Doc. 37.-Colonel Wilder's expedition.
Indianapolis Journal narrative.
Wartrace, Tenn., July 4, 1863.friend Terrell: You have doubtless heard before this of the evacuation of the rebel strong-hold, Tullahoma. As Wilder's command had “a hand” in it, I will write you some particulars. He started from Murfreesboro on the twenty-fourth of June. His brigade had the advance of the “centre” on the Manchester road. At nine o'clock A. M. he met the rebel pickets eight miles from Murfreesboro and drove them and all their reserves on a run through Hoover's Gap, a long, narrow, winding hollow through a chain of hills dividing the waters of Stone and Duck Rivers, and about seventeen miles from Murfreesboro. Two thirds through the gap the rebels had fortified  a strong position, but his brigade was so close on their heels that they had not time to deploy into their works before it was inside also. They immediately “skedaddled,” losing forty-two prisoners and the battle-flag of the First Kentucky cavalry, the one presented them at Elizabethtown, Ky., by the sister of General Ben. Hardin Helm, and worked by her hands. Colonel Wilder will send it to the State library to grace its walls. He drove them on a run four miles beyond the gap, and had halted the main part of his force at the mouth of the gap, when he heard the long-roll sounded in their infantry camps two miles down the Garrison fork of Duck River to his right. He immediately made the proper dispositions for a fight, being determined to hold the mouth of the gap until General Reynolds arrived with the balance of the division. The proper dispositions were hardly made before two brigades of infantry came up in line of battle, “double-quick,” and apparently as confident as if they already had possession. As soon as they came within four hundred yards “Lilly” gave them a few rounds of double-shotted canister from his “Rodmans,” and on their nearer approach Colonel Miller, Seventy-second Indiana, let loose his “travelling arsenal” on their right, which sent them “right-about” as fast as they could go, fully persuaded that charging a battery, supported by Spencer rifles in the hands of Hoosiers, was an up-hill business. On Wilder's right the old Seventeenth had opened their “horizontal shot-tower” (as the boys call their Spencer rifles) upon five regiments of rebels under General Bates, who outflanked them and were closing on their rear, charging and yelling like the bottomless pit broke loose. Wilder immediately sent the Ninety-eighth Illinois, Colonel Funkhouser, to their relief, who outflanked the rebel left, and then you ought to have heard the rattle. The rebels stood about five minutes, or rather lay that length of time, waiting for our men to stop and load, (our repeaters shoot seven times without loading, and are reloaded in less time than an ordinary musket;) finding that they were fast getting their “rights in the territories,” and that they were emigrating to the realms of the first secessionist faster than the Irish are to America, they concluded that was not just the place for the “last ditch,” and those who could, left as fast as their legs could carry them. Their officers tried to bring them up a second time, but after a few feeble attempts they concluded to fight it out on the Chinese principle, by making a great noise with two batteries at a safe distance; but “Lilly” made them change their position several times, until they took a position behind.some hills, where they continued to belch away without harm until night. Wilder's entire loss was sixty-one killed and wounded, the rebels admitting a loss of one hundred killed and five hundred wounded, and claiming that they had fought sixteen regiments, when only Wilder's four regiments were in it, the nearest infantry of ours being six miles in the rear, who did not get up until the fight was over. So much for the first fight of these regiments as a brigade. Two days afterward, when the wings of the army had caught up with them, the brigade started forward, Wilder's command making a flank movement around the rebel right, which made then fall back to Wartrace the next morning. Wilder moved to Manchester, where he found about forty rebels taking their breakfast. He kindly offered to transplant them to a cooler climate until swapped off for better men — they “dickered.” The twenty-eighth he started for Dixie, sure enough. He came to Elk River, and on trying to ford it, found water enough to have discouraged old Noah, and too swift to swim. He went up-stream six miles, and found a place still enough for his horses to swim across, by being washed down-stream thirty yards. He made a raft of an old saw-mill, and floated his mountain howitzer over, towing it by our picket-ropes. Every body was in a good humor, and had lots of fun over our “gunboat,” as the boys called the raft. He had sent Colonel Munroe (One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois) with his regiment to destroy the railroad bridge over Elk River in the rear of Tullahoma, but Withers's division of infantry got there three hundred yards ahead of him. He then returned to Hillsboro. Wilder's command moved on to Dechard that night, and after a sharp skirmish with the garrison of about eighty men in a stockade, drove them out — they escaped in the dark. He destroyed the telegraph-wire, capturing the instruments, and burning the depot, which was full of commissary goods; also the water-tanks and railroad bridge on the Winchester road, and tore up and destroyed three hundred yards of the Chattanooga railroad track. This could not be done very fast on account of the darkness. At twelve o'clock, midnight, six regiments of infantry came after his brigade, and he left, taking the road to Chattanooga, over the mountains, intending to strike the Cow Creek bridges, near Stevenson, but on attempting to get down the mountain single-file, at Tantalon, he found three trains loaded with infantry awaiting him, and by this time all their cavalry was after him. He then attempted to go to Anderson, ten miles further on, and destroy the bridge at that point, but also found a brigade of Buckner's troops at that point, which was inapproachable if defended, the only road down the mountain being a bridle-path over which but one man could go abreast, and the depot is but three hundred yards from the foot of the mountain. He could not reach the road, and now had to make his escape. The whole of the rebel cavalry and Buckner's division of infantry were after him, and his men had been in their saddles and their horses under them for seven days. His men were out of rations and his horses starved, and the mountains without farms or inhabitants, and to leave then was certain capture. He started the head of the column, after Colonel Munroe came up from Hillsboro, toward Chattanooga,  and on the other slope of the mountains, during a terrible rain which washed out his trail, moved by his left flank two miles over the rocks into the woods, leaving a picket to watch for the rebels. He had not been hid more than an hour before the rebel column came along and followed the road toward Chattanooga, without discovering him. As soon as they had passed he struck across the mountains without guides or a road, but luckily came out on the Tracy City road at the point aimed at, and came down the mountain on an old road to Pelham, in the night, rocky enough to have been the Caucasus to which Prometheus was chained. The troops slept a few ours at the foot of the mountain, their horses revelling in a wheat-field, and started early enough to just escape from Forrest, who, with ten regiments of cavalry, was waiting to intercept the force. Wilder got back to Manchester at one o'clock P. M., and reported to General Rosecrans, who was just betting two thousand dollars with General Stanley that they would get back, which they did, without the loss of a single man; having marched one hundred and twenty-six miles in two days and a half, swam four streams, tore up three railroads, and got back safely — the tiredest set of mortals you ever saw. General Rosecrans seemed delighted with the trip, and ordered the brigade here to feed and rest their horses preparatory to more of the same sort. If it had not been for the incessant rains and consequent high water, we would as certainly have had Bragg's whole army as that we have Tullahoma now. As it is, he will escape across the Tennessee River, with the loss of nearly all his Tennessee troops, who are deserting in squads, coming in and taking the oath of allegiance, swearing that they are tired of the war and will die before they go into service again. Bragg has lost more by evacuation than he would have done by defeat. Wilder's command is now here, resting and feeding their horses, preparatory to another trip to the territories of King Jeff. **