened fire, supported by Lilly's battery, and whole sections of the Confederate line ceased to exist. Again the Rebels were forced to withdraw to the safety of the woods. The Confederates gave up and broke off the attack around 10 p.m.

For the men of Wilder's and Minty's brigades, the fighting finally came to an end. The night of September 18 was cold and miserable, made even worse by the lack of blankets and food for the men because their horses had been moved to the rear, along with their bedrolls and equipment. No fires were allowed, so the exhausted men just lay down in their positions and went to sleep.

All night long, as Wilder's men tried to catch some sleep, the sounds of thousands of marching infantry and hundreds of caissons and wagons filled the night air. The entire Union army was on the march. Rosecrans had ordered a realignment of his three corps, and Thomas was ordered to march his XIV Corps north beyond Crittenden and extend the line northward in order to neutralize Bragg's flanking maneuver.

At 4 a.m., Wilder and Minty were relieved and moved their brigades to the west out of the Viniard house. For the first time in 24 hours the men and horses were fed–sweet potatoes for the men and two ears of corn for each horse. Wilder and his officers met to discuss the actions of the previous day and to prepare plans for the upcoming battle. The day before they had been the left flank of the Union army. Now they found themselves protecting the right flank, as the Union forces had shifted position during the night.

The bravery of the men of Wilder's Lightning Brigade and Minty's cavalry had prevented total disaster from befalling the Army of the Cumberland. Without the valiant Union stand on the banks of Chickamauga Creek, the Confederate army would have swept down the Union flank, and the Battle of Chickamauga would have been lost on the very first day. Once again, the Spencer rifles had proved their worth.

This article was written by Hubert Jordan and originally appeared in the July 1997 issue of America's Civil War magazine.

Originally published by America's Civil War magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 

 

Souvenir, the Seventeenth Indiana Regiment: SEVENTEENTH REGIMENT- THREE YEARS' SERVICE

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SEVENTEENTH REGIMENT- THREE YEARS' SERVICE.
Colonel John T. Wilder,
Seventeenth Indiana Mounted Infantry.

Commander of Wilder's Brigade.
Brevet Brigadier-General August 7, 1864.

