The 17th Indiana Infantry regiment was organized in Indianapolis, Indiana during May, 1861.(i) Officially mustered into Federal service on June 12, 1861, they were part of Indiana’s quota for Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 state militia volunteers. US Colonel Milo Hascall was appointed to lead the regiment. With Hascall’s appointment to brigadier general, John T. Wilder was appointed the regiment’s colonel, on March 2, 1862.
After mustering into Federal service, the regiment was ordered to Parkersburg, West Virginia (at this time Parkersburg was still part of Virginia), arriving in early July. The 17th Indiana would be attached to the District of Kanawha through September 1861. They would be involved in the actions at Cheat Mountain, Elkwater and Greenbrier River. From November 1861 through November 1862 the 17th would be assigned to the 15th Brigade of the Army of the Ohio. During this time, they would take part in US Major General Don Carlos Buell’s capture of Nashville. After arriving for a portion of the last day’s fight, at the Battle of Shiloh, they would be involved in the advance, and siege, of Corinth, from April 29 – May 30, 1862.
From June to August 1862, the regiment would take part in the Army of the Ohio’s operation in northern Alabama and central Tennessee. The operation, intended to contain CSA General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi, was largely unsuccessful as Bragg was able to march through Tennessee and into Kentucky. The 17th Indiana was now assigned to the Fifteenth Brigade, Sixth Division of the II Corps, Army of the Ohio. Taking part in the pursuit of Bragg’s army, the 17th Indiana was assigned garrison duty at Fort Craig, near Munfordville, Kentucky. This was a vital installation for the United States as it protected the Green River Bridge of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad – a main supply line for the Federal troops in Nashville. On September 14, 1862, CSA Brigadier General James R. Chalmers brigade arrived and demanded the surrender of Fort Craig. Wilder refused to surrender. Chalmers commenced siege operations against the fort, containing only three infantry regiments. Wilder, understanding that reinforcements were arriving, demanded to meet with division commander, CSA Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner, who had recently arrived. His purpose was to inspect the size of the Confederate forces. Incredulously, Buckner allowed Wilder to pass through the lines, under a flag of truce, to inspect his forces. Determined not to cause injury to nearby civilians, Wilder formally surrendered his command, including the 17th Indiana, on September 17. Wilder would remain a prisoner of war, for two months, before being exchanged.(ii)
From October 1862, to February 1863, the 17th Indiana would be garrisoned at Nashville, Tennessee. In December 1862, the 17th Indiana would be assigned to the First Brigade, First Division of the XIV Corps. With this move, they would also have a new corps commander, US Major General George H. Thomas. From February 1863, to June 1863, the 17th would be garrisoned, with the US Major General William T. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. With the move to Murfreesboro, the 17th would be reassigned to the Second Brigade, Fifth Division of the XIV Corps. Colonel J.T. Wilder was now in command of the brigade that included the 17th Indiana. In the spring and early summer, of 1863, Wilder determined to outfit his infantry with horses, and Spencer repeating rifles. The Federal government initially refused to pay for horses, or repeating rifles, so Wilder secured a personal loan to acquire the Spencers. Initially called the “Hatchet Brigade,” as they also carried hatchets, instead of sabers, they became formally known as Wilder’s Lightning Brigade – of mounted infantry. From June 23, through July 7, Wilder’s Lightning Brigade, and the 17th Indiana, would participate in the Tullahoma Campaign. Designed to push CSA General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee, into northern Georgia. As part of the campaign, the Lightning Brigade was instrumental in securing Hoover Gap, and Manchester, Tennessee, in action from June 24–27.(iii)
After successfully pushing Bragg out of middle Tennessee, Rosecrans determined to create a diversion to shield his true objective, Bragg’s army bivouacked near Lafayette, Georgia. Wilder would be sent, as commander of an independent expedition against Chattanooga. Known as Second Chattanooga, it primarily used artillery to divert Bragg’s attention from a growing threat to his left flank, by the Army of the Cumberland. The 17th Indiana participated in this independent action, which was very successful in masking the Army of the Cumberland. Wilder would formally capture Chattanooga on September 18, 1863. This action led up to the Battle of Chickamauga, from September 19–21, 1863. Wilder, and his Lightening Brigade, would arrive along the Chickamauga River and be placed by Rosecrans along high ground, on his right flank. During the action on September 20, Wilder, the 17th Indiana and the rest of the Lightning Brigade would be instrumental in a holding action that prevented Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland from being flanked. Today a large stone tower marks the ground near the Widow Glen’s house. Wilder would receive high commendations from XIV Corps commander, George Thomas. Thomas who would earn the moniker, “Rock of Chickamauga,” for his famous defense of Snodgrass Hill, understood how important Wilder’s holding action was to the preservation of the Army of the Cumberland, on September 20.(iv)
Over the coming weeks, the 17th Indiana would be involved in several skirmishes with CSA Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry corps: Thompson’s Cove (October 3), Glass Cocks (October 4), and Murfreesboro Road, near McMinnville, Tennessee (October 4). From November 23–27, the 17th Indiana would be involved in the Chattanooga campaign, and the pursuit of Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee to Ringgold, Georgia. US Major General Ulysses S. Grant, now in command of the Department of the Mississippi (everything west of the Shenandoah Valley), would send the Lightning Brigade to the aid of US Major General Ambrose Burnside, at Knoxville, Tennessee. From November 28 to December 8, they would march to Knoxville, only to determine that Burnside’s troops had matters under control. For the next six months, the 17th Indiana would be garrisoned at Pulaski, Charleston and Nashville. On January 4, 1864 the regiment’s three year term expired. Veterans re-enlisted and new recruits filled the ranks. Those re-enlisting were on furlough through April 2, 1864.
Starting on May 1, 1864, the 17th Indiana would be involved in US Major General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. Now part of the Third Brigade, Second Cavalry Division of US Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s Cavalry Corps, the 17th would continue its tradition as mounted infantry. Fighting against CSA General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee, the 17th Indiana would see action at: Resaca (May 14–15), Dallas (May 18–25), New Hope Church and Allatoona Hills (May 25 – June 5), Marietta and Kennesaw Mountain (June 10 – July 2) and Chattahoochie River Bridge (August 26 – September 2). After the capture of Atlanta, Wilson’s Cavalry Corps would see action against CSA General John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee in northern Alabama and central Tennessee. On November 1, the 17th Indiana would be dismounted and ordered to Louisville, Kentucky. They would remain on duty at Louisville until December 28, when they were moved to Nashville, and then Gravelly Springs, Alabama, where they would stay through March 1865. From March 22 – April 24, 1865 the 17th would be involved in Wilson’s Cavalry raid on Macon, Georgia. During this period of time, they would see action at Plantersville, Alabama (April 1), Selma, Alabama (April 2), Montgomery, Alabama (April 12) and Columbia (April 16). On April 20, they would be involved in the capture of Macon, Georgia. They would remain at Macon, Georgia through August.(v)
The 17th Indiana would be officially mustered out of Federal service on August 8, 1865. During the Civil War, the 17th would suffer a total of 237 casualties.
(i) The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System was used to research this article.
(ii) Battle of Munfordville, at Wikipedia, was used to research this article.
(iii) John T. Wilder, at Wikipedia, was used to research this article.
(iv) Battle of Chickamauga, at History.net, was used to research this article.
(v) The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System was used to research this article.