CIVIL WAR SKIRMISH FOUGHT CLOSE TO HOME
By FRANK BOYETT
Blood flowed on Main Street in 1862 as Confederate Capt. Adam Johnson brought the Civil War home to the citizens of Henderson.
The 1862 shootout, which scarcely qualifies as a skirmish, was the first armed conflict in Henderson during the war between the states. It involved an attack on the National Hotel, a two-story brick structure on Main Street where a number of Federal troops were quartered.
It's hard to say who won. The confederates killed one Union soldier and wounded seven others, but the Federals retained possession of the city.
“This affair was quite unexpected,” according to the Henderson Reporter, “although it had been known for several days that small squads of armed men were in different parts of the county committing depredations upon some of its citizens.”
Just a week earlier, the Reporter noted that a Dr. Kimley, formerly of the Union Army, had been accosted by three armed men while he was driving his buggy back from Daviess County in the company of Miss Georgia Shelby.
“He was taken out of the carriage, when one of the party got in and safely brought the lady to the residence of Mr. John McCormick, four miles from the city, and then returned to his comrades. They helped themselves to the doctor's watch and money.”
That incident, as well as the attack on the National Hotel, was carried out by none other that Johnson, who later became known as General Adam Rankin “Stovepipe” Johnson. In both instances, he was accompanied by Frank Owen and Bob Martin, who served under him in the Confederate Breckinridge Guards.
Johnson later chronicled his war experiences in a book titled “Partisan Rangers,” which Maralea Arnett used as a source in writing “Annals and Scandals of Henderson County.”
Although only three men began shooting at the National Hotel at about 11 p.m., the Union forces thought they were under attack by a much larger force. So did the Henderson Reporter, which said, “the number of the attacking party is variously estimated at from 20 to 35.” The Evansville Journal estimated the attackers at 300.
The first volley struck Lt. George B. Tyler of Cleveland, Ohio, in the chest and stomach. “Upon rising and turning to go into the house, (he) was hit several times again, receiving in all six shots, from the effects of which he died in about half an hour.”
Besides the seven wounded men, three of whom were badly hurt, “there were many others who received shots through their clothes. After the first attack the lights were extinguished in the hotel and the men prepared to defend themselves in the building to the best advantage, not knowing the strength of the cowardly assassins that had attacked them. The attacking party had all the advantage, as they could see those whom they assailed, while the latter had to shoot pretty much at random, not knowing the exact location of their assassins.”
Johnson and his two men left fairly quickly after launching the raid and spent the night at the Craighead Hatchett farm, but the Federals kept shooting at phantoms. “Firing was kept up at intervals until about half-past three in the morning.”
The Federals thought they had killed or wounded some of their attackers, because they found blood trails the next morning. But Johnson explained in his memoir that they had simply hit an old sow, who had bled while she dragged herself around.
The citizens of Henderson called a meeting the following afternoon to combat “the thieves, robbers and murderers” who were “styling themselves Southern Rights men” but whom the Reporter called “enemies of the human race.”
They drafted a statement urging citizens “to arm themselves and assist the Federal forces in capturing, killing if necessary, and driving from the county every one who has been engaged or may engage in perpetuating these outrages.”
The Reporter also added some editorial comment to the coverage:
“These guerrilla gangs we regard as worse enemies to those whom they profess to fight for than they are to those they fight against . The sooner they are cleared out the better for the community…
“They are certainly no friends of those men on the border who have Southern sympathies, or they would not make these foolish and useless raids, which cannot possibly accomplish any good for themselves and can only result in bringing innocent and law-aiding men into trouble.”
Johnson immediately fired off a letter to the paper, explaining that he and his men were bona fide Confederate soldiers – not lawless guerrillas – and that they would not harm civilians.
A few days after the shooting, the Reporter said, “matters have again assumed a quiet respect.” But it was just intermission. Within a couple of weeks, the Confederate flag would fly over the courthouse as Johnson and his men occupied the city.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, April 24, 2004
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS