Friday, July 10, 2009

Tullahoma: Wilder


(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.)
(Note on Wilder: John Thomas Wilder (Jan. 31, 1830-Oct. 20, 1917), soldier and industrialist, was born in Hunter Village, New York. The son of Reuben and Mary Wilder, John T. Wilder served as an apprenticed draftsman in a millwright plant in Ohio. In 1852 Wilder established a millwright plant of his own in Greensburg, Indiana and worked there until the outbreak of the Civil War.)

On 3 o'clock on the morning of June 24th Wilder's bri-gade passed south through Murfreesboro and took the ad-vance 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 bri-gade of cavalry under General A. Buford stood guard to pre-vent the passing of our forces. Hoover's Gap was a narrow valley through a line of lumpy hills, some four miles in ex-tent and about three hundred feet high, the hills being wood-ed 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 Indi-ana, 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 Bu-ford'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, dismount, and deployed three regiments of my force in a line across the road and gap, with the flanks retired, keep-ing 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 hold-ing 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 tobac-co out with him and bring them back to our men, who had "tobacco to burn." General Bate, supposing it to be a cav-alry 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 ter-rible fire from our Spencer rifles, and Captain Lilly poured double-shotted canister from his ten-pound Rodman guns in-to 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 or-der of arrest, and requested Captain Rice to return to Gen-eral 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 Reyn-olds 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."

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