Newburgh Raid

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The Newburgh Raid was an incident that occurred during the American Civil War. In it, Confederate colonel Adam Rankin Johnson captured the town of Newburgh, Indiana on July 18, 1862, using a force of only 35 men, mostly partisans he had recruited from nearby Henderson, Kentucky.[1]

Prior to the raid, Johnson served as a scout for Nathan Bedford Forrest, just missing the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, in south-central Tennessee, rejoining Forrest at the Confederate base of operations in Corinth, Mississippi. Johnson was ordered by Forrest to go to Henderson, Kentucky, to give a secret message to Mr. D. R. Burbank, a former employer of Johnson's.[2]

Just before launching the raid, Johnson's partisans camped at the Soaper Farm in Henderson.[3] With 35 men by Johnson's later count (other counts say 32), formed by combining three-man guards for John C. Breckinridge with recruits from Kentucky, to form a group of partisan rangers that would engage in guerrilla warfare.[4]


Exchange Hotel in 2010

They crossed the Ohio River on July 18, with Johnson and two subordinates, Felix Akin and Frank A. Owen, sharing one boat and the rest of the force crossing via a flatboat. Prior to crossing, Johnson strategically placed two "Quaker Guns", actually made of stovepipes, charred logs, and the axles and wheels from a broken wagon, on hills that had a view of Newburgh, and vice versa.[5] Johnson was unable to find enough firearms for all of his force, but was able to acquire enough horses for each man to receive a mount. Johnson allowed each of his men to decline to join him on the raid, but to a man they all wanted to accompany him.[6]

The only defenders available for Newburgh were eighty soldiers convalescing at a makeshift hospital that was the Exchange Hotel, under the care and command of a Colonel Bethel, a Union medical officer. This hospital was itself a tempting prize for Johnson, as it had medical supplies, commissary items, and arms for 200 soldiers that were meant for two future companies of the Indiana Legion; all of which Johnson's forces needed. Fifteen miles away, five companies of the Indiana Legion were being raised, but would not be available to defend Newburgh until after the Confederates withdrew.[7]

Johnson had crossed the Ohio River in a direct manner. The first stop for his men was the Bethel warehouse, a tobacco warehouse that also held 75 loose sabers and 130 pistol/holster sets. Now armed, his men went to the Exchange Hotel. When Johnson opened the door, he was immediately aimed at by Union rifles, but quickly informed the Union soldiers that they were surrounded and had no hope for success. The Union major in charge of the convalescing troops had told them not to resist, allowing Johnson a swift victory. Meanwhile, some of Johnson's men had captured Colonel Bethel. Johnson lent Bethel a spyglass to view the "cannons". John said to Bethel he would "shell this town to the ground" if resistance was made.[8] This caused Bethel to tell his men to offer no resistance. After securing the items he desired, Johnson paroled the captured Union officers and soldiers, and returned to the Kentucky soil.[9] Newburgh had become the first town in a Northern state to be captured.[10]


Entrance to the historic area of Newburgh

As a result of this raid, the governor of Indiana, Oliver P. Morton, was able to receive additional firearms and soldiers to defend Indiana from further incursions. Two Newburgh residents that had openly helped the Confederates were killed by a mob, an additional six residents were imprisoned in Indianapolis, four others left the town for good, and another went free after two hung juries.[11]

Historian and former Union officer Edmund L. Starling said of the raid: "[Adam] Johnson performed perhaps the most reckless, and yet most successful, military masterstroke achieve by any commander of high or low authority, in either army during the war."[12]

After the raid, Braxton Bragg had Johnson promoted to colonel. Johnson would forever be nicknamed "Stovepipe" for his success in this raid.[13]

Every year, the event is commemorated by the reenactors Cobb's Key Battery at Henderson's Sunset Park.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reid, Richard. Newburgh Raid (Sandefur Printing, 1992) p.10
  2. ^ Reid 5
  3. ^ a b Civil War in Kentucky
  4. ^ Reid 5, 9
  5. ^ Eicher, David. The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War pg.310-311.
  6. ^ Reid 9-11
  7. ^ Reid 10
  8. ^ Eicher 311
  9. ^ Reid 11-13
  10. ^ History
  11. ^ Reid 14-16
  12. ^ Thunder From a Clear Sky
  13. ^ Reid 6, Eicher 311