A military masterpiece which did more damage to the Confederate
than did Vicksburg or Gettysburg, and at very little human cost.
After the battle of Murfreesboro
(31 Dec. 62, 2 Jan. 63) Rosecrans
established his winter camp there. Bragg withdrew
south and prepared a defensive line north of Tullahoma which was to
block any Federal advance toward Chattanooga. Rosecrans prepared
thoroughly for the coming battle by stockpiling supplies and training
the troops by means of constant skirmishing. His biggest problem were
his inferior cavalry forces. The solution to this problem was tossed
into his lap by a volunteer Col. named John T. Wilder, a mechanical
engineer and foundry owner from Indiana, who came to Rosecrans with a
revolutionary idea: take infantry, mount them on horses, arm them with
the brand new 7-round Spencer repeating
rifle, and use them as mobile shock troops who would ride ahead,
dismount, and use their tremendous firepower to attack the enemy in the
rear with the force of a much larger body of conventionally armed
infantry. Rosecrans listened and gave Wilder the approval to round up
the horses. Wilder contracted with Christian Spencer for the delivery
of 1400 rifles and made an arrangement with his bank so that the
members of his brigade would pay the purchase price ($35 dollars per
rifle, a princely sum in those days) in installments out of their
monthly pay. Later the government assumed this debt.
From the Official Records it is not possible to document the
process by which Wilder got Rosecrans' approval for the acquisition of
these rifles, because there is simply no communication there signed by
Rosecrans which even mentions them. Nor by Thomas who must have been
involved since Wilder was in his corps. A search of the
records does reveal that, starting on 25 Aug. 1862 (ar25_187)
Rosecrans began to importune the War Department for "revolving arms,"
by which he was referring to the 5-shot .56 cal. Colt revolving
rifle. Even earlier, on 6 Aug. 1862 (ar25_154) he had asked for
"repeating rifles." He could have been referring either to Henrys or
the Colt, but at that date there were very few Henrys. The Colt
dramatically increased the rate of fire of the man using it, but it had
grave defects. The loose powder and ball were packed into the
chambers of the cylinder and covered with grease in order to keep the
flash, which escapes from the front of the cylinder of all revolvers
(even modern ones), from igniting the powder in the neighboring
chambers. If one of the unfired chambers should be thus set off, that
began the potentially lethal (to the bearer) phenomenon of chain fire.
This problem was also inherent in the handheld revolvers, but they were
normally used by the cavalry and not used as heavily as infantry rifles
were. In addition, the caliber of the Colt revolving rifle was large,
the powder charge likewise, and the escaping flash could severly burn
the arm which was beside it. That meant that the bearer either had to
hold his elbow as far as possible away from the cylinder or support the
rifle on some object. Significantly, Rosecrans' last entreaty for
"revolving arms"(ar35_32) is dated 1 Feb. 1863. The
silence thereafter on the entire question of repeaters indicates that
Spencer established contact with Wilder and/or Rosecrans shortly after
that date, and Rosecrans decided to play his cards close to his chest.
Most strangely, the Spencer repeaters are not specifically
mentioned in any of the after-battle reports. The only
indirect reference to them is in Wilder's report when he writes
of pouring a "tornado of death" and "leaden hail" into enemy ranks. This
general omission could only be the result of an understanding among
those writing the reports. The tentative conclusion I reach is that
Rosecrans was trying to keep the details of his unorthodox
procurement procedures from his own War Department, but I will
glady entertain other possibilities should they be suggested.
Rosecrans refused to budge until he was ready. That he turned out
later to have been right did not further endear him to Halleck. At the
risk of his military career Rosecrans was carefully preparing a plan to
utilize the revolutionary tool which Wilder had put in his hands. The
plan was both audacious and complex involving 4 separate attack
columns, and it went off like clockwork, in spite of incessant rain and
bad roads, thanks to the months of preparation and planning. According
to Michael Bradley the campaign was also a "classic of improvisation." (Tullahoma,
2000, pg. 94)
Map section from the Atlas to the Official Records, plate XXXIVThe battle of Hoover's Gap was fought at Beech Grove. Wilder's brigade assumed the position indicated by the red dots along Garrison Fork, and on the modern map to the right at the intersection of highway 64 and Oscar Crowell Road.
