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The Skirmish at Madisonville

In late August 1862, Adam "Stovepipe" Johnson was forced to evacuate his supplies from Madisonville, Kentucky after Union Colonel John W. Foster made a move toward the town. The rest of Johnson's men, which would become the 10th Kentucky Partisan Rangers, were still in Tennessee after they had captured the city of Clarksville and the Union garrison there just days before. Foster was placed in command of Henderson, Kentucky, a city on the Ohio River down stream from Newburgh and Evansville, Indiana. He had been given this command after Johnson had captured Newburgh, and sent all of Indiana into a panic in July. His mission was to clear the Green River region of Confederate guerrillas like Johnson who operated in the area. His advance on Madisonville was hoped to accomplish part of that mission.


Johnson was in Tennessee when he heard of Foster's planned move and immediately left for Madisonville with a token force to move his supplies and slow Foster's advance. Johnson claims he had about 100 men to do this. He attacked Foster as he marched south from Henderson, and was successfully able to move his supplies while Foster was delayed by Johnson's skirmishers. Johnson would prove to be elusive to Foster and the Union army the remainder of the year.


The following is an article found in the September 2, 1862 edition of the Evansville Daily Journal. The writer, known only as TOM, was a soldier in the 65th Indiana, the infantry force Foster was marching south.

ARMY CORRESPONDENCE

65th In the Field

Madisonville, August 26, 1862

Friend Thayer: Thinking that a reliable account for our adventures since we left Henderson would not be uninteresting to your readers, I have taken the liberty of writing to that effect:

We left Henderson on Sunday morning at 3 o’clock. We immediately took up our line of march for Madisonville, Ky, about 20 miles distant. We traveled till about 4 o’clock the next morning when we halted, and just laid right down where we were (in the middle of the road) and fell asleep. We were called up again about 6 A.M., and marched for about an hour and a half, when we halted for breakfast, which consisted of a lot of roasting-ears and some bacon, which we “pressed” into the service from a secesh family. Capt. Stilwell of Gibson, pressed a mule into the service also. After resting here about fifteen minutes, we were reinforced by a company of Shackelford’s Ky. cavalry, and two pieces of artillery from Henderson, under command of Lieut. McLaughlin of our company (Capt. Hornbrooks) who had been detailed for that service, making our force about six hundred strong. 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. When we got within ten miles of Madisonville we halted and Col. John W. 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. After going about a mile and a half we were halted. Here we found that the battle had already begun.



Johnson was in Tennessee when he heard of Foster's planned move and immediately left for Madisonville with a token force to move his supplies and slow Foster's advance. Johnson claims he had about 100 men to do this. He attacked Foster as he marched south from Henderson, and was successfully able to move his supplies while Foster was delayed by Johnson's skirmishers. Johnson would prove to be elusive to Foster and the Union army the remainder of the year.

The cavalry had made a charge, and three of them came off badly wounded. Lieut. Col.

Johnson then spoke a few words to the men, saying, that he did not believe there was a coward in the ranks, and said he wanted them to do honor to old Indiana. He then gave the command “Forward!” and the boys went down the road quite lively. The cavalry were then sent ahead, and deployed into the woods, where they were fired on by the enemy. The cavalry then “went in,” and the shooting was carried on very briskly. They then fell back, (with a number of their men wounded, some of them mortally) and the infantry were ordered to “Advance!” We were the 2d company; the first company was deployed off the road to the right and our company to the left. Those on the right did not get to see them; they had gone to the left of the road! We were extended in line of battle with Captain Hornbrook in command of the right wing, and Lieut. Leavitt in command of the left winig. We steadily advanced, and in about ten minutes we came to the edge of a tobacco field (having got out of the woods) when we saw them on a little hill just beyond, about 100 yards distant. Our officers, (than whom noone can excel in coolness and bravery) 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. The Cavalry then charged, but could not catch them. We found we had killed nine of the thieves, and the cavalry killed some also. We suppose the loss of the enemy will reach 20 killed, and we don’t know how many wounded.


We advanced in line of battle for a few hundred yards further, when we came into the road once more. Our men were about perishing for water, for they had none in their canteens when they went into battle. Captain Hornbrook’s company was the only infantry company...illegible...Madisonville with colors, where we learned the rebels had just left- the cowards. Only two hundred of our men being in the action. We took possession of the city, and the Union citizens took our men to their houses and gave them the best provisions they had. The secesh citizens shut up their stores, and run away; but we confiscated everything we could find. We broke open their business houses and took bacon, coffee, beans, sugar, salt, cigars, &c. When we first got to town we were so exhausted that our captain went into a drug store and got a gallon of whiskey for each company, which revived the boys considerably. We took some twenty prisoners, confiscated three or four negroes, and some mules and horses.


Some of the prisoners thought they would be shot immediately, and begged quite hastily, which was very amusing to our boys, and they would say “hang them,” “shoot them,” and such like, to scare them. One of our boys, who had fallen out of the ranks from exhaustion, came straggling into town in the evening, and was fired on by two guerrillas, slightly wounding him in the shoulder. I did not learn his name; he was a German. We are now camped in the Court House yard, where we are resting finely. It is reported that Johnson is coming at us again with 800 men, having received re-enforcemt. We are expecting re-enforcements also, consisting of cavalry , infantry, and 4 more pieces of artillery. We hope they will give us another chance; if they do, we will try and rid this part of Kentucky from their odious presence.


Quite an amusing incident occurred during the engagement. When the men fired, the round , a piece of a gun-cap from a comrade flew into the face of one of the men, striking him on the cheek, and bringing blood; he instantly exclaimed, “I am shot!” and it took some time to make him think otherwise. The men laughed heartily at this occurrence. We don’t know how long we will be here; but I guess we will get another “crack” at them. If anything transpires worthy of note I will write you again. The Vanderburg Company are all in fine spirits, and have the most unbounded confidence in their officers. We are satisfied they are the right men.

Yours Respectfully,

TOM

P.S. One of the cavalry is dead.

There is history that needs to be remembered.  

Lost and forgotten.  Too many stories from our past have collected dust on bookshelves, or have been left behind with previous generations.  Join me as I piece together the tales about the 1862 Western Kentucky Summer Campaign in Laid Low in the Dust, and John Locke of the 14th Tennessee.

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Derrick Lindow              Owensboro, Kentucky            derricklindowauthor@gmail.com

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