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A Veteran Remembers Wilder's Brigade at Hoover's Gap

During a reunion of the 98th Illinois Regiment of John T. Wilder's Lightning Brigade, held December 9, 1898 in Palestine, Illinois, Private John N. Smith of Company D made the following speech:

"In 1862 when we first went out, were brigaded with Dumont and were until General Reynolds. We were not drilled, could not be induced to do so, and consequently were not satisfactory to our generals, who were anxious to get rid of us. We were alright on the march, but hard to manage in camp. After the battle of Stone River, Wilder discovered that Rosecrans needed more cavalry, he conferred with Reynolds, who used Rosecrans to mount our brigade, but he was refused, as he neither had the authority nor money for that purpose.

"Colonel Stokes, who was stationed near by, offered to take the regiment out in the surrounding country and forage horses. Went out the next day and returned with enough horses to mount the regiment. After being mounted, regiment was taken over to Rosecrans for inspection and was accepted. Col. Wilder went back to Indiana and there met James Spencer, who had patented a rifle. After careful examining it, Wilder came back and said if brigade was equipped with those rifles we could whip the south as one man with a Spencer was good for five 'rebs.' Wilder bought these rifles, mortgaging all his property for the payment, and equipped the regiment. On the twenty fourth of June, the brigade moved out on the Manchester road and rode in advance of the whole army. Scouts met rebel pickets near Hoover's Gap and drove them in. Brigade ordered to go further, our order being the 72nd Indiana, 17th Indiana, 123rd Illinois, and 98th Illinois in reserve. Drove rebels entirely through the Gap 72nd and 18th battery in close pursuit; action now became general-rebels charged the battery with deafening yells but are met with a sheet of lead from Spencer rifles--they hesitate then fall back in confusion-now seem to realize they are not fighting cavalry. Seventeenth Indiana is on our right in timber and have run out of ammunition, rebels are now on three sides of them. 98th ordered to dismount and prepare for action. We could see hard fighting-moved through an orchard, where fire of rebel artillery killed many horses in Co. B-moved up the hill; clatter of musketry deafening. Funkhouser (Col. John Funkhouser 98th) gave command 'Forward by fours.' Held our fire until the left flank was within 20 steps of the enemy when the order was given 'By the left flank at 'em'-We drove them back relieving the 17th who cheered vociferously. We held our ground until Reynold's division came up after dark and relieved us. It rained the entire day. It is conceded by all authorities that this gap could not have been taken by less than 10,000 men with missile-loading guns; but the rapid movement of the brigade and the Spencer rifles won the day. This fight demonstrated the utility of the Spencer rifle and the government now assumed the payment for these rifles." (Owing to physical ailments Comrade Smith was unable to proceed further.)

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