A ‘Stovepipe’ Scare

The history behind the Civil War’s Newburgh Raid

It’s been 161 years, but the Civil War raid in Newburgh, Indiana, still is a subject of intrigue.

The bloodless heist was perpetuated by a squad from Kentucky led by a man who came to be known as “Stovepipe.” On July 18, 1862, Adam R. Johnson, a young Kentuckian and future brigadier general who, according to Newburgh Museum accounts, had “aspirations to military advancement,” led about 30 men across the Ohio River to Newburgh in a rowboat and a small ferry.

The riverfront was empty at lunchtime, so Johnson’s men seized a small store of weapons from a warehouse and then bluffed about 80 Union soldiers convalescing at a hotel to surrender their own arms.

Then, Johnson’s men looted homes and stores, paroled their prisoners, and scurried safely back across the river.

Johnson recounted these events in a memoir, “The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army,” and is credited with motivating recruits to join Kentucky’s 10th Cavalry Regiment. He returned to Indiana a year later as a brigade commander in Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid into Union states.

Why was Johnson called “Stovepipe”? According to the museum, a local merchant named Union Bethell was among those lunching when Johnson’s raiders struck. Bethell had stored the weapons Johnson seized from the unguarded warehouse.

When Bethell arrived at the scene, he felt powerless to stop the looters, in part because he saw two cannons Johnson had placed across the river. But they were dummies, built with a blackened log and a piece of stovepipe. Hence, the nickname.



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