Monday, July 16, 2012

Occupation of Henderson, Kentucky

It had not been many days since Adam Rankin Johnson and his two companions had attacked the Provost Guard at Henderson, Kentucky. In the interim the good citizens of the town set forth a resolution condemning the band as “guerrillas and outlaws” that was signed by good Union men including Archibald Dixon, past Governor of Kentucky.

Johnson read the resolution in the Henderson Reporter, and promptly decided to issue a statement of his own. On July 10, 1862 he wrote a letter to Governor Dixon and all the citizens of Henderson. Robert Martin would hand deliver this missive to Dixon even though the town was thick with Federal troops. In the letter Johnson declared that all of the men under his command at the time of the attack were regularly enrolled “Confederate soldiers”. There were only three men involved, all being in the Confederate army so this statement was entirely true. He went on to say that all those who had signed the resolution “has declared war against the Confederate States, and against us, and I inform you emphatically and plainly that if that resolution is not rescinded in the next issue of the paper, we will consider you as enemies and confiscate your property.” The next issue of the Reporter contained a full retraction.

After Bob Martin delivered Rankin's message, he coolly went to the livery stable and had his horse fed and cared for. Then, in the company of one other man, he made his way to a friends home and ate dinner. Doctor Thomas Johnson, his host, was a staunch Unionist but as was often the case during this war, he made Martin a welcome guest. Adam Johnson was his son.

After dinner, Martin walked about town a while then posted himself casually on a rail fence and watched Yankee infantry and artillery at drill, quietly counting their number. After a time he returned to the stable to retrieve a horse. He had conspired to make off with one of the fine Federal cavalry horses that were also there. Rather disappointed no one was around to fight for the animal, he chose his new mount, climbed aboard and was just in the act of absconding when the stable owners son, Jimmy Quinn, entered. Quinn latched onto the reigns and declared the rebel had made a mistake, and he should dismount and saddle his own horse. Of course Martin was pleased to have some sport. He drew his revolver and thrust it in the young mans face and said if the lad did not let go, he would surely shoot him. Jimmy was unmoved and declared that if he were shot, Martin would be killing a true son of the Confederacy. Jimmy was between a rock and a hard place. His family was well known for their pro Southern stance and if Martin took the horse, the Federals would undoubtedly suspect that Jimmy had aided in the theft and they would burn the stable, their only means of income and the only property they owned. Martin thought on it and then dismounted. The youth had to much grit to shoot anyway, and he was not about dealing hurt to true patriots of the South. It would not be long before 18 year old Jimmy would join the ranks of the Breckenridge Guards.
In the days following Johnson and his small core of followers did not remain idle, and spent their time recruiting in the country. At the time they entered and occupied Henderson on July 17, 1862 the band counted about 30 men. The occupation of the town was unopposed, the Federal garrison and a number of cavalry that had chased the rebels had departed, bound for Louisville, the day before. Johnson, by Martin's reckoning, had expected to find at least 600 cavalry there.
Among a delegation of citizens sent to greet the burgeoning group were the mayor, the county judge, and a future governor of Kentucky. A concern the delegation had was what were Johnson's intentions in dealing with the Unionist population, a number of whom had crossed the Ohio River to safety. Johnson responded by saying that his letter to Governor Dixon was still in force, that is, basically, that if the citizens did not oppose the rebels, they would be left alone. Otherwise they would be considered enemies of the Confederacy and treated accordingly. This calmed the delegation and the inhabitants of the town. The Stars and Bars now fluttered above the courthouse. In time the judge and mayor would be counted among the men of Johnson's troop. [1]
Of course it was not all that easy for on the river the armed steamer “Brilliant” was on station. Her master, Charles G. Perkins, a volunteer sailor, came, in person, and demanded that the flag be taken down or he would shell the town. Johnson refused. To insure no such thing occurred, Johnson held Perkins “hostage” until he was ready to leave which was about nightfall when he had completed collecting stores and arms about the town. He most likely left to make sure there would be no excuse for anyone, besides Perkins, to fire upon the town. [2]
Brigadier-General Jeremiah T. Boyle, Military Governor and commander of the District of Western Kentucky sent warning to Major general Don Carlos Buell on July 18:

Mr. Sinley, a responsible man and uncle to Captain Starling of Major general Crittendens staff, arrived here today from Henderson, saying that a band of guerrillas has taken possession of that place. There is more danger in Kentucky than is realized.[3]

It should be remembered that John Morgan was now about two weeks into his raid through Kentucky and Johnson's action was but a fan to those flames.  Two days later Boyle again contacts Buell and the dispatch in part reads:

There are bands of guerrillas in Henderson, Daviess, Webster, and Union counties. A rebel captain (A.R. Johnson) issued a proclamation at Henderson that the Yankee government had surrendered Kentucky to Jeff Davis...” [4]

The story of the proclamation is probably hearsay, although Johnson did issue a call to Confederate arms to the citizens there. [5]  Boyle also informed Buell he would clean out Johnson's and the other guerrilla bands after he "was rid of Morgan".  

The occupation of Henderson produced quite a stir but held no great value to the Confederate war effort. It did yield some new recruits, about 50 rifles, food, and medical supplies. [6]
July 18 would produce similar results, only that day would see Johnson and his command across the Ohio River. They would assume their place in the history of the American Civil War with the occupation of Newburg, Indiana, the first northern town to fall into the hands of Confederate soldiers.

The Picket

1- Johnson, Adam R., The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army, 1904, pages 97-103
2- Mulesky, Raymond, Thunder from a Clear Sky, 2006, page 48
3- War of the Rebellion, Official Records of the Union an Confederate Armies. Series 1, Volume 16, Part 2, page 181
4- O.R. Series 1, Volume 16, part 1, page 748
5- Muelsky, pages 46-47
6- O.R. Series 1,Volume 16, part 2, page 994

Sources 1, 2, and 5 retrieved from Googlebooks
Source 3, 4, and 6 retrieved from

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