Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wilder's Brigade at Hoover's Gap

The poem below (my contribution to Bill West's Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge) was included in an undated newspaper article found in the files of my Grandmother. Just 17 ½ years old, her Grandfather (my Great-Great Grandfather) William Brubaker enlisted in Company E, 17th Indiana Regiment on April 21, 1861. He was discharged on June 20, 1864 and eight months later was "veteranized" and enlisted as a sergeant in Company I, 152nd Regiment. He was again honorably discharged on August 30, 1865.

In October 1862, the 17th Indiana was part of a brigade headed by General John Thomas Wilder (a Colonel at the time). The regiments spent much of their time pursuing Confederate raiders and cavalry. As a result, the General decided that his troops would be more effective as mounted infantry. The brigade became known as the "Hatchet Brigade" and then as the "Lightning Brigade" since it could move much faster than the regular walking infantry units. Adding to their effectiveness, the mounted brigade was armed with Spencer repeating rifles on May 18th, 1863.

A little over a month later, on June 24, 1863, the Lightning Brigade used the Spencer rifles for the first time in battle - at Hoover's Gap, Tennessee. They successfully repelled five Confederate assaults and inflicted huge casualties. The 17th Indiana lost 48 soldiers killed and wounded in the severe fighting and the Illinois regiments lost over 100 in the fighting that day.

The poem was recited by Miss Maud Pressler during the 4th annual reunion of Company E held at the residence of Mrs. Isaac Shinneman in Columbia City, Indiana. There was no indication in the article as to the author of the poem.

"Wilder's Brigade at Hoover's Gap"

We rode in advance the whole night long, Faster as near the daylight come,
With never a shout, or laugh, or song, Like hunters pursuing game.
And never a clank of a saber smote An ear in the whole brigade,
And never a bugle breathed a note As the swift night ride we made.

Night's silence was only broken by The sound of our horses' feet:
The stars shown bright in the Southern sky, And the air was warm and sweet.
A sudden halt in the gray of dawn, A single, low, keen bugle call,
We formed in line and galloped on - A few low whispers, and that was all.

For well we knew the day would bring The fierce, wild charge and fight,
And that many a rifle ball would sing Its death-song ore the night.
Our blood rose high when right before, Our eyes the first thin lines of gray,
The skirmishers of an army corps, stretched out across our way.

And on beyond, in Hoover's Gap, Before us spread were a thousand tents;
And in them taking a morning nap Slept Bragg and his regiments.
Loud and clear our bugles sang, And "Charge for the Gap!" was the cry.
And a shout went up from our line that rang And echoed against the sky.

And every steed by spur was stung, As we bent in our saddles low,
And quickly our "Spencers" were unslung, As we rushed on the fearless foe.
On, in the face of the storm of lead That full on our column broke
Over the wounded and over the dead, And through the sulphurous smoke.

We rode the skirmishers to the ground, For Hoover's Gap was our goal;
But above the tumult came the sound Of and army's battle-roll!
"Dismount - Lie down!" Strong line of gray At the double-quick with guns atrail,
Bore down on us in fierce array Expecting that we would quail.

But never a man in the whole brigage Turned back on a coward's heel,
But we lay and gazed all undismayed, Along our barrels of steel.
On - on they came, with savage yell, 'Till fifty paces lay between
And then a flame, as if from hell, Burst full upon the scene.

The black and writhing clouds of smoke Leaped up, then settled over all,
Meanwhile ten thousand rifles spoke Their speech of flame and ball.
For one full hour, like waves that beat Upon the shores that will not yield,
They charged - then sounded the retreat, And left us on the field.

Comrades of many a bloody fray, Of victory or dire mishap,
Who would not rather on that day Have died than lost the Gap?


Judith Richards Shubert said...

A great poem to have in your ancestor's file. It is speaks of victory and defeat. Thank you for sharing it with us, Becky.


Bill West said...

Isn't it cool to find something like this that ties into your family history? Thanks for submitting it, Becky!