On 24 June 63 Wilder's Brigade came out of Hoover's Gap and took up the position indicated by the red dots which span the valley. There is a monument to the battle and a very old cemetery at "Beechgrove." Hoover's gap to the north of this position is simply a 4 mile long valley between two ridges, not a ravine as you might expect from reading the descriptions in the reports. Manchester Pike followed today's Oscar Crowell Road. On the 26th Wilder's brigade flanked Confederate defenders on the Manchester Pike in Matt's Hollow by going around the head waters of Noah's Fork, shown on the map on the left, and below.
On the Federal right Stanley and Granger's cavalry
demonstrated toward the fortified town of Shelbyville which
shielded Bragg's main foraging area in Middle Tennessee. In the
middle McCook and Thomas threatened the passes, and on the left
Crittenden gestured toward McMinnville. However, Crittenden
didn't get very far before becoming literally stuck in the mud caused
by the rain which began the 24th and continued for 15 straight days,
the most which had fallen in that period since records had been kept.
Stanley's movement on 23 June toward Shelbyville was a feint (rendered
more convincing by the presence of most of Rosecrans' cavalry), because
Rosecrans had no intention of directly attacking the fortifications.
Crittenden's feinting at a feint was supposed to be recognized as such,
thus diverting attention back to Stanley on the Federal right in front
of Shelbyville, whereby it's not clear if his fake feint had
any effect. In the middle, McCook's movment toward Liberty Gap
was also a demonstration, and a few days later his forces moved east to
join those of Thomas. In his report Rosecrans described his
orchestrated deceptions as follows:
"The plan was, therefore, to move General Granger's command to Triune, and thus create the impression of our intention to advance on them by the Shelbyville and Triune pikes, while cavalry movements and an infantry advance toward Woodbury would seem to be feints designed by us to deceive Bragg and conceal our supposed real designs on their left, where the topography and the roads presented comparatively slight obstacles and afforded great facilities for moving in force."
While this was going on, Thomas with the 14th Corps waited quietly in the middle. If I had been Bragg, I would have been asking the staff : "Where is Thomas?" Early on 24 June he unleashed the main thrust. First Wilder's newly mounted "lightning" brigade (with the firepower of a division) stormed through Hoover's Gap and overwhelmed the pickets of Stewart's division which were supported by a small unit of Wheeler's cavalry. Never before in the history of warfare had so much firepower in the hands of so few covered 12 miles so quickly. Wilder was thus able to establish himself on Hardee's flank and await Thomas's infantry. While he waited, he held off a counter-attack by Stewart's entire division. When Thomas arrived, he said to Wilder that his action had prevented 2000 casualties. To read the account of Col. James Connolly, a participant, click here. Major James Connolly, who was a member Wilder's brigade, sheds some light on the adoption of the Spencer in the collection of his letters "Three Years in the Army of The Cumberland." According to Connolly his unit first received the Spencers at the beginning of May 1863 and used them repeatedly in smaller engagements and scouting parties leading up to the large scale attack at Hoover's Gap on 26 June 1863.
Hardee, just to the west of Hoover's Gap, knew only that an
enormous amount of firepower had suddenly appeared on his right flank.
For some reason for two days he sent no messages back to Bragg (whom he
despised) about the fighting, and then he retreated without orders into
Tullahoma. This isolated Polk's corps in Shelbyville which therefore
also withdrew into Tullahoma, albeit as ordered by Bragg.
Wilder also spearheaded the drive into Manchester which turned
Bragg out of Tullahoma. I quote from Wilder's battle report:
On the morning of the 26th, we again moved forward, my command, on horseback, debouching into the valley of Garrison Fork, and filing over the chain of hills between that stream and McBride's Creek, flanking the rebel left, and causing it to hastily fall back before the infantry column of General Reynolds, who was advancing on the line of the Manchester pike. We then moved up McBride's Creek to the tableland, and marched rapidly around the head of Noah's Fork for the purpose of turning the strong position of Matt's Hollow; but on arriving at the Manchester pike, after it reaches the tableland, we found that the infantry column was passing, having met no enemy, they having retreated in the direction of Fairfield. We camped that night 6 miles from Manchester, and at daylight next morning moved forward, cutting off a rebel picket post, and were in Manchester before the few rebels there knew of our approach.
|Manchester Pike of the Civil
War period followed the red dots. Today's US 41 goes over a Big Hill
which the pike avoided (see middle panel) by following the creeks along
today's French Brantley Road. The pike then passed
through Matts Hollow, hugging the east bank of the creek. On the
evening of the 26th Wilder camped near today's exit 105 of I-24, 6
miles from Manchester.
