Sidney was one of six children born to Scottish parents, John and Margaret Speed. John was a stone cutter who was also known locally for his work and politics. John had been a Jackson Democrat, an intense abolitionist, a Wig and finally a Republican. John, the strong abolitionist, had traveled to North Carolina during the 1830’s and supervised the construction of the new state capital’s edifice. He also planned and patented the unusual stair for the building. After the job was completed, John would travel back to his family in Crawfordsville. The garret of the Speed home was known to have been used for harboring runaway slaves for the Underground Railroad. Sidney and the other children would help in the buying and collecting food to feed the runaway slaves. Sidney’s adult life seems to have been greatly influenced by his father.
By the summer of 1862 Sidney had seen many Montgomery County residents come to Crawfordsville and enlist in the companies being formed there. At this time, Sidney was a student attending Wabash College, while also helping as a clerk in his fathers stonemason business. A new artillery battery was being organized by Greencastle druggist Eli Lilly. Captain Lilly started recruiting in Putnam and Montgomery counties, one of his new recruits was Sidney Speed. After a year of war Sidney thought it was his time to enlist, although there was one problem, his age. In July 1862 Sidney had just turned 16 years old, under age to enlist for military service. In order to avert the situation, Sidney had to lie about his age, as many other young men did who joined the battery. Eli Lilly’s Indiana Battery would be numbered the 18th Indiana Battery, but was usually called the former by the men. The rest of 1862 would be spent learning how to use the guns and campaiging in Kentucky.
In early 1863 Colonel John Wilder wanted the men in his brigade fitted as mounted infantry and arm them with the Spencer Repeating Rifle. His dream became a reality and Lilly’s Battery would be attached to Wilder’s Brigade. Sidney knew many men in the 72nd Indiana, two of it’s companies, “B” and “E” had been recruited in Montgomery County. On June 24, 1863 the brigade began moving from their camps in Murfreesboro, Tn. toward the Confederate Army at Shelbyville, Tn. Lilly’s Battery was goning to taste it’s first hard combat at Hoovers Gap. Wilder and Lilly’s men would fight and hold two Confederate brigades. They were at least twice the size of Wilder’s Brigade. It was here that the brigade pushed and held the Confederates in the gap and earned the name “Wilder’s Lightning Brigade”.
Wilder and Lilley would continue south in pursuit of the Confederate Army. They would end up on the banks of the Tennessee River, opposite Chattanooga. Here Lilly’s guns would shell the city, and confuse Confederate General Braxton Bragg of the Union Army’s intentions. The brigade would move toward Ringgold, Georgia and then into McLemore’s Cove. Along the banks of the West Branch of Chickamauga Creek the Confederates hoped to defeat an isolated portion of the Union army near Lee and Godon’s Mill. The battle of Chickamauga would be a three day event for Wilder’s and Lilly’s men. For this brigade the battle of Chickamauga started on September 18, 1863. On the morning of September 18, the brigade had been posted to hold Alexander’s Bridge and prevent the crossing of Confederate troops there. Around 10:00 a.m. a Confederate Brigade and Battery attacked Wilder’s position. Four of Lilly’s rifled guns went into battery near the Alexander cabin. Feverishly working one of these guns was Sidney Speed. The battery quickly began loading and firing long range canister and shell at the oncoming Rebels. A half mile oppoisite of Lilly’s guns, Fowler’s Alabama Battery went into action aginst the guns posted near the Alexander cabin. Lilly’s gunners could hear the first round from Fowler’s guns coming toward them. Bugler Henry Campbell of Crawfordsville wrote in his diary, ” I don’t think I will ever forget the awful, unearthly screeching that shell made as it approached us. It seemed as if it would never strike, it was so long coming.” Campbell along with four or five comrads attempted to take cover behind a small sapling near by. Campbell reported, “We all knew, from the sound of it, that it would strike some place close by.” It did strike close by, the shell bounced in front of the number two gun, then hit the corner of the Alexander cabin, where it ricocheted back toward the guns, landing near some of Lilly’s huddled gunners. Sidney could see the danger to his comrads, calmly he picked up the shell, while the fuse was still burning and “heaved it over” the Alexander cabin where the shell would explode. Captain Lilly witnessed Sidney’s heroic act that had saved the lifes of some of his artillerymen. In his after-action report, Captain Lilly would praise Sidney for this courageous act.
Sidney would continue to serve until the war’s end, he would obtain the rank of corporal in January, 1864. He returned to Crawfordsville where he took up his father’s trade as a stone mason. More that Fifty years had passed when Lt. Joseph A. Scott, of the 18th Battery and Lilly’s grandson tried to obtain the Medal of Honor for Sidney. Speed was not very fond of the idea, stating he “didn’t give two hoots” about the medal. After it was explained to Sidney that he would be entitled to more money in his soldier’s pension, he had a chane of heart. He said he was, “willing to have the medal forced on me.” Unfortunately Sidney never recieved the medal he deserved for his unselfish action at Chickamauga.
On September 18-20, 1895, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was dedicated. The monument to Lillyls 18th Indiana Battery was not yet erected on the battlefield. Almost a year after the park’s dedication , a monument to honor the 18th Indiana Battery was placed in the West Viniard Field, alongside other monuments to the regiments of Wilder’s Brigade. The design contract for the gray oolitic limestone monument went to the Crawfordsville firm of Sidney Speed, hero of Chickamauga.
By Scott Busenbark
Link to book,:” Blue Lightning, Wilder’ Mounted Infantry Brigade at the Battle of Chickamauga.”