The Seventeenth Regiment was organized at Camp Morton, Indianapolis, during May, 1861, and was mustered into the United States service on the 12th of June, 1861, for three years. When the regiment was first organized there were ten full companies, but in October, 1861, Company A was taken out and organized into an artillery company and was known as Wilder's Battery, named after Colonel J. T. Wilder, who afterwards was commander of the famous Wilder's Lightning Brigade of mounted infantry, thus leaving only nine companies, until August, 1862. A new Company A was recruited and added, making a full quota of companies of the regiment again. The regiment had a full complement of officers and men, mostly young men under twenty-one years of age. The companies making up the regiment were from different parts of the State, and not only represented every county in the State and twenty States of the Union, but had representatives from nearly every nation of Europe. On the 1st of July it left Indianapolis for Parkersburg, Virginia, which place it reached on the 5th, after stopping three days at Cincinnati. Remaining in this vicinity until the 23rd, it took the cars and moved to Oakland, Maryland. Marching sixteen miles to the north branch of the Potomac, it was engaged until the 7th of August in constructing the fortifications known as Camp Pendleton. Proceeding by railroad from Oakland to Webster, and thence on foot up Tygart's Valley to Huttonsville, the regiment reached Cheat Mountain Pass on the 12th, and afterward went into camp at Elkwater. While in this vicinity the Seventeenth participated in the operations of General Reynolds's army, including the battle of Green Brier, on the 3d of October, in which its loss was one killed. On the 19th of November it proceeded to Louisville, Kentucky, where it reported to General Buell on the 30th, and there lay in camp on Oakland Race Course until the 10th of December. Being assigned to General Nelson's Division, tlie regiment marched to Camp Wickliffe, near New Haven, where it remained until February 10, 1862, when it moved toward Green River. Crossing Green River, it marched southward, arriving at Nashville on the 12th of March, and there remained until the march to the Tennessee River was begun. Colonel Hascall being appointed Brigadier-General on the 25th of March, he was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel John T. Wilder. Leaving Nashville on the 29th of March, the regiment reached the field of Shiloh on the 8th of April. It then participated in the march to and siege of Corinth, and after its evacuation moved with Buell's army through northern Alabama to McMinnvllle, Tennessee, where, on the 30th of August, it overtook Forrest and attacked and routed him. On the 3d of September the Seventeenth left McMinnville and marched via Murfreesboro, Nashville, Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and West Point, to Louisville, Kentucky, arriving there on the 25th of September, after marching 270 miles and having a skirmish with Bragg's rear guard on the 21st, near Munfordsville. Leaving Louisville on the 1st of October, it moved to Bardstown, where it remained in camp until the 18th, and then marched to Nashville by the way of Lebanon, Columbia, Glasgow and Gallatin, reaching there on the 20th of November. Between this and the 1st of February, 1863, the regiment was engaged in numerous expeditions in different directions from Nashville, and then moved its camp to Murfreesboro. On the 12th of February orders were received for the regiment to mount itself, and the following month was occupied in foraging and pressing horses, until the regiment was fully mounted, after which it was kept constantly moving on scouting expeditions. On the 18th of May the men were armed with Spencer rifles, with which effective weapons each man became the equal of seven men. After being mounted and until the close of the war the regiment was a part of the famous Wilder's Lightning Brigade, which included the Seventeenth and Seventy-second Indiana, Ninety-second, Ninety-eighth and One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois Infantry and the Eighteenth Indiana (Captain Eli Lilly's) Battery. On the 24th of June it moved to Hoover's Gap, where the enemy was strongly posted. The rebel force of five regiments of infantry, three companies of sharpshooters and a battery, made several charges upon the Seventeenth, which were repulsed gallantly. The regiment held the rebels at bay until out of ammunition, when reinforcements from the other regiments of the brigade coming up, the enemy were driven from the field. The Seventeenth captured seventy-five prisoners and one hundred and twenty-five stand of arms, and sustained a loss of forty-eight killed and wounded. After this engagement it marched to Manchester, driving the enemy and capturing many prisoners. It then marched on a raid to Cowan, after which it scouted the country in various directions, and on the 21st of August skirmished with the enemy across the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. After the evacuation of that place, the Seventeenth moved towards the North Chickamauga and Dalton, frequently skirmishing with the .enemy. On the 11th of September it marched to near Ringgold, where it met Scott's Brigade of rebel cavalry and two pieces of artillery, when a sharp fight ensued, resulting in the driving of the enemy to Tunnel Hill with severe loss. The regiment lost one and two wounded. Between this and the 18th frequent skirmishes occurred with the enemy, and on that day the division to which the Seventeenth was attached was attacked in force and compelled to fall back. The next day the regiment fought nearly all day in the battle of Chickamauga, breaking the enemy's lines every time he charged. On the 20th it repulsed a severe charge of the enemy, and then charged in return, driving the rebels and killing, wounding and capturing a great number. The regiment fought till 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when it was ordered back toward Chattanooga. On the 1st of October it started, as part of General Crook's command, in pursuit of General Wheeler, then in the Sequatchie Valley. On the night of the 3rd the regiment attacked Crew's rebel brigade at Thompson's Cove and routed them, capturing a number of arms and the battle flag of the Second Kentucky Cavalry, presented to them by the ladies of Elizabethtown, Kentucky; the regiment lost but one wounded. The next day it