Wilder's Brigade Mounted Infantry
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For the War Between the States, Mounted Infantry was a relatively
untried innovation born of necessity. Mounted
Infantry was certainly not a new idea. Even prior to 1066
Anglo-Saxon commanders mounted infantry units for speed and
mobility. During the Battle of Hastings many of Harold's
"Knights" (Huscarls and Thegns) rode to the battlefield only to
dismount and join their brethren on the shield wall. The use of this
tactic quickly diminished as professional infantry realized the advantage
of remaining mounted and being used as a heavy shock force against foot
infantry and as a counter to other mounted knights. However,
starting with the 14th century with the longbow and even becoming more
serious with the advent of gunpowder and guns, a general waning of the
dominance of mounted troops began. Soon these mounted forces
(Cavalry) became involved in flanking movements and scouting and reconnaissance
roles. As the accuracy and the effectiveness of firearms increased,
so decreased the role of mounted troops attacking massed
Murfreesboro, January 14, 1863
February 1st 1863
February 2nd, 1863
February 2nd, 1863
Dispatch of Rosecrans to Halleck:
March 29th, 1863
April 24, 1863
The person pushing Rosecrans to mount infantry regiments was none other than the Colonel of the 17th Indiana infantry regiment, Colonel John T. Wilder. Wilder was an engineer from Indiana who joined the army shortly after the war started. Wilder was imaginative and forward thinking in his professional life and this transferred to his Army career as well. The first experiment at mounting the brigade took place in October of 1862. Already tired of chasing Morgan's Cavalry across the countryside, the brigade was placed in mule wagons. Here the brigade nearly caught Morgan. Only through the hesitation of the commander of the brigade at the time, Colonel Norton, were Morgan's men allowed to escape. When the brigade was finally allowed to march into the rebel camp, they found saddles, guns, spurs, sabers, provisions, clothing and even pack horses ... but no rebels. Although an interesting experiment, it was dropped very quickly as many men were being injured from the wagons. The next attempt came from Colonel Wilder himself in January of 1863. Colonel Wilder had been appointed to brigade command in December of 1862 due to reorganization of command by Rosecrans. Probably inspired from the idea of the mule raid brigade in October of the previous year, Wilder decided on an offshoot of the plan. Instead of having the men ride in the wagon's, Wilder decided that he would let some of the men try to ride the mules pulling the wagons. The best description of this incident comes from an eyewitness to the event:
"On this very evening of January 1st, 1863, near night, when firing was heard north of us and the report came that Morgan was passing around our right flank , Col. Wilder, anxious to give chase, attempted to mount a lot of men on the team mules of the division. The mules were brought out in great haste, each one shaking his tail as if he knew there was extra duty demanded. Not more than one mule out of six had ever had a man on its back, and never wanted to have. The order to mount was given, and the bold men and officers each leaped upon his mule; each mule gave a bray, brought his head between his fore feet as his heels flew high in the air, and each man also flew high into the air and flopped down in the mud. The mules wiggled their tails, shook their heads, and became demure as Quakers. The brave men picked themselves up out of the mud and each went for his mule again, and sprang upon their backs. The mules turned a hand-spring as before, sending the men tumbling into the air. Scarcely a man stuck except those that got on to the saddle mules. Soon the mules seemed to understand the game and began to jump on each other's backs, some of them climbing on behind the men that bad stuck and knocking them off; some ran under the bellies of other mules and hoisted them from the ground, and in a minute they were as badly tangled as a den of snakes, braying piteously, shaking their tails and kicking up and down, right and left. In vain those holding the bridles while others tried to mount shouted, "Who-o-oa!" with a chorus of mill dams, coffer dams, and all sorts of dams. It was worse than a battery of grape and canister, and the mule line had to be abandoned, upon which they untangled, shook their tails, and were soon at their respective wagons eating hay as solemnly as hypocrites. The Seventy-Second had no part in this farce except to do the laughing. The 17th did the swearing."*
Wilder's command was made up of the 17th,
72nd, and 75th Indiana Infantry Regiments, the 98th Illinois Infantry
Regiment and the 18th Indiana Battery of Light Artillery. On
February 12th Rosecrans authorized Wilder to find horses for his
brigade. The army could not provide horses nor equipment, so Wilder
had to find it on his own. During this time the various regiments
under Wilder's command were voting as to whether or not to go along with
this scheme. In many regiments the vote was very close, but
all regiments that voted to be mounted were grateful for their
choice. The 17th Indiana, Wilder's original Regiment, voted to be
mounted almost immediately after the February 12th authorization.
The 72nd Indiana soon followed as did the 98th Illinois. The 75th
Indiana voted against mounting and was replaced by the 123rd
Illinois. The last regiment to be mounted was the 92nd
Illinois. The 92nd Illinois is a special case in the grand scheme of
Wilder's brigade and will be explained later on. Now that Wilder had
his four Infantry regiments and the 18th Indiana Battery of Light
Artillery, his next goal was to outfit his men.
Wilder's men acquired a variety of mounts all throughout their campaigns. In addition to horses, his men acquired mules and draft horses as replacements. All sorts of gear was scoured from the countryside including civilian, homemade, outdated and captured equipment.
Mule equipped with Grimsley saddle, knapsack and civilian halter.
Arming the Brigade
The Spencer Rifle was a 7-shot metallic
cartridge repeating rifle. The gun operated by working the trigger
guard as a lever. As the lever was brought forward, the old shell
was ejected. When the lever was brought back, a new shell was feed
into the chamber. Spencer ammunition was a lead bullet with a copper
case. The ammunition typically came in boxes of 42 shells.
Inside each box were six smaller cardboard boxes that contained 7 shells
Two views of the Spencer Rifle showing tubular follower, Spencer rounds, ammunition packets and cartridge box. Note the knapsack blanket roll strap being used as a place to hook the cavalry sling and snap to carry the rifle on horseback. Many guns would later have a ring placed on the side of the gun stock by regimental armorers to replace this.
Training the Brigade
The next step for Wilder was to train his brigade. Wilder's men had been trained under the infantry manual of arms. The use of horses in formation and movements would require some cavalry drill. However, Wilder's Brigade was unique being mounted infantry so this new branch required new methods. The following quote describes the Brigade's method of drill:
"About this time the regiment began a system of instructions in the management of their horses in evolutions in squad, company and battalion drill, and of movements in line and skirmish drill, which perhaps had never been attempted by Federal troops before. It is safe to say that in this drill we had learned many valuable lessons from the rebel John H. Morgan; for this was actually his system of drill that we adopted. This system was afterwards modified and simplified a little, and adopted by all the cavalry service in the Army of the Cumberland, and is the basis of Gen. Upton's tactics now used by the United States Army, both infantry and cavalry." *
Here will go the various campaigns of Wilder's fellows!
Although certainly the most
glamorous, Wilder's Brigade was not the only Federal Mounted Infantry that
existed throughout the war - in fact, it was not the only mounted infantry
unit at the Battle of Chickamauga.
Read about Wilder's Brigade at the
fateful battle of Chickamauga!
Regimental History of the 123rd Illinois
Regimental History of the 98th Illinois
Regimental History of the 92nd Illinois