Jack Hinson: One Man's Retribution
September 1, 2022 | View PDF
The War for Southern Independence produced many divisions in both North and South. Southerners overwhelmingly supported the Confederate cause; a small percentage supported the North and some preferred to remain neutral. One individual who preferred neutrality was John W. Hinson, commonly addressed as “Jack” or “Old Jack.” Hinson owned a plantation called Bubbling Springs, near Dover in Stewart County, Tennessee. The area, known as Land Between the Lakes, separates the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. It was there that Jack lived with his wife and ten children. A one-time slave owner, Jack freed his slaves and they remained as workers on his farm. Although not particularly political, Hinson opposed secession. Despite Jack’s anti-secession stance and preference for neutrality, two of his sons joined the Confederate Army.
Early in 1862, after the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, Union General U.S. Grant established a presence in Tennessee. These captures secured an ongoing Union presence on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Jack Hinson literally hosted Grant in his home. The area was logistically favorable for the Federal Army to supply troops in Tennessee and Georgia. Given the large number of Confederate supporters in the area, the occupiers’ presence was not welcome and the so-called Southern “bushwhackers” used guerilla tactics to attack Union soldiers and sympathizers. This led to a Union policy of capturing, torturing, and executing suspected attackers without a trial.
Two of Hinson’s civilian sons, George (22) and Jack (17), were deer hunting in the fall of 1862 when they were accosted by a Union patrol and accused of being bushwhackers. They “were tied to a tree then shot, after which their bodies were dragged back to town. There the corpses were paraded around the Dover courthouse square as an example of the Union’s zero-tolerance policy toward resistance.” (Russell) Their heads were cut off and taken to Hinson’s farm where they were placed on gateposts. The Union patrol searched the Hinson home and surrounding buildings looking for “contraband.” Important items were well hidden from prying Yankee eyes. The lieutenant in charge wanted to arrest other members of the Hinson clan but relented once it was revealed Grant had a friendly relationship with the family.
Holding true to his Scots-Irish lineage, 57-year-old Jack Hinson developed a plan of retribution against those who murdered his sons. Old Jack got his hands on a .50 caliber Kentucky rifle, based on the British Whitworth. The rifle had a 41” barrel, weighed 17 pounds, and was hexagonal in shape. This unique weapon was capable of shooting over 2,000 yards. Additionally, the weapon could fire minie balls to more effectively take out the enemy.
After studying Union movements, Hinson developed an ambush plan, initially focusing on the Lieutenant and Sergeant responsible for his sons’ murders. He killed both of them, shooting the unsuspecting Lieutenant from his saddle. Before the smoke had cleared, Hinson vanished from sight using his extensive knowledge of the terrain to escape. It did not take long for the Yankees to figure out who initiated these acts of retribution and Jack became a target himself. Local friends warned Jack about Union plans to track him down. Hinson “sent his wife and seven of his children to Sulfur Wells” (Lamb) to stay with relatives.
Once his family was sent to safety, Jack moved to a hiding place in a ridge-top cave overlooking the Tennessee River—the shooting position was ideal. Union boats sometimes struggled against the rapids, reducing their speed to a snail’s pace. This allowed Jack time to take careful aim before pulling the trigger; he could also be more selective as to his target (mainly officers). “Legend says that the 36 eighth-inch punch marks on his sniper rifle indicate the number of victims who fell to his deadly skill.” (Lamb) In reality, Jack Hinson is believed to have used his sniping prowess to kill over 100 Yankees. Another story is that Jack did not count his kills unless he could literally put his foot on their face. [Also, late in the war, Hinson provided assistance as a guide for Nathan Bedford Forrest.]
Unfortunately for the South, there were too few Jack Hinsons to secure independence. [In hindsight, had the South adopted the guerilla tactics of Hinson--and the Confederate Indians--perhaps independence would have been accomplished.] Sadly, for Jack, the war and its devastating impact virtually wiped out his entire family.
Jack Hinson simply wanted to be left alone to live his life. Although he left a heroic legacy as perhaps America’s greatest sniper, the cost to his family was certainly not worth that distinction. The Lincoln regime’s insistence on forcing the Southern States back into the Union claimed many victims and Old Jack’s family felt the full force of the “despot’s heel.”
Sources: Jack Hinson: “A Civil War Sniper Hell Bent on Revenge,” by Shahan Russell, from American Civil War Instant Articles at: https://www.warhistoryonline.com/american-civil-war/jack-ninson-civil-war-sniper-hell.html; “The Story of American Civil War Sniper Jack Hinson and his Rifle,” by Kyle Lamb, from Guns & Ammo at: https://www.gunsandammo.com/editorial/the-story-of-civil-war-sniper-jack-hinson-and-his-rifle/247860; “The Sniper who Slayed more than 100 Union Soldiers,” from True Stories at: https://www.ozy.com/true-and-stories/the-sniper-who-slayed-more-than-100-union-soldiers/64502/. For more details, check out the book, Jack Hinson’s One-man War, a Civil War Sniper, by Tom McKenney.