Adam Rankin (Stovepipe) Johnson, frontiersman, Confederate general, and town founder, was born on February 8, 1834, in Henderson, Kentucky, the son of Thomas J. and Juliet (Rankin) Johnson. In 1854 he left the drugstore where he had worked since he was twelve and moved to Hamilton Valley in Burnet County, Texas, then the edge of the western frontier. There he gained a reputation as the surveyor of much virgin territory in West Texas, as an Indian fighter, and as a stage driver for the Butterfield Overland Mail. On January 1, 1861, he married Josephine Eastland of Burnet. The couple had six children.
With the outbreak of the Civil War Johnson returned to Kentucky and enlisted as a scout under Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was one of the few members of the Fort Donelson garrison who escaped capture by evacuating the fort with Gen. John B. Floyd. His subsequent exploits as commander of the Texas Partisan Rangers within the federal lines in Kentucky earned him a colonel's commission in August 1862 and a promotion to brigadier general on June 1, 1864. One of his most remarkable feats was the capture of Newburgh, Indiana, from a sizable Union garrison with only twelve men and two joints of stovepipe mounted on the running gear of an abandoned wagon. This episode won him his nickname. When Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his men were surrounded on Buffington's Island during Morgan's famous raid, Johnson and his men escaped by swimming the Ohio River. On August 21, 1864, Johnson attacked a federal encampment at Grubbs Crossroads, near Canton in Caldwell County, Kentucky, before daylight; he was accidentally shot by his own men and became totally blind. After capture by the federals he was imprisoned at Fort Warren until the end of the war.
Upon his release he returned to Texas, where he lived for his remaining sixty years and founded the town of Marble Falls, "the blind man's town." He worked to develop the water power of the Colorado River, founded the Texas Mining Improvement Company, and served as a contractor for the Overland Mail. General Johnson died at Burnet on October 20, 1922. His funeral services were held in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol in Austin, and he was buried in the State Cemetery there. His memoir, The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States Army (1904), is one of the most interesting first-hand narratives of antebellum Texas and cavalry operations in Kentucky and Tennessee and was selected as one of the "Texas Basic Books" by John H. Jenkins III. Thomas S. Miller, formerly one of Johnson's troopers, wrote of his old commander: "Paladin of old was not more daring and heroic than this Southern knight on the field of battle. No man in the Southern army, no matter how high his rank, displayed more military skill. . . . He was literally the `Swamp Fox' of Kentucky. [In spite of his blindness] perhaps no man has led a more cheerful and happy life."
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Adam R. Johnson, The Partisan Rangers of the Confederate Army, ed. William J. Davis (Louisville: George G. Fetter, 1904). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
“Johnson, Adam Rankin,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
February 23, 2011
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