On 28 June Hardee and Bishop Lenoidas Polk (Davis's plant in the AoT who constantly fomented rebellion against Bragg) advised in guarded and less guarded terms to abandon Tullahoma because Rosecrans was now solidly placed in Manchester and poised to make another flanking maneuver to the east and cut Bragg off from Chattanooga. The next day Bragg's army began its withdrawal to Chattanooga. On 3 July the Federals effected the crossing of the Elk River to the south of Tullahoma, and on the next day the pursuit was called off, as Bragg was safely across the Cumberland plateau on his way to Chattanooga. By a coincidence, the Tullahoma campaign and the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg (which unjustly overshadow it), all ended on the same day.
At the price of 560 casualties Rosecrans swept forward 80 miles
to the Tennesse river. The Union was now poised to take
definitive control of the all-important trunk line from Virginia to
Memphis and to open the door to the deep South. First Rosecrans
had to fight a battle at Chickamauga and
hold onto Chattanooga, both of which he did before ceding his place to
Thomas, who put the finishing touch on the campaign at the battle of Chattanooga.
The Confederate commanders' reports written in early July
indicate that they didn't yet understand what exactly had happened to
them at Hoover's Gap. Only Cleburne refers to a "continual fire" which
he couldn't answer because he didn't have enough ammuntion. However,
if Bragg had had a real intelligence service, he should have had an
inkling. According to Wilder in a paper he read in 1907 before the Ohio
Commandary (see below), his men
first tried out the Spencers in "a number of skirmishes with the
cavalry of the enemy," so some reports about something disturbing and
new should have filtered back to Bragg's headquarters before the
battle. If they did, they weren't understood. The gathering of
intelligence and its evaluation require both human and financial
resources which the Southern commanders often lacked. The Confederacy
snapped up most of the cavalry officers at the beginning of the war,
but the Union got most of the engineers, and in the long run, that made
This campaign did not and still does not receive much attention and has little attraction for those who thrill to high body counts. All the more reason for discerning students of history to give this masterpiece of planning and execution its due consideration. If you want to get a feel for how much fun it is to be the object of "soft war," read the reports of Bragg, Polk, and Cleburne.
1. Rosecrans US
2. Thomas US
4. Bragg CS
5. Polk CS
6. Cleburne CS
7. Crittenden US
Other articles on this battle:
1. Thomas Van Horne on the Tullahoma campaign
2. Excerpt from Manoeuvring Bragg out of Tennessee
by Gilbert C. Kniffen, Lieutenant-Colonel, USV
3. THE BATTLE OF HOOVER'S GAP
- Paper read by General Wilder before the Ohio Commandery in 1907
4. Two letters written by Col. James
Connolly, excerpted from Three Years in the
Army of the Cumberland, 1959
During the first six months of the year 1863 the Army of the Cumberland remained at Murfreesboro' and was comparatively inactive. The troops were employed in the construction of elaborate fortifications and in divers minor operations with defensive or tentative objects.
Page 100 - LIFE OF GENERAL GEORGE H. THOMAS.
Early in January the provisional corps, "Right Wing," "Centre" and "Left Wing," were changed to permanent corps d'armee. The " Right Wing " became the Twentieth corps, the "Centre" the Fourteenth corps, and the "Left Wing" the Twenty-first corps, commanded, as before, respectively by Generals McCook, Thomas and Crittenden. The Fourteenth corps, as finally constituted, comprised four divisions, designated as first, second, third, and fourth, commanded respectively by Major-General Lovell H. Rousseau, Major General J. S. Negley, Brigadier-General J. M. Brannan, and Major-General J. J. Reynolds.
In this period of inaction at Murfreesboro' it was common for officers of all grades to obtain leaves of absence to visit their homes, and trips to Nashville were frequent. But the course of General Thomas illustrated his idea of the duty of an officer holding an important command. The months were passing slowly by and weary at last of monotony and inaction, he asked permission to go to Nashville for a day. There was at the time no prospect of operations, offensive or defensive, for his command, and consequently there was no need of his presence at Murfreesboro'. He nevertheless, upon reflection, declined to go, because his reason for asking for a day's leave had been a personal one. Besides it was possible, he thought, though not at all probable, that an action of some kind might take place in his absence. This extreme view of duty was frequently illustrated in his public and private life. He was not "off duty" a single day during the war.