marched to McMinnville, where it skirmished with the enemy and drove him out of and beyond the town, losing two killed and four wounded. On the 7th of October, when beyond Shelbyville, the regiment struck the enemy and attacked him, driving him from the field and into , Farmington, where he made a stand. Here the Seventeenth charged the rebels, capturing three of Wheeler's guns, a great number of small arms and three hundred prisoners. The regiment lost forty-eight killed and wounded, including three commissioned officers. Crossing the Tennessee River at Lamb's Perry on the 9th, further pursuit was abandoned and the regiment moved to Huntsville, Alabama, from whence it started, on the 13th, in pursuit of the enemy under Forrest, Roddy, Wharton and others. On the 27th it went into winter quarters at Maysville, from whence, on the 18th of November, in pursuance of the orders of General Thomas, two hundred and fifty of the best mounted men marched to near Chattanooga and crossed the Tennessee on Sherman's pontoon on the night of the 23d. Moving in the direction of Cleveland, they went round by Tyner's Station, whilst the battle was raging at Mission Ridge, to within seven miles of Ringgold and destroyed rebel wagon trains and stores. They returned to Cleveland oh the 26th after destroying, altogether, seventy-seven wagons. Being attacked the next day by Kelly's Brigade, they were forced to destroy the foundry at Cleveland and fall back to near Chattanooga, losing one man killed. On the 30th they marched toward Knoxville, running through the rebel lines to get into the town. Leaving there on the 5th of December, they crossed the Chilhowee Mountain into North Carolina, and then into Tennessee, camping at Charleston on the 14th of December. The majority of the regiment, then dismounted and in camp at Pulaski, having re-enlisted on the 14th of January, 1864, left the next day for Nashville, where they were joined on the 18th by the part of the regiment at Charleston. Two hundred and eighty-six having been re-mustered as veterans, the regiment left Nashville on the 22d of January for Indianapolis on veteran furlough. Arriving there on the 25th, it was publicly received in the Capitol grounds and was addressed by Governor Morton, Colonel Wilder and others. While in Indiana the veterans were allowed to purchase horses, and being remounted, left Indianapolis by rail on the 2nd of April, and on arriving at Louisville, went into camp until the 18th, when it proceeded to march to Nashville, reaching there on the 25th, after riding one hundred and eighty-six miles. Leaving there next day, the regiment reached Sherman's army, then on the march to Atlanta, on the 10th of May. Prom this time until the 31st of October it was actively and constantly engaged In the cavalry and scouting operations incident to the march upon and capture of Atlanta, and the pursuit of Hood's retreating army northward. It participated in the numerous skirmishes, the raids to cut the enemy's communications, and was conspicuously engaged at Pumpkin Vine Church, Big Shanty, Belle Plain Road, Kenesaw Mountain, Marietta, Chattahoochie River (being the first troops to cross this stream). Stone Mountain, Plat Rock, New Hope Church, Rome, Coosaville, Leesburg and Goshen. On the first of November, 1864, after turning over its horses to Kilpatrick's Cavalry, the regiment left Rome, Georgia, for Louisville, Kentucky, where, on the 24th, it was remounted. Moving from Louisville on the 28th of December, it reached Nashville on the 8th of January, 1865, from whence it marched to Gravelly Springs, Alabama, arriving there on the 25th. Here it remained until the 12th of March, when it marched with General Wilson's cavalry command into the interior of Alabama. On the 1st of April the Commands of Roddy and Forrest were overtaken and attacked at Ebenezer Church, on Bogue's Creek, twenty-nine miles from Selma. The Seventeenth participated and charged the rebels gallantly, capturing one hundred prisoners and one gun and losing eight killed, eleven wounded and five missing. On the 2d it participated in the engagement at Selma and in the taking of the rebel works surrounding the town. The Seventeenth first drove the rebels into their forts and then out of them, and afterward drove them from their Interior works and their position behind the railroad embankment into the town, taking all forts from No. 18 to the river on the west side of the town. Four pieces of artillery and about three hundred prisoners were captured. Out of four hundred and twenty-one oflficers and men engaged the Seventeenth lost twelve killed and eighty wounded. After the battle the regiment moved to Montgomery, and from thence to Columbus, Georgia, from which point it marched to Macon, near which place it engaged the enemy on the 20th of April and drove him into the city, saving two important bridges which the rebels were in the act of firing. By a ruse the enemy were led to believe that our force was but the advance of two divisions of cavalry, and the city was surrendered, and with it Generals Howell Cobb, Mackall, Mercer and Gustavus W. Smith, three thousand prisoners, including officers of all grades, five stands of colors, sixty pieces of artillery and three thousand small arms. The Seventeenth had in the action during the day four hundred and fifty-one officers and men, of whom one was killed and two wounded. Camping near the city for a month, it moved on to Macon on the 22d of May, where it did post duty until the 8th of August, 1865, when it was mustered out of service, serving a period (as an organization) of four years three months and eight days. Leaving Macon soon after, the regiment arrived at Indianapolis on the 16th of August with six hundred and seventy-five men and twenty-five officers, and was the day following publicly received in the Capitol grounds and addressed by Lieutenant-Governor Conrad Baker, General Vail, General White, General Wilder and others. In a few days afterwards it was finally discharged from service. During its term of service the Seventeenth Regiment marched over four thousand miles, and captured over five thousand prisoners, more than six thousand stand of arms, seventy pieces of artillery, eleven stands of colors and more than three thousand horses and mules. All this, was done with the loss of three officers and sixty-six men killed and thirteen officers and one hundred and seventy-six men wounded - a total of killed and wounded of two hundred and fifty-eight.

