Capture of Hoover's Gap "Spencer Rifles Win The Day" June 24, 1863
For six months after the Battle of Murfreesboro, Gen. William SS. Rosecran's Union Army of the Cumberland and Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee were positioned within 20 miles of each other. Neither had been very aggressive. Despite urgent pleadings from Washington to move south toward Chattanooga, Rosecrans had taken his time to get everything ready for one of the most brilliantly conceived and conducted campaigns of the war. Between the two armies was a ridge that was pierced by four gaps, all defended by entrenched Rebels. Rosecrans decided to make a feint toward the western gaps and then plunge his army through the easternmost one, Hoover's Gap.
Leading the army to the three-mile-long Hoover's Gap on the rain-soaked morning of June 24, 1863, was a brigade of 2,000 mounted infantrymen, led by Col. John T. Wilder. The infantrymen were armed with seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles. Their instructions were to enter the gap at a trot, seize the enemy pickets, and then wait for infantry reinforcements before moving on through. Instead, Wilder led his men into Hoover's Gap at gallop and swept the enemy before them. They raced the three miles through the gap and stopped only when they came to the exit on the other side. Then Wilder's brigade dismounted and used their repeating rifles and the six cannon that had managed to keep up with them to repulse repeated determined assaults by two Confederate brigades. The assaults continued until 7:00 pm, when Union reinforcements finally caught up with Wilder's troops.
The secret of Wilder's success was the heavy fire his men were able to lay down with their repeaters. They were the first of the western armies to be equipped with the modern weapons. A member of the brigade wrote his wife:"Our men adore them as the heathen do their idols." The Confederates, who outnumbered Wilder's men many times over, thought they were facing a "vastly superior force," so great was the volume of fire aimed at them.
Fascinating Fact: When corps commander Gen. George Thomas arrived at the scene, he rushed up to Wilder and grabbed his hand, saying:"You have saved the lives of a thousand men by your gallant conduct today. I didn't expect to get this gap for three days."
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