Confederate Shot Cut Short Career of Partisan Ranger

Capture of Evansville… Johnson’s Forlorn Hope


From farms and factories they flocked to the Confederate colors that summer of 1862. Men who had ignored the call to arms for 15 months now were stirred to action.
They dropped hoes, harness and hammers and headed for the Union County, Ky., headquarters of Lt. Col. Adam R. Johnson’s Partisan Rangers.
What a man! Here was a daredevil to lead the South to victory, they told themselves.
The Henderson hero had started with two
men, attacking 80 Union soldiers in his home-town. Gaining four recruits, he and his six raiders fought and dispersed 350 Pennsylvania cavalrymen at Madisonville.
When 20 more enlisted they occupied Henderson, then captured Newburgh, Ind., where they seized a large supply of guns. Repulsing an angry army of 300 pursuers near Slaughters, Ky., the 27 Partisan Rangers
set up headquarters in Union County. Word went out all over western Kentucky that the 28-year-old Col. Johnson was welcoming recruits.
On horseback and afoot they traveled toward the
man who had fired them up and made them want to fight.
As he enrolled them. Col. Johnson distributed the guns captured at Newburgh. Now in August he had 300 men under arms. The band of three in June had become a battalion.
As more men arrived Johnson realized he must get more guns. Informed that there were arms at Hopkinsville, the raider picked 200 men
and led a forced march there through the night.
Arriving at daylight, they attacked the home guards, who were so surprised they surrendered without firing a gun. Johnson collected 100 stands of arms but discovered that there was a shortage of ammunition.
Clarksville! That was the place to attack!
Commanded by Col. Rodney Mason, Clarksville,
Tenn., was only 26 miles away and it had a large depot of Union army supplies. It was a strategic
an open to the South, through which supplies were sent passway from western Kentucky
Taking Col. Tom Woodward and 100 mounted men, Johnson set out at dusk. Day was breaking when they arrived at Clarksville. Advance scouts discovered that the army was headquartered at a college in the suburbs, the commandant was in his sleeping apartment in the city.
“Move against the college.” Johnson commanded Woodward. “I’ll find Col. Mason and make him surrender.” He spurred his horse down the silent street, dismounted at the commandant’s apartment and rushed upstairs. He was gone! Warned of the attack, Col. Mason had escaped in his night clothes and rushed to headquarters. Johnson galloped to the college, where he found Cols. Bob Martin and Woodward parlaying with the enemy to surrender. Martin nodded his head toward a college building.
“They’re upstairs,” he said. “Col. Mason and his officers are up there considering surrender.”
Johnson rushed inside the building and
bounded up a stairway. He leveled his shotgun at a sentry standing outside a closed door.
“The place is surrounded,” Johnson yelled. “Open that
Inside the room the raider found Col. Mason in his nightshirt, flanked by four junior officers.
Pale and shaken, the Union commander sent a subordinate out under a flag of truce to count the enemy surrounding his headquarters.
The man returned with a report that there were at least 800 Rebels out there “armed with volcanic rifles.”
Mason surrendered. The triumphant Confederates took over Clarksville. They captured 500 guns, hundreds of wagons and $1 million worth of army supplies. They destroyed the Red River bridge, cut the railroad line between Nashville and the Union army, paroled 370 prisoners and sent them to Ft. Donelson.
Moving their war booty northward to Mad-isorville,
the raiders took more recruits with them, for Clarksville had raised a company to join Johnson’s forces. Since Johnson had captured Newburgh and repulsed Col. Bethel at Slaughters the North was an angry hornet’s nest.
Evansville was frightened. If the raiders could take
Clarksville, Tenn., would they hesitate to attack Evansville, with its great Union depot of war supplies? Under orders from Indiana’s Gov. Morton, Col. John W. Foster of Evansville had marched his 76th Indiana Volunteers into Henderson. Citizens of that loyal city became sullen over the occupation. Mayor Ed Hall left town rather than subject himself to the indignities of military rule.
Drive out the rebels, ordered Gov. Morton, “in Henderson, Daviess, Webster and Union
Counties. Shoot down all guerillas in arms, and all making resistance.”
One day a rider came galloping up to Col. Johnson. Col. Foster’s forges were marching on Madisonville!
Fearing for his captured Federal supplies, Johnson called Capts. Sam Taylor and Al Fowler.
“Take 100 men,” he ordered, “and ride hard toward the Federals. Ambush them! Delay them until I can move our supplies out of Madisonville.” From three sides the raiders poured a furious fire on Foster’s advance pickets, driving them back to the main force. Foster halted, sent back for rein-forcements. By the time his column moved again Col. Johnson’s Partisan Rangers had hidden their supplies and slipped away, circling the enemy and riding to attack Uniontown.
Col. Farrow’s Union troops retreated under fire into Uniontown, followed by the hard-riding raiders, who forced them to surrender. While the Confederates were collecting captured guns and supplies, loading them into wagons and hauling them to a remote area at Geiger’s Lake, a Federal horseman rode desperately to Caseyville to tell Gen. James Shackleford of the capture of Uniontown.

