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Battle of Hoover’s Gap

June 24-26, 1863

The Battle of Hoover's Gap was the decisive engagement of Union General William Rosecrans's brilliantly executed Tullahoma Campaign that drove the Confederates out of Middle Tennessee in 1863.

On October 24, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln relieved Major General Don Carlos Buell of his command of the Army of the Ohio and placed Major General William S. Rosecrans in charge of the newly-formed Army of the Cumberland. Upon Rosecrans' promotion, Union General-In-Chief Henry W. Halleck made it clear that "… the Government demands action, and if you cannot respond to that demand some one else will be tried."

Rosecrans established headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee and quickly prepared his army for battle. On December 26, he moved his forces south to engage Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee encamped at Murfreesboro. The two armies met at the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862-January 2, 1863), and Bragg was forced withdraw to Tullahoma, Tennessee, thirty-six miles to the south, yielding Murfreesboro to Rosecrans.

After the Battle of Stones River, Bragg deployed his army in a defensive line nearly seventy miles long along the Duck River from Shelbyville to Wartrace, Tennessee, northwest of Tullahoma. He intended to prevent Rosecrans from capturing the strategically important city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Covering his flanks with cavalry, Bragg deployed small regiments to protect four gaps in the mountains separating the two armies (Liberty, Hoover, Guy and Bellbuckle Gaps).

In the meantime, Rosecrans established winter quarters at Murfreesboro, where his army remained relatively inactive for the next five and one-half months. During that time, Rosecrans resisted pressure from his superiors to press Bragg. Lincoln, Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton feared that Rosecrans's inactivity would enable Confederate leaders to detach soldiers from Bragg's army to relieve Union General Ulysses S. Grant's operations against Vicksburg. Finally, under threat of being relieved of his command, Rosecrans moved into action in late June 1863.

On June 23, Rosecrans feigned attacks on each end of Bragg's line. The next day he ordered Major General George H. Thomas's 14th Corps and Major General Alexander McCook's 20th Corps to strike the mountain gaps in the middle of Bragg's line. Thomas assigned Colonel John Wilder's brigade with the task of leading the initial assault on Hoover's Gap.

Setting out at dawn on June 24, 1863, during a steady rain that continued throughout the day, Wilder's mounted infantry moved toward Hoover's Gap in advance of Thomas's main force. Wilder's men were armed with newly introduced Spencer Repeating Rifles, which were capable of firing seven rounds before needing to be reloaded.

When Wilder's men neared Hoover's Gap, they were nearly nine miles in advance of bulk of Thomas's corps. At approximately noon, they engaged Colonel J. Russell Butler's 3rd Kentucky Regiment, the lone Confederate force defending the four-mile long pass through the mountains. Advancing farther than expected, Wilder's 1,500 horsemen quickly dislodged the surprised Rebels and took possession of the gap. Wilder then ordered his men to dismount and to prepare for the counterattack that was certain to come.

As Butler's men retreated, they encountered Confederate Brigadier-General William B. Bate's brigade. Upon learning of Butler's withdrawal, Bate moved to regain possession of the gap. Three separate counterattacks during the afternoon proved unsuccessful. The Confederate breechloaders were no match for the firepower of the Spencers. By the time that Rebel reinforcements arrived to support Bate's attempt to regain the valley, Thomas's 14th Corps arrived and the fighting ended at approximately 7 pm. When Thomas met with Wilder, he raved that "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." Thomas went on to christen Wilder's command as the "Lightning Brigade."

With the Federals in control of the gap, the Confederates probed the Union defenses for the next two days with little effect.On June 26, 1863, Bragg ordered his troops to withdraw toward his headquarters at Tullahoma. As Rosecrans's army began pouring through the mountain gaps, Bragg retreated to Chattanooga, leaving the Union in possession of Middle Tennessee.

The Federal victories at the Battle of Hoover's Gap and in the Tullahoma Campaign were unqualified successes for the Union forces in Tennessee. Unfortunately for Rosecrans, these achievements were overshadowed by events happening at Vicksburg, Mississippi and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at nearly the same time. Although Bragg was able to evacuate his army, Rosecrans succeeded in driving the Confederacy out of Middle Tennessee with very few losses. The Union army suffered fewer than six hundred casualties during the entire campaign. Confederate casualties during the battle and the campaign are unknown because Bragg wrote no battle reports, but the Union army captured 1,634 Rebels.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Hoover's Gap included:

Infantry units:

1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

11th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

14th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

18th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

21st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

31st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

33rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

38th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

92nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

93rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

94th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

105th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

Cavalry units:

1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

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