We boast of having accomplished more with the least loss of life than
any other regiment in the service.

PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS.

The Seventeenth Indiana has the distinction of one of its members having, while on a scouting expedition in West Virginia, shot and killed a distant relative of the father of our country, Colonel John A. Washington, who was at the time chief of General R. E. Lee's staff, by Sergeant J. J. Weiler of Company E. Also one of its number, Captain James A. Taylor, of Company G, being killed in a hand-to-hand conflict with Rebel General Forrest, at Ebenezer Church, Selma, Alabama.

REVEILLE CALL.

I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up a tall,
I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up a tall.

The privates and the corporals.
The sergeants, one and all;
The lieutenants they are lazy.
But the captain the worst of all.

Oh! I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up in the morning;
Oh! I can't get 'em up, I can't get 'em up,
I can't get 'em up at a-1-1.

Souvenir, the Seventeenth Indiana Regiment: a history from its organization to the end of the war. By Benefiel, W. H. H; September 14, 1913

General Wilder's GAR and Other Ephemera, sold at auction in 2005

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Lot 5002 at Cowans auction - 2005, Historic Americana / Nov 16, 17 & 18

includes the following group, enclosed in a frame: a post-war reunion disk stamped J.T. Wilder 17 IND and Wilder's Lightning Brigade on the obverse; a silvered brass reunion watch-fob engraved COL. JOHN T. WILDER; 6 Wilder's Brigade reunion ribbons, two reunion badges and hangers; a GAR hat badge; a coin purse; a small hatchet made from lead; an Indiana state militia button, and other miscellany. In addition, a small jappaned metal spice box contains a January 10, 1865 appointment from the State of Indiana appointing Wilder General Recruiting Commissioner for the State of Indiana; a Clark Brothers Sheffield dirk with carved antler handle terminating in an acorn; a small cast souvenir hatchet; two manuscript letters of thanks to Wilder (one signed by B.F. Magee as Secretary and one by W.P. Herron as Provost), thanking Wilder for his hospitality when the Post met in Chattanooga for their reunion; a small photograph of a stream labeled on verso "Crossing at Roswell, GA" and several items relating to his post-war life and business in Chattanooga.

These items were purchased directly from Wilder's great-great granddaughter in Edmonds, Oklahoma. The lot includes complete provenance including communication between her and the dealer to whom she sold these items.

Sold for $2070.00

Wilder Medal for 1887 reunion

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Seventeenth Indiana Regiment Reunion - Wilder's Brigade
7 Sep 1887
Greenecastle, Indiana

John T Wilder purchased 500 solid silver medals, in New York, with the brigade badge for each old member to the brigade. To be presented at the reunion.

From Souvenir of the 17th Indiana Regiment:

ORGANIZATION OP THE REGIMENTAL ASSOCIATION AND ITS REUNION SINCE THE CLOSE OF THE WAR.

For several years after the close of the war the comrades of the Seventeenth Regiment paid but little attention to the whereabouts of each other.

They were too busy in their efforts to provide homes for themselves and families, and in cementing the broken chords incident to their soldier lives; but as they advanced in age they gradually became possessed of a desire to see each other again, and in fraternal manner talk over the interesting incidents of their soldier lives.