Now to attack Henderson, thought Johnson.
He looked at his tired horses. Scouts rode up to tell him Shackleford was approaching from the west and Foster from the east. Scatter, men!
Under orders to fan out over the countryside and to rendezvous later, the Partisan Rangers vanished, leaving only 60 men with Cols. Johnson and Bob Martin. Of the 60 left, 13 were sick with chills and fever. Geiger’s Lake was a beautiful spot on a river bottom farm owned by David Burbank, of Henderson. Johnson’s men had hardly pitched their tents when a scout came riding up to warn them that Gen. Shackleford’s army was approaching.
Lt. Col, Bob Martin led the 45 able-bodied men down the main road under orders to ambush the Federals. Johnson remained in camp with the 13 invalids, who were shaking with fever. Sensing a possible trick, Johnson had posted a picket far down a side road, the only route accessible to the lake except the one on which Martin was waiting.
Saddle up, he ordered the sick men. The groaning Confederates weakly pulled themselves into their saddles and sat there, waiting. Meanwhile, Shackleford had discovered Martin’s am-buscade and he led his troops down the remote side road. When Johnson’s lone picket heard them coming he fired a warning shot. Johnson and his 13 men galloped around the lake. They secreted themselves in thick undergrowth and waited behind trees, Indian fashion. One hundred yards across the little lake they looked back on their pitched tents and piles of supplies.
They watched Shackleford’s advance skirmishers ride into camp, send messengers off to tell the general that it was deserted. The 14 Confederates waited patiently until the entire Federal force had formed across the lake, then opened fire. The enemy scurried in to the woods, dismounted and returned the fire.
Far off down the main road, Martin heard the shooting. He raced pell mell through high weeds ahead of his horsemen, pounding down a long lane lined with Federal troops.
They shot off his hat, wounded his horse, pierced his uniform with bullet holes. but the bearded daredevil screamed a Rebel yell, wheeled his horse and defiantly raced back past the guns again.
He formed his men in an ironwood thicket, loaded a little cannon with minie balls and blazed away at the enemy, just 100 yards off.
The Union soldiers beat a hasty retreat, fearing the entire army of Partisan Rangers was attacking them. Gen. Shackleford was wounded in a foot. The Federals faded away, leaving the raiders in charge at Geiger’s Lake with all their captured supplies.

A hero to the South, a criminal guerilla to the North, Col. Johnson knew he must go to the Con-l’ederate capital at Richmond, Va., to obtain commissions for his officers and file muster rolls with the War Department.
“The Federals have refused to recognize my men as Confederate soldiers,” declared Johnson.
“They have put Captains Paul Marrs and William Quinn and others in prison as criminals and guerrillas.”Commissioned as a lieutenant colonel under Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest, Johnson was empowered by the Confederacy to recruit men and fight for the South. Now in the autumn of 1862 he knew he must put the final stamp of legality on his forces.
Accompanied by Capt. Luke Trafton and a Negro servant, Johnson set out on a long ride to Richmond, taking with him letters to Col. William Preston Lane
of Louisville, secretary to President Jefferson Davis.
His brilliant record had preceded him, and President Davis received him cordially. His promotion to colonel in the 10th Kentucky Cavalry was dated Nov. 4, 1862.
Only 28 years old, he was sent back to Kentucky to continue his blazing attacks as leader of the Partisan Rangers.
By the summer of 1863 he was made second in command to Gen. John H. Morgan, the border raider who was sweeping through Kentucky, headed for the Ohio River and a raid into the North.

Sunday night church services were disrupted in Evansville that July 9 of 1863 when word came
that Morgan’s Raiders had crossed the
Ohio River at Mauckport, Ind. were they headed for Evansville. Men were called out of church. The home guard regiment was ordered organized. Messengers fanned out over the county, calling 1,000 men to arms. By the time they all reported by Monday noon, other regiments from Mt. Vernon, Princeton and Boonville were pouring into Evansville to defend the Union’s great army supply depot and the most important city in southern Indiana.
Col. Johnson had counseled Gen. Morgan to turn west toward Evansville but the general pushed his raiders eastward toward Ohio. Clicking telegraphs sent the news to Evansville, and the city relaxed.
Stabbing to the suburbs of Cincinnati, the Confederates were trapped under Evansville’s Gen.
Shacktond. Gen, Morgan. Morgan was captured but Col. Johnson and 300 raiders plunged into the Ohio River and swam to safety under fire.
While Gen. Morgan was in prison Col. Johnson was elevated to brigadier general and set to work reorganizing Morgan’s men. He traveled to Vir-ginia, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, massing his men and preparing for a major thrust at the North.
He conspired with the Sons of Liberty to help secretly by sending him guns from Indiana and Ohio. The arms were to be sent up Green River by steamboat and Johnson would use the boats to cross the Ohio River, seize Newburgh and march on Evansville. Secret forces in Indianapolis and Chicago were to free Confederate prisoners at Camps Morton and Douglas. Railroads were to be seized and used by invading forces.
It was a forlorn hope, for spies uncovered the plot. Gen. Johnson must be crushed! Against him Federal forces moved quickly. Johnson withdrew his forces to the Cumberland River, near Canton, Ky.

