Confederate Brigadier General. Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson, a native of Henderson, is one of the area's most colorful civil War heroes. In July 1862, Johnson made a daring raid with a small force across the river into Newburgh, Indiana to capture Union guns.
Johnson launched the raid from the William Soaper farm east of town. Accounts of the incident vary. Exactly what happened remains a mystery.
"... I came here to get these guns, I have them, and I purpose to keep them... but if I am hindered or fired on, I'll shell this town to the ground."
In his memoir, Johnson writes of his brilliant plant for capturing Union guns. He first constructed dummy artillery pieces from charred logs, stovepipes, and wagon axles, placing them on a bluff visible from Newburgh. He then crossed the river, with twenty-six men and seized the unguarded arsenal. While his men confiscated the weapons, Johnson entered the hotel behind the arsenal and found eighty men with guns pointed directly at him. Johnson boldly commanded the men "not to fire a gun or snap a cap," !est they be slaughtered by his troops. The men lowered their guns. While leaving Newburgh, Johnson learned that the town's Home Guards were preparing an attack. He approached their commander, Col. Bethel, and directed his attention to the "artillery"
across river, poised to filre on the town. The ploy worked; Johnson and his men escaped unharmed with their plunder.
"Johnson and his men made war on sick soldiers and unguarded hospitals before they sulked back across the river after they had stolen what they could."
The Evansville Daily Journal
and Union army correspondence tell a different story than that recorded by Johnson himself. According to the Journal
he did indeed construct stovepipe artillery, and the building he seized was a hotel; however, the newspaper claimed that the hotel was used as a hospital during the war. Instead of able-bodied men, Johnson found 80 sick and wounded who wanted to fight but were restrained by the surgeon on duty.
In addition, rather than taking only guns, Johnson looted Newburgh for several hours, aided by two pro-Southern Newburghers, and demanded a ransom of $20,000 from the bank—which was partly paid—to spare the town from being burned. Johnson and his men escaped unscathed, but the two townsmen who assisted Johnson's raiding party were apprehended and killed by their fellow citizens. Whether Johnson was a hero or a villain, the daring he displayed in capturing Newburgh with only a handful of men secures him a place in local legend history.
Local Funding Provided by the City of Henderson, Kentucky
and County of Henderson, Kentucky
Interpretive Signs Developed by The Forrest C. Pogue Public History Institute, Murray State University
Project Funded by the Kentucky Transportation Department