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  • Writer's pictureDerrick

An Indiana Legion Anti-Guerrilla Expedition in Civil War Western Kentucky

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

I came across this article in the July 25, 1862 edition of the Evansville Daily Journal, and thought the story was interesting. I think that we sometimes forget that not all military moves and operations resulted in battles or violence, and often times nothing of note really happened. The Union Rifles of Terre Haute, Indiana were one of the multiple independent companies that answered the call after Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson captured Newburg, Indiana on July 18, 1862. The Union Rifles were a part of the Indiana Legion, the organized state militia of Indiana. Unlike many Legion companies, the Union Rifles appear to have been uniformed, well armed, and well drilled. The Spencer County Legion that would fight in Owensboro, Kentucky on September 20th, was not uniformed but was well armed and well drilled, showing that there was quite a variety in Indiana Legion units. The Union Rifles' mission was to proceed up the Green River on board the ram, Hornet, and search the river for any possible members of Johnson's guerrilla's who were thought to still be in the area. The Union Rifles were going into territory that was not known for its Union support, and an area that was well known and well traveled by Confederate partisans.

While transcribing the article to this post, I did not change any of the original spelling or grammar. I thought I would let the piece speak for itself.

Their visit to Newburg and Green River-As the military movements set on foot at this place, for the purpose of chastising the marauders and thieves of Adam Johnson, can not be compromised, we propose now to perform a duty which, at the request of the military authorities, we had deferred, viz: an account of the movements of the Union Rifles of Terre Haute since their advent among us. Arriving here at five o'clock on Saturday evening on the regular train, they were marched to the Court House, and thence detailed to the various hotels for supper.

Immediately after supper they received marching orders, and proceeded at once on board the ram Hornet, for an expedition to look after the guerrillas. At the request of nearly every member of the company we joined the expedition just as it was ready to start. Casting off from the landing, the Hornet took her way up stream, and when fairly under way elicited the admiration of all on board by the handsome and rapid manner in which she plowed her way through the water, dashing the waves from her prow in white foaming spray. An hour's run carried us to Newburg, where we found a large body of armed men on the shore, all on the alert, and giving the clearest evidence that they did not mean to be surprised and invaded again.

The Hornet carried up with her three cases of guns and equipments, with a sufficiency of ammunition, which was at once taken on the wharf-boat, and distributed by Col. Bates and Capt. Bethel.

As it was determined that the boat should remain at Newburg until near morning, the "Rifles" prepared to take their rest while they had the chance, and soon the boat was covered all over, on the boiler and hurricane decks and in the cabin, with blue coats. We obtained a comfort form one of the crew, and selecting a soft spot on the hurricane deck, with the comfort beneath and the bright blue sky and sparkling starts above, laid our self down to sleep. The Sheriff of Vigo county spread his bed near us, while others stretched themselves out singly or in pairs, and soon all was hushed and silent on board the Hornet. The air was balmy and sweet, and we never slept sounder on a downy couch.

At 3 o'clock in the morning the crew were piped to quarters, and the Hornet was quickly under way for Green River, with "Rifles" all under arms, and posted properly to dispose of any skulking foe that might be in ambush on the shore, all praying they might have the audacity to attack us. We steamed rapidly down, and entered the mouth of Green River just as it was clearly light. Every man stood or lay down on his post, and ever bush, log, and tree, was scanned closely, to see if it concealed a guerrilla. Thus watching and on the alert, we reached Spottsville, where Captain Topping led his men ashore, and forming them on the bank, marched them rapidly to the bluff, and drew them up in line of battle. Consultations were held with the loyal men residing there, when it was ascertained that the guerrillas had not been there, but had crossed the river at a private ferry five miles below.

We were then marched back to the boat, and took breakfast, when we rounded out, and started again down stream. As we ran slowly down, about three miles below the locks two men were seen making their way through the brush on shore. The boat was immediately rounded to, and detail called for, which all desired to join, and many were hardly restrained from leaping ashore when ordered back, so eager were all to take a hand, if any fighting was to be done.

As soon as the boat touched land, away went the "Rifles", dashing aside the thick brush that lined the shore, and soon the woods seemed swarming with blue coats. They scoured the woods up and down the river, and for a considerable distance back from the river, and discovered two men who inhabited a cabin in the vicinity- From these men they learned that the guerrillas had crossed the river at a private ferry a mile or two below, on Saturday morning, and had not been seen since.

All again being on board, we ran down slowly, examining the shore on both sides but saw no fresh signs of horsemen having crossed the river.

Reaching the Ohio, we again steamed up to Newburg, where we received a hearty welcome from the citizens, who all came out to see and admire the "Rifles" as they marched through the streets.

After drilling for a short time, the company was drawn up in line on Front Street, and fired a volley in excellent order, which its roaring echos in the woods across the river, no doubt waked up the guerrillas and their friends for miles around.

The men again took to the boat, and the ropes were cast off, and we again returned to this city pleased and disappointed with the trip-disappointed that we found no foe to punish, and pleased at the coolness manifested by the men as we ran up the narrow, sluggish stream, where a hundred double-barrelled shot guns and as many revolvers might have been concealed within thirty feet of us. Not a man showed the slightest uneasiness or sign of fear, but all grasped firmly their rifles, ready to rain leaden death through the brush if a foe appeared.

Evansville Marine Hospital (Courier and Press)

On Monday, the Rifles again went on board the Hornet and paid a visit to Owensboro, where they were received joyously by the loyal citizens, who bestowed upon them all the kindness in their power. Refreshments, both solid and liquid, were furnished by the loyal ladies; the Stars and Stripes were raised, a thrilling Union and patriotic speech was made by Judge Ballard Smith, who carried a rifle in the ranks- a good and social time generally was had, and the boys returned to the city late Monday, in time to join the expedition to Henderson, and in search of the hospital robbers.

That they will give a good account of themselves in the hour of trial, should that hour come, we have not the shadow of a doubt. They came with their hearts filled with indignation at the insult put upon our State, and determined, if they can overtake the cowardly flying foe, to wash the insult out with his blood.

Modern satellite view of the area where the Union Rifles operate in July 1862.

If you missed last week's post on the 8th Kentucky raising the flag on Lookout Mountain, check it out by clicking here!

If you are interested in another excursion recorded in the Evansville Daily Journal, read about the 65th Indiana chasing Johnson near Madisonville Kentucky one month after the events in this article. Check it out here!

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