John T. Wilder was a New York native who left home at age nineteen determined to make it on his own. He eventually settled in Greensburg, Indiana, where he established a profitable foundry and became an expert in the field of hydraulics. But it was his innovations in outfitting a Union brigade that would gain him fame in the Civil War.
In 1861, the Governor of Indiana commissioned Wilder as lieutenant colonel of the 17th Indiana Infantry. He was promoted to Colonel in March 1862 and saw action in Tennessee and Mississippi. He was captured at Munfordville, Kentucky, in September 1862 and held briefly before being paroled and exchanged. Upon returning to service, he was given command of a new brigade in Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland.
Wilder’s Brigade spent part of the winter of 1862 protecting Union supply lines against raids by Col. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry. Wider quickly learned that his immobile infantry was unable to keep pace with cavalry on horseback, so he requested, and received, permission to refit his unit as mounted infantry.
In addition to increasing the mobility of his brigade, Wilder also wanted his men to be outfitted with the best available rifle. His first choice was the 1860 Henry rifle, a 16 shot breech loading, lever action rifle. He placed an order in March 1863 with the New Haven Arms Company for 900 Henry rifles. Unfortunately, the company lacked the manufacturing capabilities at the time to fill such a large order, so Wilder was forced to seek an alternative firearm.
Around the time Wilder was negotiating his deal for the Henry rifles, a young inventor named Christopher Spencer came through Tennessee demonstrating his new breech loading rifle to officers of the Army of the Cumberland. Wilder was impressed with the efficiency of the Spencer Repeating Rifle and, when the Henry rifles became unavailable, he decided to outfit his unit with the Spencers.
Although the War Department had started purchasing Spencer rifles on a limited basis as early as 1861, the Ordnance Bureau was not in favor of purchasing the weapon on a mass scale. Subsequently, flow of the rifle through government channels was slow. Frustrated by the red tape, but still determined to outfit his unit with the repeater, Wilder negotiated a private contract with Spencer for 1,400 rifles at a cost of $35.00 a piece.
This beautiful example has all original parts and functions like new. The bore is near flawless and all markings are crisp and legible. It is serial number #6180 which puts it in the middle of TWO known and documented Wilder’s Brigade weapons, #6178 and #6182, both of which were issued to Company A, 72nd Indiana. There is a minor chip near the breech in the forestock as shown and otherwise, other than for typical bruises and dings resulting from use, this is an EXCELLENT example of the famed Spencer Rifle.