While attending a reunion of the Wilder Brigade at Charleston, Illinois, August 22 and 23, 1888, the comrades of the Seventeenth Indiana who were in attendance held a meeting in the G. A. R. Hall at that place and effected a regimental organization, and elected as President Sergeant W. H. Fisher of Company D and Sergeant W. H. H. Benefiel of Company G secretary and treasurer. It was decided that a call be made for a reunion of the survivors of the regiment, the meeting to be held in the city of Anderson, Indiana, on October 17, 1888. In response to the call about sixty-five comrades of the regiment were present and registered at this, the first annual reunion of the regimental association. The citizens of Anderson gave our comrades of the grand old Seventeenth (as they called us) a grand reception, furnishing them with meals and lodging free of cost. On the evening of the 17th a grand good campfire was held in the beautiful Doxey Opera House, where a splendid program was prepared for the occasion. Speeches were made by the Mayor and by Captain Patten, Generals J. T. Wilder, Hascall and Major-General Nathan Kimball, who wsts the first colonel of the Fourteenth Indiana, and who was our guest on this occasion. The grand old General had come all the way from Ogden, Utah, to attend this reunion (as he said) of the twin brother of his old Fourteenth Indiana Regiment.

Since that time the regimental reunions have been held at various times and places throughout the State; at times in connection with the Wilder's Brigade reunions, but without any systematic organization. The last, which was the twenty-first annual reunion of the regimental association, was held in the city of Anderson again, on the 16th and 17th of September, 1912, the officers at this time being: President, Lieutenant P. M. VanPelt of Company G, and Sergeant W. H. H. Benefiel of Company G, secretary and treasurer. 

WILDER'S BRIGADE REUNION - John T Wilder's Speech

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General wilder's Speech.

-The Old Commander's Talk to the Veterans of His Brigade at the Late
Reunion -

The reunion of Wilder's famous brigade was recently held at Princeton, Indiana. The valiant and beloved commander of the brigade was present. His address follows:

Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen - It is gratifying to me to see so many here, but what gratifies me most is to see so many of my old comrades, men that twenty-five years ago were young and full of hope and who are now getting old and gray, men that I have seen go through all that mortal man can endure, and do it all without one word of complaint. If God's sun shines over a free, happy and prosperous country, the glory of it all is due to you. You who meet them in your daily rounds of life know little of what they are made of. If you had seen them on short rations, in the mud and in the cold, in the fiercest onslaught of the battle, in the prison pen; had seen these men go on and stand up under it all and never mutter, you could then form some opinion of what they are. Most of you were in the army, few good men who did not go in. [Applause] I have come three hundred miles to greet these men and shake hands, and renew acquaintances. I would go to the north pole to meet these men, [applause.] and I believe if Greely had had some of them with him he could have made his trip to the north pole a success. [Applause] Why do I say this? Because I proved and tried them. I live In Chattanooga and I can look in no direction from my residence but what I can see sections of the country that have been honored by the tread of these men. I live there and it was by their permission twenty-three years ago. Before I went there to live I was at the head of this brigade and shelled the city in which I now live for three weeks. [Applause] And these men conducted themselves in such a manner and their deeds were of such a character that it made my life respected. I can't go anywhere in the South and go into a hotel and register my name but what someone will come up to me and say, "Is this the General Wilder that had command of Wilder's Brigade?" I tell him yes, and he answers, "I know you, and I know your boys; they were the best men I ever saw."

From where I live I can look to the east in the morning and see the sun risings and the first thing it looks upon is a cemetery in which lie buried 13,000 men who died that the country might live; men whose manhood made this meeting possible. Had they stayed at home and lived the lives of peace and of comfort, such meetings as this could never have occurred. The country would have been torn in two, instead of the free and happy country that it now is; it would have been such that would require a standing army, and neither side would have been benefited. As it is, you can go from Manitoba to Mexico as an American citizen, and you can go from New Brunswick to the Golden Gate over a country that is united, and the most powerful country that God's sun shines upon. All the nations of Europe cannot affect the rights and liberties of the citizens of this country.