Late in June the Army of the Cumberland advanced against its old
enemy, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee, then holding the line of
Duck River. In this movement the Fourteenth corps was in the centre,
its appropriate place, and drove the enemy from Hoover's Gap and from
several positions in front of that gap. General McCook on the right had
a severe combat at Liberty Gap, but finally pressed the enemy from the
hills. Gen. Crittenden on the left did not
Page 101 - TULLAHOMA CAMPAIGN
meet much opposition. When Bragg's army had been driven from its defensive line on Duck River, Gen. Rosecrans moved his army towards Manchester, and regarding this movement as indicating either an attack upon his position at Tullahoma, or the interruption of his communications, Bragg fell back from that place. He did not consider himself strong enough to meet Rosecrans in battle, and he consequently retreated first to the Cumberland Mountains, and soon after, across the Tennessee River to Chattanooga. The Tullahoma campaign was begun on the 23rd of June and terminated on the 4th of July. The enemy fought at the gaps of the mountains, but the defense on the whole was feeble. The result was the possession by the Army of the Cumberland of the region from Murfreesboro' to Bridgeport, Alabama.
At the close of the campaign the army advanced to the northern base
of the Cumberland Mountains, and there halted to make preparations for
a campaign south of the Tennessee River.
Originally published in 1887 by Robert Underwood Johnson and
Clough Buell, editors of the "The Century Magazine".
[scanned, reformatted and corrected; maps and illustrations are ommitted]
excerpt from MANOEUVRING BRAGG OUT OF TENNESSEE
BY GILBERT C. KNIFFIN, LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, U. S. V.
The brief campaign which resulted in forcing the Confederate army to evacuate their works at Tullahoma and Shelbyville, Tenn., and retire behind the Tennessee River, began on the 23d of June, was prosecuted in the midst of drenching rains, and terminated July 4th, 1863. Both armies had occupied the time since the battle of Stone's River in recruiting their strength and in fortifying their respective positions. Murfreesboro' was Rosecrans's secondary base of supplies, while Tullahoma was Bragg's barrier against Rosecrans's farther advance toward Chattanooga, the strategic importance of which, as controlling Confederate railroad communication between the East and West, had rendered it the objective point of all the campaigns of the armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland.
As the contending armies stood facing each other on the 20th of June, 1863, General Bragg estimated the effective strength of his army at 30,449 infantry, 13,962 cavalry, and 2254 artillery. Polk and Hardee commanded his two corps of infantry, and Wheeler and Forrest the cavalry.
Deducting the garrisons of Nashville and points
north, and the Reserve Corps, 12,575, to be used in emergency, Rosecrans had at the same date "present for duty, equipped," 40,746 infantry, 6806 cavalry, and 3065 artillery, for an offensive campaign. Having received full and accurate descriptions of the fortifications at Tullahoma, where a part of Polk's corps was intrenched behind formidable breastworks, protected by an abatis of fallen trees six hundred yards in width, and at Shelbyville, where Hardee had fortified his position with equal engineering skill, General Rosecrans determined to force the Confederate army out of its works, and if possible engage it in the open field. A glance at the map will show Shelbyville directly south of Murfreesboro', and Tullahoma, on the line of the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, eighteen miles south-east. The high state of cultivation of the country west of Shelbyville, and the connection of the towns by broad turnpike roads, would naturally suggest the route of march for the Union army; moreover, the region to the east of the railroad consisted of sterile uplands through which winding country roads offered continuous obstacles to the rapid advance of an army. Precisely for this reason Rosecrans chose the latter route for one of his corps, while the other two corps were directed against the center of the line at Tullahoma. Sending his supply trains out on the Shelbyville road, the cavalry under Stanley was ordered to Eagleville, twenty miles west, and a little south of Murfreesboro', with orders to advance on Shelbyville on the 24th of June in bold array, and at night to fill the country to their rear with camp-fires extending from Hardee's left to the Shelbyville road and beyond, indicating the presence of a heavy infantry force in his sup, port. This ruse had the desired effect, and held Hardee at Shelbyville, while the real movement was against his right.
