On the night of July 17, Confederate Captain Adam R. Johnson led 35 partisans out of Henderson, Kentucky, to raid the Federal arsenal across the Ohio River at Newburgh, Indiana. Johnson considered himself the leader of an irregular Confederate force in accordance with the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act. However, his men were civilians, and neither he nor his men wore military uniforms, making them outlaws in Federal eyes. Johnson had been dispatched to Henderson by Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest to deliver a message. He stayed after its delivery and recruited men for his cause.
Johnson planned to break into the Newburgh arsenal, a two-story brick warehouse on the riverfront, and bring the weapons back to Kentucky before Federal troops at nearby Evansville could react. The only troops defending Newburgh were those convalescing at the Exchange Hotel, which had been converted to a hospital. To Johnson’s good luck, the telegraph line between Newburgh and Evansville was not working at the time.
While scout Robert M. Martin led 24 men east of Newburgh to create a diversion, Johnson and two Confederates rowed across the Ohio and seized the arsenal. Eight soldiers manned two cannon that were trained on the town from the Kentucky side of the river.
Newburgh residents immediately realized that their arsenal had been taken. Johnson, expecting Martin’s men to cover his withdrawal, entered the hotel and captured the local Federal commander. Johnson held off the town’s defenders by showing them the two cannon and threatening to “shell this town to the ground.” The Federals did not know that the “cannon” were actually stovepipes set on wagon wheels and axles.
Johnson’s men loaded the arsenal weapons onto waiting skiffs, covered by Martin’s troops and the “cannon.” A Federal gunboat and troop transport unexpectedly blocked the Confederates’ return, prompting Johnson and two men to fire on the convoy to prevent a troop landing. Two Federals were wounded. Believing they faced a large force, the Federals withdrew, and Johnson’s Confederates returned to Henderson.
Newburgh became the first northern town to be captured by Confederates in the war. Johnson earned the nickname “Stovepipe” for this operation and received a promotion to colonel from General Braxton Bragg. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, shocked by the seemingly effortless raid, telegraphed Washington to send reinforcements. Within three days, 1,000 Federal troops had arrived and were conveyed down the Ohio by Commander Alexander M. Pennock’s fleet of steamers and tugs. The Federals crossed the Ohio and occupied Henderson and other border towns in northern Kentucky while they recovered some of the stolen weapons.
The Federals did not find Johnson’s raiders, but Pennock received “the gratitude with which the citizens of Indiana and of this locality will regard the prompt cooperation of yourself and your officers in this emergency, which threatened their security.” Johnson’s raid bolstered military recruitment in Indiana and demonstrated the need for more border patrols.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Stanchak, John E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.