Not everyone who fought against the Union did so because they believed in the Confederate cause. For some the motivation was revenge. This was the case for Jack Hinson. Living near Dover, Tennessee, Hinson tried to stay neutral. During the battle at Fort Donelson he made it known he would not take sides. His only concern was for his family. During the battle he traversed the lines as a neutral and after the battle General Ulysses S. Grant visited the Hinson farm near Dover as a guest.
So why did Jack Hinson become a sniper who killed numerous Union officers? In his book, “Jack Hinson’s One Man War – A Civil War Sniper” Tom C. McKenney tells the compelling story.
Although one of Jack’s grown sons joined the Confederate army, Jack opposed secession and intended to remain neutral. At the beginning of the war Jack Hinson owned a large farm, called Bubbling Springs, where his wife, eight of his ten children and his slaves lived and worked. Yes, Jack Hinson owned slaves who worked in his home and on the farm. McKenney says they were treated as extended family and some of their descendents still live in the area. Nevertheless, Jack Hinson did not support the Confederate cause until Union troops attacked his family.
One day when his two teenaged sons were out hunting, a Union patrol stopped them and accused them of being bushwhackers. Without benefit of trial, they took the boys to Dover and executed them. As if this injustice were not enough, the officer in charge ordered the boys beheaded and their heads delivered to the Hinson farm where they were placed on the gate posts.
If you think these types of horrific events did not happen during the Civil War, then you’ve only heard the cleansed version of history. I grew up in this area of Tennessee, just 30 miles from Dover. Many families passed down stories of atrocities that the official versions want to forget. Why did these atrocities happen? Once Tennessee became occupied territory, the better Union officers and troops moved on to the more active battle fronts. That left the less capable officers and less disciplined soldiers as occupational forces. Combine that with disgruntled Confederate sympathizers who carried on a guerilla-type warfare and you can better understand what happened to the Hinson boys.
Jack Hinson was a God-fearing man who believed in vengeance. He quietly commissioned a special sniper rifle and began using it on the Union patrols. He targeted only the officers because he believed that they were responsible rather than the soldiers who merely carried out orders. When a friend warned him that the Union troops were going to arrest him, he bundled up his wife and younger children and sent them to safety with relatives in West Tennessee. In a winter snowstorm Jack Hinson entrusted his family’s safety to his slaves who got them through the snow and across the Tennessee River. Hinson stayed behind to continue his sniping. When the Union troops arrived at the farm to arrest Hinson, they were met by defiant slaves. The Union soldiers burned the farm.
Hinson lived in a cave on a bluff high above the Tennessee River. At that time the rivers were the superhighways that transported troops and supplies to the Union army. From his vantage point overlooking the river, he shot Union officers and river pilots on the riverboats that passed below him. Hinson managed to disrupt traffic on the river and terrorize the crews and passengers on the riverboats.
Jack moved from time to time and carefully protected the local citizens who helped him. When he ventured across the river to visit his family, he learned that two of his younger children, who were sick with measles at the time of their escape, had died. To Hinson, the Union had caused their deaths. He continued his one-man campaign against the Union. Later his son in the Confederate Army died in battle and his other grown son died in a guerrilla raid.
Jack Hinson never officially joined the Confederate Army, but he did aid them. Before the Battle of Johnsonville, Jack acted as scout and guide for General Nathan B. Forrest, and he was with the Confederate troops during the battle.
Although hunted as an outlaw, Jack Hinson was never captured. After the war he settled what was left of his family (only five of his ten children survived) on White Oak Creek. The scarcely populated area provided a safe haven where Jack lived his remaining years.
For a thorough and well researched account of the life of Jack Hinson, read “Jack Hinson’s One Man War – A Civil War Sniper” by Tom C. McKenney. He skillfully weaves Jack Hinson’s life into the events of the day. The former Marine uses his military background to help the reader understand the weapons, tactics and terrain. His extensive research included scouring military records and personal accounts, visiting the sites and conducting extensive interviews. McKenney’s fascinating, descriptive accounts make the reader feel he is actually there. I especially appreciated his description of the land “Between the Rivers” since I grew up in this area bounded by the Tennessee River on the west and the Cumberland River to the East and North. McKenney’s explanation of the lead up to the war and his detailed accounts of the battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson are excellent and confirm the stories I heard growing up. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Civil War history.