This advance was made by Hoover's Gap* in front of Tullahoma, and to this end Colonel J. G. Wilder, in command of his splendid brigade of mounted infantry, was ordered to "trot through the gap," pushing the Confederate pickets before him, while Thomas was directed to follow as closely in his rear as possible. Wilder obeyed his orders literally, paying no attention to the frequent stands made by the retiring pickets, but driving them back upon their reserves, who in turn fell back upon Stewart's division, posted on the Garrison Fork of Elk River [actually the Duck River], which is about four miles south [actually northeast] of Tullahoma. General Stewart sent Bushrod Johnson's brigade forward, and a brisk fight ensued. The head of Thomas's column was six miles in the rear, but Wilder's plucky regiments used their Spencer rifles to such good purpose as to hold their ground until Reynolds's division secured possession of the bridge, when Stewart, finding that the movement was really an advance in force, that the Gap he was posted to guard was lost, and that a heavy infantry column was crossing the bridge, fell back upon the main line.
Thomas was followed closely by McCook with the Twentieth Corps, Granger with the Reserve Corps holding the ground in front of Murfreesboro'. Meantime, Crittenden with the Twenty-first Corps, who had seventeen miles to march, over a road that seemingly had no bottom, was toiling through the mud between Woodbury and Manchester on his way to his position before Bragg's right flank and rear. Colonel John F. Miller with his brigade of Negley's division attacked Liberty Gap, and fell in a fierce fight there, badly wounded; but the
*A range of hills dividing the waters of Duck River from the head-waters of Stone's River, about eleven miles from Murfreesboro' and running nearly east and west, is pierced by several gaps. Hoover's Gap, nearly north from Wartrace, Liberty, and Guy's Gaps, and the Railroad Gap were all guarded by heavy pickets. Cleburne's division was stationed at Wartrace, and Stewart's division held possession of Hoover's Gap and the bridge over the Garrison fork of Duck River five or six miles north of Tullahoma.-EDITORS.
Gap was held by the brigade until relieved by the Twentieth Corps, which then passed Thomas and took the lead on the Manchester road, both corps camping within two miles of Tullahoma. In front of Stanley, Guy's Gap, held by a battery supported by cavalry, was charged, driving the Confederates toward Shelbyville, near which town they made a stand ; but Colonel Minty attacked them on the left with the 4th Regular Cavalry of his brigade, sabering the gunners and pursuing the remainder through the town.
Bragg had ordered Hardee to the support of Polk's threatened left flank, leaving Shelbyville with its elaborately planned fortifications to fall before a cavalry charge after a brief struggle by the rear-guard.
The unforeseen inclemency of the weather retarded Crittenden's advance to such an extent that, notwithstanding the continued exertions of both officers and men, he was four days in marching seventeen miles. Horses and mules, floundering in the mud, were unhitched, and artillery and ammunition wagons dragged through deep morasses by the infantry. In some places mules perished in the mud, unable to extricate themselves. But for the heavy rains Crittenden would have joined McCook and Thomas two days earlier, and the campaign might have had a different ending.
When he came up, line of battle was formed fronting the works at Tullahoma, to mask a flank movement through the woods to Elk River Bridge, four miles in rear of Bragg's position. Between the lines the treacherous soil was filled with quicksand, which only needed the soaking of the week's rain to render it impassable. To advance against the Confederate works over this ground, through a dense abatis of tangled tree-tops, in the face of a storm of grape-shot and minie-balls, would have been to doom one-half the army to destruction. Finding, when too late, that the advance against Hardee was only a feint to cover the real movement upon his left and rear, and alive to the paramount importance of protecting Chattanooga, General Bragg again faced his army southward, and crossed the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, the mouth of Battle Creek, and at Kelley's Ferry. The advance of the column against Elk River Bridge arrived in time to witness the crossing of the rear of Bragg's army, and on the afternoon of the 3d of July Sheridan's division occupied Tullahoma.*
* The Union loss aggregated 84 killed, 473 wounded,
and 13 captured or missing = 570. The Confederate loss is only
partially reported. In Liddell's, Bushrod Johnson's, and Bate's
brigades the casualties amounted to 50 killed, 228 wounded, aud 23
missing = 291. The loss in other commands is not indicated.-EDITORS.
(A Paper read by General Wilder before the Ohio Commandery of the
Military Order of the Loyal Legion, in 1907; printed in Sketches of War
History, VI, 168-174.)
In the winter of 1863, following the battle of Murfrees-boro, General Rosecrans directed the First Brigade (Wilder), Fourth Division (Reynolds), Fourteenth Corps (Thomas), to seize horses in the neighboring country north and east of Murfreesboro in sufficient number to mount the brigade of four infantry regiments. This was speedily accomplished, and the brigade, numbering over two thousand men, were then armed with the Spencer magazine rifle, capable of firing a shot without drawing on the magazine, which held seven cartridges; the rifle carried an ounce bullet of fifty-two caliber in copper cartridge, had a bayonet, and was a most formidable weapon, especially at short range, and would carry with accuracy a half mile.
