View Full Version : Farmer becomes deadly sniper during Civil War

02-23-09, 08:34 AM

Book review: Farmer becomes deadly sniper during Civil War
By Richard Tambling
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, February 20, 2009 2:08 PM EST
Jack Hinson’s One-Man War

By Tom C. McKenney

Pelican Publishing, $25.95

368 pages

Jack Hinson was determined to sit tight on his farm in an isolated area on the Kentucky-Tennessee border and let the Civil War swirl around his family and sweep right past.

Instead, the war came marching right up his front gate and devastated the Hinson clan.

So Jack Hinson, an “old” man in his mid-50s, showed that he could be just as resolute when it came to killing as he’d tried to be about remaining peaceful.

Hinson covertly ordered a custom-made .50 caliber rifle with a long, heavy barrel, especially designed for long-range shooting.

Then he melted into the wooded mountains near his home and became a deadly sniper whom author Lt. Col. Tom C. McKenney, USMC (Ret.) estimates killed 100 Union sailors and soldiers, mostly officers, before the war ended in 1865.

McKenney spent 15 years unearthing and piecing together the facts behind this previously untold story, which is terrific but also terrible.

McKenney painstakingly conveys all the background information that’s relevant to Hinson’s fascinating tale.

He was well-to-do, gentleman farmer in the rural area hedged in by the Cumber-

land, Tenn., and Lower Ohio rivers.

Hinson’s family and his farm meant everything to him. He was opposed to secession, and he made every effort to avoid provoking Confederate or Federal sympathizers. He even freed all his slaves, voluntarily.

But the mix of Union occupation forces and guerilla raiders bred tension, anger, and violence.

One morning, a Union patrol came upon two of Hinson’s sons, George, age 22, and John, 17, out hunting. They were disarmed, labeled rebel bushwhackers and shot to death on the spot. Jack Hinson learned of his boys’ deaths at the same instant that he watched a Union trooper install his sons’ severed heads on his front gateposts.

Hinson, whose long rifle was so accurate he could kill from 1,000 yards, was a ghostlike foe. Firing from wooded heights, he inspired fear and panic in the Federal occupation forces, particularly aboard the gunboats and transports navigating the nearby rivers.

Cool rather than fiery, Hinson walked the woods alone, except for brief stints as a scout for Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest during his operations in Hinson’s region.

McKenney says that by the end of the Civil War, the Union had not only put a price on the aged sniper’s head, but had at one time or another committed infantry and cavalry from nine regiments and a specially equipped amphibious task force of Marines to bring down Hinson.

They failed, but McKenney makes it clear that while Hinson was successful at what he meant to do, it didn’t change the terrible price paid by both sides in the war.