Franklin historical group wants to see ‘Lightning Brigade’ guidon restored

Franklin historical group wants to see ‘Lightning Brigade’ guidon restored

By Gregory L Wade

The Franklin Civil War Round Table has announced the organization’s “sponsorship” of the preservation of one of the museum’s priceless banners, a guidon flag for a Union regiment that was cut up by souvenir hunters.

The project to restore and preserve the flag is the result of a tour of the Tennessee State Museum Civil War flag collection almost a year ago, and will be discussed in a presentation on Sunday at the Franklin Civil War Round Table. The historical group is hoping to raise money to restore the flag.

The guidon was used by Gen. John Wilder’s famous “Lightning Brigade,” the 17th Mounted Infantry Indiana Regiment, during action across Middle Tennessee in 1863.

According to Candace Adelson, Senior Curator of Fashion & Textiles at the State Museum, the Regiment received new flags in the spring of 1864 but the commander of the 17th decided to keep their guidon. He rescued it from souvenir hunters who were taking “clips” of the flag as part of their service.

The Round Table noted the opportunity to help in this important project and after research and discussion, offered to help in the Wilder guidon’s restoration.

The flag was sent to conservators in 2017 who have been able to remove it from its frame to assess its overall needs, said Adelson.  She added that about $10,000 is needed for the “detailed work of stabilizing it so that it can be framed again for display in the new Tennessee State Museum,” which is being rebuilt on the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville. The $120 million dollar facility will open in late 2018 and will give patrons greater opportunities to see artifacts such as the Civil War flag collection.

Myers Brown, Archivist for the Tennessee State Library and Archives and a Wilder expert said the 17th Indiana Regiment along with the 72nd Indiana, 92nd Illinois, 98th Illinois and the 123rd Illinois made up the Lightning Brigade.  The 92nd Illinois was stationed in Franklin in the spring of 1863. “The original brigade was no longer intact by the end of the war,” he noted, and some later served with Sherman and others under Wilson in the Alabama raids of 1865.

Gen. Wilder’s connections to Tennessee ran deep before and after the war.  Serving in the federal Army of the Cumberland he saw action all across Middle Tennessee and is perhaps best known for the Battle of Hoover’s Gap, about 25 miles south of Murfreesboro just off today’s Interstate 24.  It was here that the Lightning Brigade and their Spencer repeating rifles made life miserable for the Confederates of General William Bate.

After the war, Wilder adopted Tennessee as his home state seeking a warmer climate because of poor war-related health. Soon he befriended former Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest and intervened with then-President U.S. Grant to discourage any possible post war pursuit of Forrest.

He became a geologist and mined various minerals in the Cumberland range while helping establish the town of Rockwood in Roane County. In the next few years he started other businesses  including Wilder Turbine Wheel while establishing foundries in South Pittsburg, in Marion County near the Alabama state line. In the 1870s he served as mayor of Chattanooga where he began a “free” school system and assisted in founding what is today the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

In the late 1880s he and veterans of both the Confederate and Union armies began a movement to establish the Chickamauga National Park and he served as president of the Chickamauga Memorial Association.  A few years before his death he moved near Cookeville where he built a hotel and started a another small mining operation.

When he died in 1917, the funeral was conducted by the Rev. Johnathan Bachman, the Chaplain-General of the Confederate Veterans Association, who recognized Wilder for his efforts in bringing back harmony to post war Tennessee.

The Franklin Civil War Round Table is kicking off this effort at their Sunday,  March 11, presentation about General Wilder.  Myers Brown will speak on the history of the Lightning Brigade and Wilder’s life.

This event begins at 3 p.m. at the Carnton Plantations Fleming Center. The public is invited.

For more information on how to make tax deductible donations to the flag project, please contact:

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