The million of men who stood before Gettysburg and Vicksburg and Richmond and the other battles of the war are now old men and getting gray, but following in their footsteps are two million more just as good as they are. While the world goes round that example will live, and no one dare trample upon the liberty that these men went out to perpetuate. I have lived at Chattanooga eighteen years. When the sun rises in the east I look out upon the national colors flying above the grave stones that mark the last resting place of 13,000 men who died to make the country free. When the sun gets in the south I see the place where Hooker was above the clouds. Every day of my life there is taught me a lesson of patriotism. Your hearts are affected in the same way, and I call upon you today to pledge anew your loyalty to the government and render honor to the nations of the world. [Applause]

In the South a great era of progress has come upon us. New manufactures have sprung into existence. The bloody field of Chickamauga is a strawberry patch now. Mission Ridge is now covered with vines, and land then worth $20 an acre is now worth $200. Chattanooga has one hundred and sixty smokestacks, and is a city of 27,000 people. You don't realize what progress has been made. Nashville now has 65,000 souls. It has all come about through putting practical men to do the work. It does not make any difference what a man's politics or religion may be, he will be respected if he is worthy of it.

Now, friends, I came up here to see some of my old comrades. I will go anywhere to be with them. I want to go to heaven with them some day. If any of you ever go to Chattanooga, I have got no latch-string, but just break the door down and leave it open. [Applause] Wherever I am I will always be glad to see any and all of you. I thank you kindly for your attention. [Applause]

From: Souvenir, the Seventeenth Indiana Regiment

Blue Lightning : Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga by Richard A. Baumgartner

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Review on book, by Indiana Magazine of History:

Blue Lightning: Wilder's Mounted Infantry Brigade in the Battle of Chickamauga. By Richard A. Baumgartner. (Huntington, W. Va.: Blue Acorn Press, 1997. Pp. iii, 244. Illustrations, maps, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $30.00.)

In June of 1863, while fighting in their first real battle in Hoover's Gap, Tennessee, a brigade of Indiana and Illinois men advanced so rapidly and fought so aggressively they earned the nickname Lightning Brigade. Richard A. Baumgartner has written the history of this Civil War brigade during the time Colonel John T. Wilder was its commander, from December, 1862, through the Battle of Chickamauga in September, 1863. During this time the brigade helped the Union's Army of the Cumberland drive the Confederate army out of middle Tennessee and then out of Chattanooga. At the Battle of Chickamauga, Wilder's brigade managed by its tenacious fighting to slow the Confederate advance at several crucial times, thus helping the Union army avoid destruction.

The Lightning Brigade was different from most Civil War units in two ways. The men were mounted infantry, thus were pioneers in developing the new idea of fighting as infantry but using horses to move about rapidly. They had better weapons than most of their opponents since they were equipped with Spencer breech-loading repeating rifles.

The book should appeal to those interested in the military history of Indiana's Civil War soldiers. The brigade included two Indiana mounted infantry regiments, the 17th and the 72nd; three regiments from Illinois, the 92nd, 98th, and 123rd; and the 18th Indiana Battery of Light Artillery commanded by the young Captain Eli Lilly. Wilder, who before the war owned a foundry in Greensburg, Indiana, is described as an innovative, aggressive, and effective commanding officer. The book includes numerous photographs of men who were in the brigade. There is a list of those who were casualties in the Chickamauga campaign. Throughout the text the author includes biographical information about many of the men.

A good feature of the book is that the author quotes very extensively from brigade members' letters and diaries. The men describe skirmishing, scouting, and camp life as well as the ferocity of battle, especially at Chickamauga. There are lively, often humorous accounts of the difficulties that ensued when these men, originally infantrymen, became mounted infantry and had to learn how to ride and deal with horses and mules. The men acquired their mounts by simply taking them from civilians in the vicinity who were presumed to be "disloyal inhabitants" (p. 19). Since they spent so much time on foraging expeditions, their letters describe many encounters with civilians in Tennessee.

Baumgartner's descriptions of military actions are not always easy to follow. This is partly because of the nature of the book. The author is focusing on the actions of many individual men in one brigade in the midst of very complicated moving and fighting of two large armies. Readers need to have some basic knowledge of the military events treated here, particularly the Battle of Chickamauga. The maps in the book do not show sufficient details; most do not indicate position or movements of various military units. Readers would have found it helpful if the author had summarized in an appendix the details about the brigade's organization and officers, explained how it fit into the Army of the Cumberland, and noted the times when various units of the brigade, such as the 92nd Illinois, were temporarily detached for special assignments.

SHARON HANNUM SEAGER is professor of history, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, where she teaches courses on the Civil War, the South, and women in American history.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.

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