Johnson learned that the Federals were camped at Grubb’s Cross Road, a country trading place
seven miles east of Princeton on the Hopkinsville road.
“We attack at dawn,” said Johnson grimly, and his men looked to their mounts and prepared to ride.
The Caldwell County countryside was shrouded in thick fog that Sunday morning, Aug. 9, 1864, when the Partisan Rangers galloped in from the east and charged into the Union camp. Yankee troops scattered in all directions. When 40 or 50 fled toward a thicket Gen. Johnson spurred his horse ahead of them and forced them to surrender. Ordering them to face about and move toward his command, now coming up on the opposite side, Johnson was herding his prisoners along in the fog when his Confederate comrades opened fire. They had seen the blue-uniformed soldier approaching, all with guns in their hands, and started firing.
A Confederate ball struck Gen. Johnson in his right eye, ripped out his left eye and came out his left temple. He fell from his horse amid shout-ing,
shooting and general confusion. Some Federal prisoners escaped to their own lines and gave the news that Gen. Johnson was wounded.
The wounded general was carried to the home of Garland Simms, where he was nursed by Mrs.
Simms and their son Richard. Doctors came and shook their heads, fearing the wound was mortal.
That night the house was surrounded by Col.
Sam Johnson’s regiment to protect the wounded officer. A few days later Johnson’s mother and brother, William, came down from Henderson to find that he had passed the crisis. He would live, but he was sightless.
The light was going out for his beloved Confederacy, too. Strength was draining from the South from losses at Gettysburg, Chickamaugua Chattanooga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg. Grant was hammering away in the absorbing fearful losses the South could not afford to take. Sherman had captured Atlanta, starting his devastating march to the sea.
Up to Eddyville they took the blinded Gen. Johnson, his fighting career ended at 30. By boat they took him to his Henderson home, but Federal authorities demanded that he be imprisoned. He was put behind bars at Ft. Warren, in Boston Harbor.
The war ended but Gen. Johnson was kept there until May, 1865, when he was exchanged and permitted to go to Richmond. There was reunion at Fincastle, Va., with his wife in Textine hen stewas oahe soon derried
fight for the South. Blind, a general in a lost cause, Gen. Johnson decided to take Josephine and return to their Texas home.
Preparing to cross the Mississippi River, he received reports that many of his old comrades had been arrested at Henderson and charged with horse theft and other depredations while serving with the Partisan Rangers.
He must not desert them. The Johnsons took a steamboat to Henderson, where Gen. Johnson helped clear his men of charges against them. They flocked to the home of Dr. Thomas Jefferson Johnson, the officer’s father, to visit their blind leader. His men made arrangements to buy a large farm, give it to him and cultivate it for him if he would settle in Henderson. Two brothers offered to give him a house.

Thanking all his friends, Gen. Johnson took Josephine back to Texas to start life anew. There he carved a place in the community for himself as a real estate dealer and newspaper publisher.
He fathered two sons and three daughters, whom he never saw, and lived in darkness for 56 years.
In Henderson today, old timers still talk in awed tones of the gallant and fearless Adam Rankin Johnson. In a large white two-story house at 135 South
Main Street two cousins of Gen. Johnson recall his visits back in Henderson more than 50 years ago.
They are Miss Juliet Rankin Marrs and Miss
Rankin Marrs, whose father was Capt. Paul J. Marrs, quarter master for Gen. Johnson.
“Oh, yes,” said Miss Juliet, “we remember the General well. Several times he returned to Henderson to visit friends and relatives.”
At the Henderson Public Library nearby, Miss Sara Winstead, librarian, proudly shows a book
“The Partisan Rangers: Memoirs of General Adam R Johnson,” published in 1904 when the General was 70.
And the loyal city of Henderson forgets the bitterness of years gone by and still salutes a gallant son who fought for the Confederate cause. Henderson Still Remembers Fearless Gen. Adam Johnson

The Evansville Courier February 12, 1961