Book Review: John T. Wilder: Union General, Southern Industrialist


by Cox, Steven

Macon, Ga: Mercer University, 2023. 203. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN:978-0-8814-6884-7

An Outstanding Union General and Friend of the South

Steven Cox offers the reader a definitive history of John T. Wilder, who as a Union officer commanded the “Lightning Brigade,” of mounted infantry, and after the war became a prominent businessman in the South.

Before the war native New Yorker Wilder came from a long line of soldiers, veterans of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. He was a successful foundry owner with a national reputation as an inventor. When war came, he went. Cox does an excellent job covering Wilder’s wartime service. Despite having no military experiences, Wilder quickly earned a reputation as a capable, even talented and inspiring commander. At Munfordville, Kentucky, in mid-1862, he was called upon to surrender, and replied "I think we'll fight for a while.” Having held out for a time, when asked again, he arranged to tour the enemy lines under flag of truce, and decided that his 4,000 men faced 22,000, with 100 artillery pieces, upon which he did surrender.

Later, given a brigade of mounted infantry, Wilder personally underwrote their purchase the newly invented Spencer repeating rifle, and led the brigade through to the end of the war, most notably in the capture of Hoover’s Gap during the Tullahoma Campaign in Central Tennessee in June 1863.

Cox then devotes considerable coverage to Wilder’s post war career as a businessman in the South, developing mines in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, and dabbling in the hotel and railroad business as well as politics. Wilder also played a role in establishing Chickamauga as the very first National Military Park in the United States.

Cox makes some excellent observations about Wilder's marriage and family, and the trials they endured during the war, suffering separation, loneliness, and even the loss of their home in a fire.

Overall, Cox gives us a solid account of Wilder’s life and military career, making this a satisfying biography and a revealing portrait of an American hero who deserves even wider recognition. Marred by a lack of maps, this is nevertheless an excellent work.

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, All That Can Be Expected, Force of a Cyclone, Lincoln and Native Americans, Detour to Disaster, Lincoln in Lists, A Wilderness of Destruction, Twelve Days, The Civil War Memoirs of Captain William J. Seymour, Stay and Fight it Out, and Calamity at Frederick
Reviewer: David Marshall   

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