This mounted infantry brigade was in a number of skirmishes with the cavalry of the enemy, and the men soon found themselves equal to at least twice or thrice their number of men armed with muzzle-loading guns. On June 23rd orders were issued to prepare for an advance on Bragg's right center by way of the Manchester turnpike, leading south from Murfreesboro. The army was organized with three corps. General Thomas L. Crittenden, in command of the Twenty-first Corps, was to move on the left by way of Readyville, with Minty's cavalry brigade; General George H. Thomas in command of the Fourteenth Corps, with Wilder's mounted infantry, to move in advance directly south on the Manchester turnpike, and General A. McD. McCook, com-manding the Twentieth Corps, to move south along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, and the remaining force of cavalry, under General D. S. Stanley, to move south on McCook's right on the Shelbyville turnpike, with orders to care for McCook's right flank. General Stanley seemed anxious to send a cavalry brigade with General Thomas, as he said, to take care of Wilder's "tadpole" cavalry, as he called us, fearing Wilder would rush into the enemy and get captured, and Stanley would have those magazine guns to fight. General Thomas assured General Rosecrans that if Wilder's brigade were captured there would be no need for cavalry about.
On 3 o'clock on the morning of June 24th Wilder's brigade passed south through Murfreesboro and took the advance of the Fourteenth Corps, with General J. J. Reynolds following as the advanced division of Thomas' infantry. The mounted infantry moved forward at a quick walk towards Hoover's Gap, ten miles south of Murfreesboro, where a brigade of cavalry under General A. Buford stood guard to prevent the passing of our forces. Hoover's Gap was a narrow valley through a line of lumpy hills, some four miles in extent and about three hundred feet high, the hills being wooded and thickly grown with underbrush and green briers, making it impracticable for cavalry. The turnpike, a good macadamized road, wound through this narrow pass some four miles in extent, following the little brook, one of the headwaters of Stone's River.
Our advance guard, consisting of five companies of the Seventy-second Indiana and twenty-five brigade scouts, all under Lieutenant-Colonel Kirkpatrick, Seventy-second Indiana, came suddenly on the enemy's pickets about a mile north of the entrance to the gap. We at once charged them at a gallop in a column of fours, surprising and dispersing Buford's command, who were in bivouac at the gap, routing them in disorder, without even time to saddle or mount their horses, and the brigade pushed on through the gap, and not even a scout or messenger of the enemy being ahead of us to give the alarm to the enemy's infantry, under General Bate, supposed to be at the summit of the gap, where the turnpike descends to the valley of the Garrison fork of Duck River, running west at right angles to the line of Hoover's Gap. I decided to move rapidly on, intending to surprise the enemy's infantry, the same as we had surprised and dispersed their cavalry. Judge of my astonishment, when we reached their supposed position, to find no force there. Looking down the valley to the village of Beech Grove, two miles to the west, down the valley of the Garrison fork, we could see the tents of an encampment. I at once halted the command, dismounted, and deployed three regiments of my force in a line across the road and gap, with the flanks retired, keeping the Ninety-eighth Illinois in reserve, put the Eighteenth Indiana Battery in position to cover any advance of the ene-my, and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Kirkpatrick, with his five companies and the scouts, to stir up the enemy, which they did in fine style. General William B. Bate commanded the brigade, which belonged to General A. P. Stewart's division of four brigades of infantry, placed along the valley of Garrison fork, and seemed to be entirely unaware of our advance. Many of the officers of Bate's brigade were at a spring holding a Masonic picnic in honor of St. John, it being the 24th of June, St. John's day. Colonel Kirkpatrick rode into their camp and had time to take seven wagons loaded with tobacco out with him and bring them back to our men, who had "tobacco to burn." General Bate, supposing it to be a cavalry dash, aroused his men and came speedily up to attack us. We allowed him to come within about one hundred yards up a gentle slope in front of our line when we opened a terrible fire from our Spencer rifles, and Captain Lilly poured double-shotted canister from his ten-pound Rodman guns into their lines, which staggered and repulsed them with severe loss. Bate's Twentieth Tennessee Infantry tried to turn the right flank of the Seventeenth Indiana in the forest at our right, when the Ninety-eighth Illinois quickly moved up the hill and doubled them up by a charge on their left, hurling them back in confusion out of reach, and they were compelled to retreat beyond reach of our file, and other troops were sent to their assistance. Then they came up more cautiously, and opened on us with two batteries at a distance of about half a mile, with a rapid fire, which