Articles

Repeating rifles 'saved 1,000 lives' in their combat debut

The Spencer Repeating Rifle was originally considered a useless expense by the U.S. War Department who thought the rifles were too expensive and that they would encourage wasteful firing by soldiers on the lines.


But in the rifle's combat debut, a Union brigade took an important gap and held it against overwhelming numbers, causing XIV Corps Commander Maj. Gen. George Thomas to declare that the men and their rifles had "saved the lives of a thousand men."

Union Col. John T. Wilder outfitted his men with the Spencer Repeating Rifle after the War Department refused to do so. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Union Col. John T. Wilder was an early believer in the Spencer Repeating Rifle, a new weapon design that allowed a soldier to load seven pre-made cartridges instead of pouring powder and loading each round between shots as muskets required.

This gave a soldier carrying a repeating rifle the capability of firing 14-20 well-aimed shots per minute against the 2-3 shots per minute of other troops.

But while Wilder and other officers were eager to try the repeating rifle, the War Department refused to purchase them. Wilder, eager to outfit his mounted infantry brigade with the new weapons, organized funding through his hometown bank.

On the morning of June 24, 1863, Wilder's mounted infantry brigade was sent as the vanguard of an attack toward Manchester, Tennessee. The first step of the attack was securing mountain passes and Wilder's brigade was ordered toward's Hoover's Gap, the most direct route to Manchester.

The Tullahoma Campaign began with Col. John T. Wilder's Lightning Brigade taking Hoover's Gap and ended with Union forces driving the Confederates from Middle Tennessee. (Map: Hal Jespersen, CC BY 3.0)

The mounted infantrymen rode hard ahead of the rest of Union forces, arriving near the gap and encountering the first elements of Confederate resistance at noon. According to Col. James Connolly, a regimental commander in the brigade, that was when the brigade really got going.

While the corps commanders expected to capture the gap in the following days, Wilder wanted to push the brigade through the gap before the Confederates could reinforce it. Then, Wilder and his men would hold the gap until the rest of the Union army could catch up. Wilder sent Connolly's regiment on a headlong dash through the gap.

Connolly and his men scattered a regiment of Confederate cavalry and pushed into the gap at a full gallop. He later wrote:

... the valley is barely wide enough to admit the passage of two wagons side by side, and the hills upon either side command the valley completely; as we swept through the valley with our 1,500 horsemen on a gallop we noticed the lines of entrenchments crowning the hills, but they were deserted; the enemy was surprised and flying before us, so we pushed onward until we passed entirely through the "Gap," when a puff of white smoke from a hill about half a mile in front of us, then a dull heavy roar, then the shrieking of a shell told us we could advance no further as we had reached their infantry and artillery force.

The Union brigade was six miles ahead of its planned limit of advance and approximately 12 miles ahead of its reinforcements, who would have to march through deep mud and up steep hills to reach them.

The Spencer Repeating Rifle allowed seven shots between reloads. (Photo: En-Wiki F-35, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, the single Union brigade faced a counterattacking force of four Confederate infantry brigades and four artillery batteries.

The Union forces sent their horses to the rear and set up a line of battle on a hill overlooking the southern entrance to the gap. Connolly and his men set up a position supporting the single, light artillery battery the Union had.

The Confederate guns opened a bombardment of the Union soldiers and rebel infantry began marching on the Union artillery battery. Connolly and his men watched the enemy march towards them and then opened fire with their Spencer repeating rifles.

This is the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Included because no one commissioned a painting of the Lightning Brigade at Hoover's Gap, but we need some kind of battle imagery here. (Painting: Don Troiani courtesy of the National Guard)

Their first volley of fire cut through the Confederate ranks, but the rebels outnumbered the Union soldiers approximately four to one. The Confederates recovered their colors from the ground and resumed charging.

But the Confederates didn't know about repeating rifles. The Union quickly fired another volley, and then another, until, in Connolly's words, "the poor regiment was literally cut to pieces, and but few men of that 20th Tennessee that attempted the charge will ever charge again."

Riders arrived at the battle and relayed orders to Wilder to withdraw his men, but Wilder ignored the orders and insisted that his men could hold the line.

The fight continued — with the numerically superior Confederates trying to push the Union soldiers off but being cut down by the fire from the Spencers — until after 7 p.m. when Union reinforcements began arriving.

Another artillery battery set up near the exit from the gap and infantry began taking positions near Wilder's brigade on the hills.

Corps Commander Maj. Gen. George Thomas met Wilder and told him, "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."

Wilder and his men had inflicted over 200 casualties on the Confederates while suffering fifty-one deaths of their own. This four-to-one advantage in casualties came despite an exact opposite disadvantage in troop numbers.

Wilder's brigade was honored with a new nickname, "The Lightning Brigade."

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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