JACK HINSON’S ONE-MAN WAR: A Civil War Sniper.
“Jack Hinson’s One-Man War,” written by Lieutenant Colonel Tom C. McKenney, USMC (Ret), is the incredible story of a Southern civilian sniper operating during the American Civil War. Masterfully told, but difficult to research, LtCol McKenney has successfully brought to light this poignant tale of a grief-stricken man’s need for revenge.
Jack Hinson, who was approaching 60 years old, was a successful farmer near the Tennessee-Kentucky border and a devoted family man. He was known as one of that area’s leading citizens, until the “dogs of war” came calling. At first, and as did many farmers of that tumultuous period, Hinson attempted to stay neutral.
In early winter 1862, Ulysses S. Grant brought his gunboat-supported army to the walls of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River. During the following battle Hinson road the lines and offered his eyewitness intelligence to both armies, and one to Grant himself. However, his slim-to-none hopes of staying neutral would abruptly change.
Like many other communities throughout the contested South, the times of regular combat quickly turned into irregular guerrilla warfare. Attracting semi-military forces and countless freebooters, the area residents witnessed innumerable acts of inhuman cruelty and injustice. Mayhem reigned upon the families living in this once peaceful and prosperous land.
On one horrific day a Union cavalry troop appeared at the Hinsons’ door. They had captured two of Jack’s boys. The boys, caught with hunting rifles, had been taken for suspected guerrillas and were summarily executed. Identified as Jack’s sons, the patrol’s lieutenant ordered his sergeant to impale the boys’ decapitated heads on the Hinsons’ front gateposts.
After the family buried their children’s remains, Hinson swiftly turned his attention to exacting terrible vengeance. Hinson freed his slaves, moved his family west, and carefully oversaw the manufacture of a specially crafted sniper rifle. Certain that his surviving family was safe, he initiated his highly personalized war of retribution. McKenney writes, “Whatever the details, the Federals had sown the wind, and for the rest of the war, they would reap the whirlwind.”
Hidden deep in Hinson’s Scottish heritage resided the impulse for blood and retribution. The first person Hinson hunted down was the hated Union lieutenant; his second kill was the sergeant who seemed to take delight in impaling the boys’ heads on the family’s gateposts.
Moving freely throughout the wooded hills, Hinson continued his unique brand of warfare. He set up a camp at the base of what is now known as “Jack’s Ridge,” overlooking the northern flowing Tennessee River. There, at a branch known as Towhead Chute, the Union boats plowed upstream against the current. There, presenting a near stationary target, Hinson shot the boats’ captains or other officers. As time passed and his killing reputation grew, he was hunted by the local army units and a combined Marine/Navy amphibious force.
In one truly remarkable moment in naval military history, the captain of a transport loaded with armed soldiers hove to and attempted to surrender. Thinking he’d been accosted by a swarm of Rebels, the captain beached his boat and rapidly struck his colors. Alone, with no infantry support, Hinson reluctantly passed on the offer and quietly faded into the countryside.
The author writes, “It was the only time in recorded history that a fully armed naval vessel with embarked combat troops ever surrendered to one man, and it was probably the shortest period of military confinement after being captured in combat.”
Late in the war, Jack acted as a guide for General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s operations in Tennessee and Kentucky. The author estimates that Hinson, who survived the war, had killed nearly 100 individuals, including some pro-Southern renegades who plagued his neighbor. After the war, Hinson presented his trusty sniper rifle to GEN Forrest. The reader will note that the rifle’s “chain of possession” is carefully recorded in the appendix of the book.
McKenney spent 15 years researching the legend surrounding Jack Hinson’s unique war experiences. His research was difficult because Hinson’s surviving family was, at first, afraid of reprisal, while later descendants wished not to be remembered as being related to a bushwhacker. The book is a joy to read; whether you’re an old military trained scout sniper, or a hard-charging Civil War enthusiast, you’ll be captivated at this skillfully crafted literary masterpiece.
“Jack Hinson’s One-Man War” reads with the comfort of a best-seller, but in fact, this true-to-life tale might easily have been lost to history. So capture a copy, stake out a comfortable chair, and read and reflect on the righteousness of a broken-hearted father’s need for furious vengeance.