did little execution. While this was going on, Captain Rice, adjutant-general of the division, came riding speedily to the front with orders from General Reynolds to me to fall back immediately, as the division was six or eight miles in our rear, having stopped to repair a bridge, without letting me know of it. I told him I would hold this position against any force, and to tell General Reynolds to come on without hurrying, as there was no danger of our being driven out of the position. Capt. Rice repeated his order for me to fall back, and I told him I would take the responsibility of remaining where I was, and that if General Reynolds were on the ground he would not give such an order. Capt. Rice said that he had no discretion in the matter, and that if I did not obey the order he would put me in arrest and give the command to Colonel Miller, who would fall back as ordered. I declined to obey the order of arrest, and requested Captain Rice to return to General Reynolds and tell him we had driven their force back, and could not be driven by any forces that could come at us. He then left just as the second attack was being made., This move was repulsed without difficulty, and when the enemy had fallen back out of range, General Rosecrans, with General Thomas and General Garfield, came riding up with their staff and escort. General Rosecrans came up to me and asked what we had done, and I told him in a few words, and also told him I had taken the responsibility of disobeying the order of General Reynolds to fall back, knowing that we could hold the position, and also felt sure that General Reynolds would have approved of my action had he been present. General Reynolds just then came riding up in advance of his forces, and General Rosecrans said to him: "Wilder has done right. Promote him, promote him," and General Reynolds, after looking over the situation said to me: "You did right, and should be promoted and not censured."
The next morning an order was read at the head of every regiment of the Fourteenth Corps describing the attack of my command, and saying that the conduct of the brigade should be emulated by all, and recommended my promotion as a Brigadier-General, and directed that the command should thereafter be known as Wilder's Lightning Brigade.
I have forgotten to say that just before we reached the south end of Hoover's Gap a bright orderly came riding up to me, as we were trotting forward, and said that General Reynolds directed me to halt until the arrival of his infantry, which was several miles in my rear. I assured him that I would halt as soon as we arrived at the head of the gap. Years afterward I learned that this messenger was J. B. Foraker, since Governor of Ohio and now Senator from that State.
Our rapid movement broke through Bragg's right center and enabled
army to threaten his flank and rear, which forced his retreat over the
mountains to Chattanooga, thus giving up his stronghold of Tullahoma.
The heavy rains, which began falling just as our fight at Hoover's Gap
began, lasted fourteen days, making it impossible for our army to move
around Bragg's right flank to intercept him crossing the mountains,
and escaping the certain defeat that awaited him had he accepted battle
in Middle Tennessee.
My command consisted of the' Seventeenth Indiana Infantry, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Jordon; Seventy-second Indiana Infantry, Colonel A. O. Miller; Eighteenth Indiana Battery, Captain Eli Lilly, with six ten-pound Rodman guns and four mountain howitzers; Ninety-eight Illinois Infantry, Colonel John J. Funkhauser; One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois Infantry, Colonel James Monroe, in all about two thousand men, rank and file, a most reliable command, and thoroughly well officered.
The effect of our terrible fire was overwhelming to our opponents, who bravely tried to withstand its effects. No human being could successfully face such an avalanche of destruction as our continuous fire swept through their lines. This was the first battle where the Spencer repeating rifles had ever been used, and in my estimation they were better weapons than has ever taken their place, being strong and not easily injured by the rough usage of the army movements, and carrying a projectile that disabled any man who was unlucky enough to be hit by it. With a slight improvement in the cartridge, making them central fire, they would still be the best in use. All great infantry battles are decided within three hundred yards' range, and always will be. In my judgment, based on over three years of active operations in the field of the great Civil War, the only field battle in the Spanish War, Santiago, was fought out and won at close range, although both combatants were armed with the most modern long-range guns.
The battles in Manchuria and about Port Arthur were decided largely with bayonets in actual collision of the contestants, although both sides were armed with most modern long-range magazine rifles, and well equipped with rapid-fire machine guns. Yet the supreme test came at close quarters, and these battles were no more deadly than ours of the great Civil War. The losses were not as great in percentages in those great contests as were ours in 1861 to 1865.