John W. “Jack” Hinson started the war as an officially neutral party
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A Confederate Sniper Had More Than 100 Union Kills – All For Revenge

When we think of snipers today, chances are good we’re thinking of either Tom Berenger or some burly special operator with a high-powered rifle and his spotter. There might be a ghillie suit involved. During the Civil War, however, sniping wasn’t so easy. This was still the day of open-field engagements, smoke-filled battlefields, and muzzle-loaded weapons.

Confederate Sniper

That doesn’t mean a crack shot can’t still stack some bodies, especially if vengeance was his primary motivation. John W. “Jack” Hinson started the war as an officially neutral party. He would even offer intelligence to both sides. Then some Union soldiers killed his sons and neutrality went right out the window. 

It’s hard to imagine today, but at the time many citizens of the United States (and the Confederate States) were loyal to their state. For the people of Kentucky and its border areas with Tennessee, this was a difficult line to walk. Kentucky never seceded from the Union but many presidents there supported secession. Living in or near Tennessee (which did secede) only heightened those tensions. 

Hinson was one of those Americans who did live near the border. His views were as mixed as any Kentuckian. He was a farmer who owned slaves but was ardently opposed to secession. One of his sons had taken up arms for the Confederacy but at least two stayed at home, a movie that would lead to their deaths and the deaths of 100 Union soldiers. 

Family First

His sons George and Jack Jr. went out into the woods near his home one day with rifles, looking to hunt some deer when they were mistaken for Confederate guerrillas – bushwhackers –  and shot to death by Union troops. Their heads were cut off and put on Hinson’s gate as a warning. It was a terrible idea.

Hinson, too old to join the Confederate Army, buried his sons and eventually sent the family away from the farm. The 57-year-old then ordered a specially-made Kentucky rifle, a .50-caliber with a 48-inch barrel, weighing 18 pounds. In the hands of a skilled marksman like Hinson, it had an effective range of about a half mile but required it to be mounted on a tree limb or some other support when firing. 

His first target was the Union officer that ordered the killing of his two sons. His next target was the soldier that placed their decapitated heads on his gate. With his boys avenged, he began looking for targets of opportunity and in the Civil War-era Kentucky-Tennessee border areas, it didn’t take him very long. 

First he observed the everyday movements of Union soldiers in the area, learning their routines and duties, he then went in search of tactical positions that would give him clear views of the areas around Fort Donelson, which had recently fallen to the Union.  

The Story of Old Jack

“Old Jack” moved into a cave above the Tennessee River, where he could take shots at Union river pilots, disrupt traffic moving up and down the river, and effectively close off Union supply lines. He took down Union targets by land as well, ending the war with 36 notches on his rifle, indicating just officers. Union soldiers didn’t even warrant a notch. 

He harassed Union shipping and pro-Union locals so much that four regiments of troops were sent out to subdue him. The Federal cavalry searched the countryside near the river but Jack Hinson was nowhere to be found. He was helped along by sympathetic locals and friends and evaded capture.

He next pops up leading Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in an attack on a Union supply center. He died quietly in 1874, the war claiming five of his seven children. 

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