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  • Writer's pictureDerrick

Foster's Raid on Madisonville, Kentucky

Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson

Before I get into this week's article, I highly recommend you read the Fort Donelson blurb at the end and the links provided. There are some exciting things in the works for 2020!

On August 18, 1862 Clarksville, Tennessee fell to the up and coming Confederate cavalry commander, Colonel Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson, without the firing of a single shot. However, in so doing, Johnson left his supplies lightly guarded in Madisonville, Kentucky, and if captured, would greatly harm his efforts at raising a new regiment. The news of the fall of Clarksville greatly alarmed Lieutenant Colonel John W. Foster back in Henderson, Kentucky. Foster was the man tasked with destroying the Confederate guerrilla threat in the Western Kentucky region after Johnson earned his nickname "Stovepipe" from his raid on Newburgh, Indiana, the first Northern city to be captured by Confederate forces. Rumors were running wild, and so was the political situation in Henderson. The mayor had already disappeared and joined Johnson's growing regiment, and the city council all resigned. The 65th Indiana would not arrive in Henderson until August 20th, and a battalion of the 4th Indiana Cavalry that was set to join him there was not yet fully ready for the field. Now he had to deal with the possibility of facing off against John Hunt Morgan and Adam Johnson together. “Morgan in force will soon be in this region and overrun that part [of] KY and threaten the border[.] My latest information from the...affairs at Clarksville confirm this. I will march into [the] interior as soon as cavalry is ready with 800 infantry, 200 cavalry, and two pieces of artillery.” He readied himself to disrupt Johnson’s plans in Tennessee and western Kentucky.[1]

Trooper of the 8th Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry

Foster moved south in two sections beginning the morning of August 24th. The force he previously told Governor Morton he was bringing, was not available, but still formidable nonetheless. Companies of the brand new and only partially ready 4th Indiana Cavalry, companies of the 8th Kentucky Cavalry, and artillery would proceed over land from Henderson, a movement of about 40 miles. Two companies of the 65th Indiana would provide the infantry support, and they would take a steamer up the Green River and disembark at Ashbyburg, march southwest and join the cavalry and artillery somewhere north of Madisonville. This combined force numbered near 600 men.[2]

The day would be extremely eventful for Platter’s 4th Indiana. On August 24th, the men arrived in Evansville and finally received their horses and necessary equipment for their mounts. The men had not yet had the opportunity for a mounted battalion drill before being sent to Kentucky. Once this was accomplished, the ferries began taking them down river to Henderson where they joined Foster’s column for the march to Madisonville. The 4th would have their horses for less than 48 hours when the time came for them to meet the enemy.[3]

Johnson had to act quick. Time would not allow him to capture the Federals at Donelson and head north to stave off Foster’s approach on Madisonville. He decided that Madisonville would take precedence. The amount of supplies must have been considerable for him to take so many men from the impending attack on Fort Donelson, which may have fallen along with its supplies and arms had he stayed. Johnson is not clear how many men he initially brought with him, but it was at least 100. The remainder were temporarily left under the command of Martin and Woodward who began to move toward Dover and the remainder of the 71st Ohio who were in the fort there.[4]

This particular fort that Woodward attacked was not the large Fort Donelson that was surrendered earlier that February, but a smaller one more easily defended by a garrison force such as the four companies of the 71st Ohio. On August 25th, Woodward led an attack on that place, losing his horse and two side arms as reported by the Federals. Casualties were light for both sides after Major James Carlin refused Woodward’s demand for surrender. Martin later wrote that he made a mistake in ceding control of the force to Woodward. “Then it was I made a fatal mistake by sending for Col. Woodward, who had more experience than I. When he rode up I told him I would waive rank, and asked him to take command and make the fight. We were badly whipped…He had reversed my whole plan of attack.” The Confederates fell back toward Clarksville, and the 71st did not pursue, but the 5th Iowa Cavalry from Fort Henry clashed with the combined force at the burned out Cumberland Ironworks. Both sides suffered only a few dozen combined casualties.[5]

