Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Newburgh, Indiana: First Northern town Occupied by Confederates

The rebels have taken possession of Henderson, Ky., on the Ohio, below Evansville. They have also crossed the river and taken Newburg, Ind.; killed one of our men and taken 250 of our sick in hospital prisoners. They took 250 arms and destroyed the hospital stores. A boat has left Evansville with arms. I will send an extra train with artillery, arms, and infantry immediately.

O.P. Morton


150 years ago today, this was the strident message Oliver P. Morton, governor of Indiana sent to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on July 18, 1862. Adam Rankin Johnson would be the first Confederate commander to occupy a Northern town and Newburg, Indiana would have the dubious distinction of being the first town occupied.

This rebel soldier, not long in command and at the head of between 30 and 60 men, (accounts vary as to the actual number of soldiers) accomplished what no other Confederate leader had done. Less than six months previous to this Johnson was but a private scouting for Nathan B. Forrest, then for John C. Breckenridge. Now a Captain, in what can only be described as a “band”, self styled as the “Breckenridge Guards” he made manifest the fear of every state governor along the Ohio River. Invasion!

He did it through bluff, using two sets of old wagon wheels, a length of pipe, and a blackened log, resembling a section of artillery placed conspicuously on the south bank of the river. He threatened to shell the town if his demands were not met. The town surrendered. He and his men did make off with 250 stand of arms, powder, percussion caps, medical supplies, and food, carried south on a flatboat that made several trips.

Adam Rankin Johnson

Although this raid had no lasting material impact, Johnson did cause some panic along the Ohio River and beyond and gained his nickname; “STOVEPIPE”. He and his troopers would become a thorn in the side of the Federal soldiers and government for most of the war. He would also have a price on his head from then on.

It may be trivial in import when stacked against grander raids as Morgan was then carrying on, or larger battles or more illustrious personages, but incidents like this are what makes this time period fascinating.  It is a “Side Show to the Big Show” as Sam Watkins subtitled his memoir, “Company Aytch”.

I wanted to add this little piece as a “Sesquicentennial Moment”, for posterity so to speak and I plan a more in depth post on the raid soon.

* The spelling of Newburg in the body of this post reflects the common spelling of the towns name in the mid 1860's. The spelling in the title is how it is spelled today.

The Picket

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