Monday, April 9, 2012

Affair at Henderson, Kentucky

Adam Rankin Johnson and Bob Martin would have little in the way of excitement after eluding a Yankee patrol at the home of a “small pox” stricken comrade. (See January 26, 2012 post) The only real difficulty occurred after crossing the Tennessee River. They were warned by sympathetic citizens that a Federal picket post was but a mile up the road, and they had a habit of stopping every man that traveled along that stretch. The intrepid scouts were able to successfully dodge the detachment by traveling early in the morning and passing the men just as they were having breakfast. They merited no more than a long hard look from one of the soldiers, who decided they were not worth interrupting his breakfast for and he allowed them to pass. The good fortune relieved Johnson, but it genuinely irritated Martin who seemed always ready for a fight. [1]

The pair would soon part company, but only for a short time. As Johnson continued to Henderson, Martin would travel to Slaughtersville (now known as Slaughters, in Webster county) and try to recruit soldiers from that region. Johnson would do the same in Henderson county and deliver the memorized message from General John C. Breckinridge to David Burbank. The number of recruits however would be well below expectations and as it would develop, nearly non existent. Martin found some men that were agreeable to the idea of fighting Yankees, he would tell Johnson, when they again met in Hopkins County. A dozen men were to meet them at Slaughtersville next morning.
At the meeting the leader of the band after appraising Johnson, informed him that he was to young to be a leader of soldiers. The men of Kentucky needed a leader, the man said, but “when one comes I will be willing to follow him and could bring a good company to back him.” Obviously neither Johnson or Martin was such a man in his estimation. The others felt the same and they departed, leaving the two scouts alone and very discouraged. [2] There was nothing for them to do but keep trying, which they did.
The pair had met many Confederate soldiers that were in the area under parole and others who, though sympathetic to the Rebel cause, would not join it for fear of reprisals from the Federal troops that marginally controlled the area. Johnson hatched a plan that seemed suicidal. In order to drive the “stay at home Confederates” to the colors a “rumpus” was needed to cause the Yankees to believe all the men in the area were involved in it, and harsh Federal reaction to it would cause the fence sitters to join up.

The plan was simple. Bob Martin had noted while canvassing Davies County the presence of a Federal Provost Guard detachment at Owensboro. The men would simply attack it. Simple. Johnson and Martin would be joined by their sole recruit, Frances “Frank” A. Owen. At barely seventeen years old, Owen was already a veteran in the Confederate service. He was wounded and captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862, interred at Camp Morton at Indianapolis, Indiana, escaped there in April, and now was counted among the Tenth Kentucky Partisan Rangers, or what would soon become that regiment. [3]
They planned on riding into the central square of Owensboro, haul down the United States flag and quickly retire with the flag as a prize. Bob Martin would get the flag as Johnson provided cover, and young Owen would hold a fall back position just outside town. Once the older men retreated the three would shoot down anyone giving immediate chase then skedaddle before others could organize further pursuit. Just as they arrived at their starting point, a friend of Martins came out of Owensboro and informed them that the Provost Guard had departed and took several prisoners with them.[4] There would be no “rumpus” here. It was June 20, 1862.

Dame Fortune was about to turn her smile upon Johnson and his companions however. As they pondered their next move while still very near Owensboro, they were approached by a buggy driven by a Union Surgeon and a lady friend out for drive.
The officer was Major John F. Kimbley of the 11th Kentucky Infantry, US Volunteers. [5] The young lady, Miss Georgie (Georgia) Shelby, Johnson apparently knew. The rebels halted the pair and demanded that the major come down from the buggy. Sensing the young lady's fright, Johnson reassured her by telling her that he knew both her and her father and that she would not be harmed. Kimbley on the other hand was left to his own fears as Johnson demanded his papers. The frightened major immediately produced his furlough papers, to which Johnson scoffed and said they were “from the wrong side” for he was now “down in DIXIE”, and he should consider himself a prisoner of war. Johnson then instructed Bob Martin to join Miss Shelby in the buggy and escort her safely home. Martin complied as Johnson gave orders for him to convey to other commanders in the vicinity, making sure he spoke loudly enough that their new prisoner could hear the details. Martin smiled slightly and acknowledged the orders and went on his way with his fair charge. The orders were of course a ruse put on by Johnson for the only rebel command in the vicinity was his own; two men and himself.

No sooner than Martin had driven out of sight, Johnson and Owen had the good fortune continue as they were met by a pair of mule drovers, one of them on foot, on their way to sell mules to the Federal government across the Ohio River at Evansville, Indiana. Johnson informed the lead drover that there was a market nearer to hand, to which the man said he did not rightly care who bought his mules as long as he was paid. He demanded gold or Federal money and would have nothing whatever to do with the Confederate currency Johnson had offered. It seems then that Johnson and Frank Owen “appropriated” the mules, as in Johnsons words, he “mounted the crestfallen drover” on Bob Martins horse, and the small band headed through the woods; mules, drovers, and one frightened Union major who was allowed to drive his rig one last time. Owen was ordered to bring up the rear and to shoot any man that tried to flee. Owen readily complied with the order but it was never necessary to shoot anyone.