While Woodward blundered at Fort Donelson, Johnson quickly made for Madisonville and was able to reach the city before Foster and his combination of cavalry, infantry, and artillery. Foster was moving, quite frankly, slow even though just days later he would state that his men did not bring any camp equipage and were living off the county. On the other hand, his infantry and cavalry had literally just arrived and caution may have been necessary.[6]

Johnson later wrote that he deployed two companies numbering about a 100 men to slow Foster’s advance. Foster does not give mention of the Confederate numbers, but just the particulars of the action. In a telegram to Governor Morton, Foster related the events of the march on Madisonville. “ nine half o'clock this morning cavalry was fired upon by the guerrillas two miles from here in ambush[.] After falling back cavalry dismounted and drove them back a mile through the thick brush and hills where they waited for infantry...” The fight for Madisonville and its Rebel supplies was about to unfold in a way no one quite expected.[7]

A soldier-correspondent with the Evansville Daily Journal recorded a rather lengthy report while marching with Foster’s command. “We again took up our line of march, and in about one hour the cavalry skirmishers reported Johnson’s band of cut-throats to be a few miles ahead. The day was terribly hot, and our men were very tired, some of them gave out entirely, and dropped off all along the road. We had to halt about every mile and rest, while squads went out to fill all the canteens with water. If we had not have got water I have no doubt we should have lost many men...Col. Foster told us there was a chance for a ‘brush’ with the enemy, which seemed to instill new life into our men, and all wanted to get just one shot at the guerrillas...Here we found that the battle had already begun. The cavalry had made a charge, and three of them came off badly wounded...the boys went down the road quite lively. The cavalry then went in, and the shooting was carried on very briskly. They then fell back...and the infantry ordered to ‘Advance!’”[8]

The two companies of the 65th finally arrived on the scene sometime in the afternoon as reported by Foster. Obviously, as the correspondent relates, the heat was causing multiple delays, and the greenness of the soldiers surely added to the slow pace of the march. Once on the scene, the infantry deployed split down the road with one company advancing on the right side, and the correspondent’s company moving forward on the left. After marching in line of battle through some woods, they finally saw their enemy. “...we came to the edge of a tobacco field when we saw them on a little hill just beyond, about 100 yards distant. Our officers then ordered us to fire! which we did with a will. The enemy did as they generally do- ‘skedaddled.’ We did not get a man hurt, for they only fired a few shots in return.” Foster reported to Governor Morton, “...two companies were deployed and drove them back after a sharp engagement when the rebels fled. Five rebels killed, wounded unknown. Seventeen prisoners.” The fight did not go as intended as the Partisan Rangers did not have any reason to offer anything more than the delaying action they executed. Casualties were light, as the Federals lost just one man killed, and only a handful were wounded.[9]

Lt. Colonel John W. Foster

The extremely thirsty, hungry, and tired Indiana men marched into Madisonville with colors flying. The Union citizens came out to provide provisions, while the “...secesh citizens shut up their stores, and run away…” What happens next, is typical of being in a mostly hostile country while chasing, but never catching, an elusive enemy. Many of the men helped themselves to whatever they wanted. The writer freely admits some of the men resorted to stealing. “We broke upon their business houses and took bacon, coffee, beans, sugar, salt, cigars, &c.” They also played jokes on the terrified prisoners by shouting things like, “hang them” and “shoot them,” even though they had no intention of doing such a thing. The exhausted soldiers then camped for the night on the courthouse lawn.[10]

Johnson, it would seem, had found a way to escape Foster once again, and was able to safely remove his supplies before the Federals entered the town, much to the chagrin of the Federal soldiers hoping to finally have a thorough fight with the elusive rebels. It is unusual that Foster did not make use of his light force and move more quickly, as he seems to have moved with much more speed in earlier and later engagements. Without camp equipage slowing his advance, he should have been able to beat Johnson to Madisonville. Johnson had 20 more miles to travel, and still had time to deploy his thin force and remove the supplies. Granted, Foster could never really have any idea of the size of the force that he was approaching, and the papers tended to always overestimate the size of the Partisan Rangers. Perhaps it was the heat and the effects of the drought, or maybe it was the fear of the unknown.[11]

