Forging a New South

The Life of General John T. Wilder

  • Author(s): Nicely, Maury
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2023-04-14
  • Status: Active
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On the morning of August 21, 1861, John T. Wilder, a brash young colonel of a Union mounted infantry unit nicknamed the “Lightning Brigade” ordered his men to open fire on the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, damaging buildings, sinking steamboats along the riverfront, and injuring men, women, and children. In the midst of Reconstruction and an emerging new South a mere eight years later, Wilder was elected mayor of Chattanooga. While Wilder is most closely associated with the Lightning Brigade, which helped to pioneer the use of both mounted infantry and repeating firearms during the American Civil War, his military accomplishments occupied only five years of his eighty-seven year life. His immense postwar success, however, left a permanent mark on the industrial development of the war-torn South in the second half of the nineteenth century.

It is the comprehensive picture of Wilder’s nearly nine decades that Maury Nicely seeks to capture in Forging a New South: The Life of General John T. Wilder. “For many war heroes, there was not much beyond the war worth telling,” Nicely writes. “Such was not the case with Wilder.” A successful entrepreneur and industrialist, after the war Wilder relocated to East Tennessee, where he created dozens of businesses, factories, mines, hotels, and towns; was elected mayor of the city he had shelled during the war; and cultivated close personal and business relationships with Federal and Confederate veterans alike, helping to create a new South in the wake of a devastating conflict. Presented in two parts and accompanied by more than sixty detailed photographs and maps, Nicely’s balanced study fills a significant void—the first complete biography of General John T. Wilder.


MAURY NICELY is an attorney and author in Chattanooga. He is also the author of Hoffa in Tennessee: The Chattanooga Trial That Brought Down an Icon.