Wilder Brigade Reunion Held At Hoover's Gap, Chattanooga and Chickamauga, Sept 18, 19, and 20, 1906

From The Palestine Reporter of Oct. 10, 1906.

A special car left Robinson on the 17th via Paris, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Murfreesboro for Chattanooga. Stopovers were allowed on the way going and returning for those wishing to see different battlefields, the cities and the Mammoth Cave.

Ten of the 98th Ills. regiment were present from companies D and E. Those of company D. were Josiah Siler, P. B. King, Henry O. Wilkin, William Hall, T. N. Muchmore and John Downey; those present from company E. were William H. Johnson, T. William Jones, Abraham Walters and T. J. Pifer. I did not learn the exact number of the 98th present but it was near fifty.

A two hours layover at Indianapolis gave ample time for boys to view the Indiana state soldiers and sailors monument which is a most beautiful and befitting structure to commemorate the courage and valor of her Heroes' Dead. The height above street level is 284 feet and the balcony 228 feet high, is reached by stairway and electric elevator, where one has a beautiful view of the city.

Just two blocks distant lies a beautiful little park, once called circle park where the writer a few years ago spent a pleasant afternoon. Aboard the cars again we passed Louisville and Nashville in the night on a berth on a Pullman sleeper arriving at Murfreesboro at 6:30 a. m., on the 18th where we were met by carriages to convey us over the battlegrounds of Stone River and Hoover's Gap.

Cousin Charles M. Pifer who now lives just outside of the city limits, came with horse and buggy and invited me to ride with him which I gladly accepted. Here the crowd divided; those who were participants in the battle of Stone River went over that battleground, and Wilder's Brigade and others who were participants in the battle at Hoover's Gap seventeen miles distant went there.

After viewing the battle field at the Gap and recounting the many awful scenes enacted there 43 years ago, we were met at Beech Grove a little village now occupying a part of the battleground, by quite a number of ex-confederates, their wives, children and grand children where they cordially received the men who wore the blue with a hearty welcome as their guests and a bountiful dinner was served by our Southern sisters with a long line of white linen spread on the green grass where other Union men and Confederates sat down together side by side to partake of this sumptuous repast.

When all had become quiet Major Kilborn returned thanks then we all ate until we were full and many fragments yet remained. Not 100 feet distant from where dinner was served lie sleeping the precious dead of 36 confederates whose graves were newly decorated with wreaths of beautiful flowers and head stones the rock picked up by their side where they fell.

In Beech Grove the business houses were all closed, the school was dismissed and church adjourned, all to meet and greet and mingle with us in our joy to meet our former enemies, now friends and comrades in a time of peace and sorrow because of the great sacrifice of human life. As we passed the school house in the village about 20 girls ranging in age from 6-12 appeared. All were dressed in white and it was my happy privilege to treat those dear little southern maids to peppermint lozenges and tell them I was a union soldier boy in their county 43 years ago.

On a huge limestone rock for a speaker's stand Rev. Mr. Jacobs of Beech Grove acted as master of ceremonies and introduced various speakers. Rev.F. J. Tyler, Presbyterian minister and Ex-Confederate also offered prayer.

Addresses then followed by Capt. J. D. Ridley. Major Kilborn and others. In his remarks Rev. Tyler said they had dismissed their protracted meeting to associate and mingle with us. The church and people at that place were filled with the spirit of God as shown in both speech and song. "Twas a heavenly feast to our souls, a mingle of joy and sorrow. One Ex-Confederate asked a Northern man the meaning of a live evergreen twig and when informed it represented friendship, love and long life he said. "I am going to give it to some Yankee" and came to the writer of this epistle and said "Let me present this to you, take it home and tell your wife that an old Irish Johnnie Reb gave it to you with love, all now reunited under one flag in one country.". The speakers all spoke with the kindest feeling of welcome and invited us to return again and we would always be welcome, thrice welcome, in their country and in their homes.

Then men of Wilder's Brigade also invited them to the North Land assuring them of a hearty welcome in our country and in our homes.