The group was met a few hours later by Bob Martin after he had deposited Miss Shelby safely at her home. Owen and Martin would take the mules to Slaughtersville while Johnson drove Major Kimbley to the nearby Green River where he relieved him of the horses and rig, paroled him, and sent him on his way. Kimbley was later picked up by a steamboat and taken to Louisville where he reported to Brigadier General Jeremiah T. Boyle what had happened. He no doubt emphasized the fact that the area was crawling with Confederate guerrillas, the very notion that Johnson had planted in his mind with his "orders" to be relayed to the phantom commands. [6] Boyle responded by dispatching a detachment of Provost Guards to Henderson to strengthen Battery F, (Andrews') of the 1st Michigan Light Artillery which was already garrisoning the river town. It would raise the force to 110 men. This in itself would offend some Confederate sympathizers, but they would not yet flock to the banner of the Confederacy. Adam Rankin Johnson would soon have his rumpus. [7]

Monday, June 30, 1862, on the partially gas lit streets of Henderson, Johnson and his men
struck. The men of the Provost Guard and the Michiganders were packed into one spot, the National Hotel on Main Street. A Captain Daley of the guard and Lieutenant George Tyler of Battery F were chatting beneath a street lamp in front of the two story brick building, others sat idly chatting nearby, and two men were on sentry duty. Johnson and his troops were secreted behind a tall plank fence across the street watching the unaware soldiers. It was shortly after midnight.** Suddenly the scene changed from quiet serenity to bedlam and smoke as the trio of Rebels cut loose with a deadly storm of lead from pistols and shotguns, firing two volleys in quick succession. The blue clad men scampered for the door of the hotel. Daley and and Tyler had been hit along with a number of others before they could reach the safety of the interior. Tyler was the most severely wounded and would soon die of his wounds. [8]
From his report to General John C. Breckinridge, Johnson writes:

On the 29th of the same month, we proceeded to Henderson and made an attack on the forces stationed there, killing a lieutenant, wounding the captain, 1 lieutenant, and wounding 9 soldiers.
The attacking party consisted of A. Owen, R. A. Martin, and A.R. Johnson. They fired 11 shots. [9]

Once the Rebels finished their deadly work, they dashed for their horses and made good their escape, while the shaken Federals kept up a constant firing at shadows throughout the night.
Panic ensued throughout the countryside on both sides of the Ohio River. The Evansville Journal, a daily newspaper, shouted in bold headlines:

Provost Guard Attacked by 300 Guerrillas!

The paper claimed that the fight had lasted for nearly nine hours, when in reality it might have lasted nine minutes, and that the enemy had been driven off with a heavy loss. Johnson attributes the inflated numbers to the fact that:

One of their random shots, it was discovered next morning by the citizens, had struck an old sow, and as she moved about, here and there lying down, leaving blood all around, these fine marksmen claimed they had hit many a rebel, who, either dead or wounded had been taken off the sanguinary field by their comrades.” [11]

The affair had the desired effect on the men in the surrounding country. Johnson puts it thus:

“ gave us such a character for successful enterprise that many valuable recruits joined us at once.” 

Those that dared not join immediately were automatically assumed to be a part of his command and that gave a false impression to prying eyes, which also suited Johnson.[12]

Johnson had his rumpus, and would very soon return to Henderson, only at the head of a much larger force, a precursor to a much bolder move. That move would be overshadowed by a much more famous personage and his actions. John Hunt Morgan was about to begin his first raid through Kentucky, beginning July 4, 1862, and he would spend the better part of the month there, causing a rumpus of his own. Johnson and his men, at least for the time being, would be the least of the Federal's worries.

** Starling lists the time of the attack as shortly after 10 pm, on the 29th.

1- The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, Johnson, Adam R., 1904, page 88
2- Ibid, page 90
3- Thunder From a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana, Mulesky Jr., Raymond, 2005, 2006 page 12
4- Johnson, page 92
5- Mulesky, page 5
6- Johnson, page 93
7- Mulesky, page 7
8- History of Henderson County, Starling, Edmund L., page 715, Mulesky, page 14
9- War of the Rebellion -Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series 1, Volume 16, part 2, page 994
11- Johnson, page 96.
12- Johnson, page 100

1 comment:

  1. You always come up with the 'hidden' stories and some how that makes it come more alive! Ahhh.... the duplicity... Keep up the good work! It's much appreciated! I must admit that I have stong feelings about the guerilla warfare during this era.