Foster did relay the positives of this little adventure back to Governor Morton that along with the few Confederate casualties and prisoners, “We captured a number of horses and arms.” It appears that Foster implied to Morton that he was going to sit at Madisonville and wait for Johnson to return when he wrote that he expected Confederate reinforcements to be moving his way from Clarksville. Foster, did not ask for reinforcements of his own or make any indication that he was leaving soon. Evidently he believed he had sufficient men available to repel any oncoming Confederate attack by Johnson. Foster was also successful at disrupting Johnson in Tennessee. Had he not moved toward Madisonville, it is likely that Johnson and Woodward would have seen more success in the Dover, Tennessee area.[12]

Of course, and as is expected, Johnson’s version of events around Madisonville differ. The two companies he deployed to skirmish with and delay Foster were commanded by Captain Sam Taylor and Captain Al. Fowler. Johnson calls Foster’s advance “cautions, dilatory, even timid…” and that he had “little to fear from this Yankee colonel…” Johnson divided his small command into three wings and attacked the pickets of Foster’s force. In keeping Foster in check, Johnson sent for Robert Martin to reunite the rest of the regiment and make a move toward their next place of victory.[13]

Image of Captain Al Fowler from Johnson's book, "The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army."

Even though Johnson was forced to move his supplies, he again eluded captured, almost as if he were the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, reborn to fight the Union in Western Kentucky. The past few days and weeks had been a whirlwind for both sides in the area. Johnson had captured two towns, hundreds of prisoners, gained hundreds of recruits, much needed weapons, a cannon, and valuable supplies. He also continued to frustrate Foster. However, the regional Union men were going to eventually have their day.

If you would like to read the next two parts in Johnson's activities in western Kentucky in the late summer of 1862, check out these other articles!

Also, be sure to follow my Facebook Page to stay up to date on all the upcoming articles and posts, plus some Kentucky Civil War History! Click HERE!

There is some extra cool news coming out of Fort Donelson! Suprisingly, the Fort Donelson Campaign seems to get swallowed up by the rest of the action in 1862 when it comes to study by us learners of the Civil War. To rectify this, and bring some visitors to the park and some of the lightly trodden sites, a group of us is working on bringing a "seminar" of sorts to the area. There isn't a set time or date just yet, but the goal is 2020. This is something you are going to want to follow as there are some amazing historians and authors in the works to join us. For some behind the scenes thinking, check out one of my favorite blogs by Darryl Smith over at Ohio at Perryville. Darryl wrote a three part series explaining his thinking and reasoning to this awesome idea. I highly recommend that you check them out!

In the coming weeks, I'll be posting more about this as things develop. Stay tuned!

[1] Mulesky, Thunder from a Clear Sky, 114-115.; John W. Foster Telegraph to Oliver Morton, August 20, 1862.; Reid, 4th Indiana Cavalry, 9.

[2] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. September 2, 1862, 1.; John W. Foster to Oliver Morton, August 20, 1862, Governor Morton Telegraphs and Slips, Indiana State Archives, IUPUI University Library Digital Publication,, accessed February 12, 2018

[3] Reid, 4th Indiana Cavalry, 9.

[4] Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 116.; Martin, Service by Kentucky Cavalry, 114.

[5] Martin, Service by Kentucky Cavalry, 115; Cooling, Fort Donelson’s Legacy, 102.

[6] John W. Foster Telegraph to Governor Morton, August 26, 1862.; Reid, 4th Indiana Cavalry, 9-10.; Mulesky, Thunder from a Clear Sky, 114-115.

[7] John W. Foster Telegraph to Governor Morton, August 26, 1862.

[8] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. September 6, 1862, 1.

[9] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. September 6, 1862, 1.

[10] Evansville Daily Journal. 1862. September 6, 1862, 1.

[11] Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 116-117; John W. Foster Telegraph to Governor Morton, August 26, 1862.

[12] John W. Foster Telegraph to Governor Morton, August 26, 1862.

[13] Johnson, Partisan Rangers, 117.


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