Returning again to Murfreesboro at 5 PM we started for Chattanooga. The 19th was spent by Wilder's Brigade on the Chickamauga battle field. Our meeting for routine business and the elections of officers for the ensuing year was held at the base of the Wilder monument. And resulted in the re-election of the old officers for another year in Charleston, Illinois as our next meeting place in 1907, the date of the meeting to be named later by executive committee.

The Wilder Brigade monument, of which a partial description appeared in the Palestine Reporter 8 years ago was unfinished then, but is now completed. It stands near the central part of the battlefield, its base is 16 by 16 feet square and 12 feet high then a 12 foot circle to the top of which is 85 ft. from the ground with a stone spiral stairway inside extending to the balcony the top of which is used as an observatory to view the battlefield. There are 6 bronze tablets on the base square representing its formation by the field officer's names being lettered thereon. It was composed of the 17th and 72nd Indiana Infantry and the 18th Indiana battery and 92nd and 98th and 123rd Ill.

Infantry cemented in the wall, as in the corner stone of a dedicated church are sacraments so also is a steel fireproof safe cemented in this monument and the names of each and everyone who were members of the Brigade are thus recorded, accessible only to the Park Commissioners who have charge of the key and grounds. The monument is rough hewn stone taken from the battlefield and was built by the Brigade at a cost of $1200.00.. The U. S. Government built the stairway. After routine business and the election of officers at the monument, the meeting was adjourned.

The boys then separated; some to farther view the battlefield, while others went to the National Cemetery Mission, Ridge or up the incline to old Looking Mountain which history records as being the place of the battle above the clouds.. At 8 p. m. a reception was held in the auditorium room and Gen. John T. Wilder, our brave and gallant old commander dearly beloved by all both North and South, made his first appearance on the stage amid shouts and greetings. But his feeble condition would only permit him to bow smilingly and take his seat among the officers of the association and Ex-confederates. He tarried about one hour then had to retire to the hotel.

It was announced from the stage that the boys would have an opportunity to grasp the worn hand of that whole hearted true soldier at the Reid Hotel next morning and I think everyone availed himself of the chance. He sat in his chair and chatted quietly for a few moments with each of us, his boys as he usually called us.

The meeting was presided over by Capt. A. J. Gahagan, the address of welcome was delivered, by Major Frierson, of Chattanooga; the response was given by Major Kilborn, the decorations in the room were of evergreens and the national colors with large words of welcome on every line were beautiful. The 12th U. S. Band furnished music for the occasion, assisted by a male quartet of of the M.E. of the city. A happy campfire meeting was then held and representatives of both blue and gray filed past the stand.

On Thur. the 20th, Camp Joe McConnell, United Confederate Veterans, of Ringold, Georgia, held there meeting at Chickamauga Park near the Georgia monument and a broad invitation was extended to Wilder men and others who wore the blue to meet them and participate in there reunion, we gladly did. Each speaker adding one more golden thread to closer bind the north and south. A special mention of one necessary Master Hunter Dolton of Ringold Georgia, a lad of 8 short years.

After this a bounteous dinner was served in the park, after which the great throng dispersed, some for the viewing of the field of battle, while others went to the city. Orchard Knob or elsewhere.

It afforded me great pleasure on the 20th to meet Joseph Rackerby of Rogers, Ark., who was a member of company I, 21st Illinois and was also my teacher in Hutsonville in 1860.

At 8 p.m. on the 20th , the last campfire meeting was held in the auditorium and both Yankees, Johnny Rebs and civilians made short speeches interspersed with music by the quartet and Army calls sounded by the trumpeters. Both nights the rooms were filled with Federals and Confederates, their families and friends and at the sounding of taps at 10 P.M. the Wilder Brigade Reunion came to a befitting close.

As the leaves of the autumn forest fall, so it is with the gallant little remnant of Wilder's Brigade; one by one we answer to our last earthly roll call; let us learn a lesson from the little leaf which has filled it's mission so faithfully and truly and finally meets it's fate at the end of life; it falls to the ground to enrich mother earth; boys, men of Wilder's Brigade, let us strive to serve life's purposes well with equal trueness to men and God, let us all strive to be faithful soldiers of the cross of Christ so that we may all finally gather around our fathers throne in heaven.