We Shall Conquer or Die: Interview with Author Derrick Lindow

We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky (Savas Beatie, 2024) is author Derrick Lindow's first published book and tackles a fascinating if seldom-discussed aspect of the war in the western theater. 

We recently sat down with Derrick Lindow to discuss his new book We Shall Conquer or Die: Partisan Warfare in 1862 Western Kentucky published by Savas Beatie. Derrick works as an 8th grade history teacher in Owensboro, Kentucky where he lives with his wife and two children. In addition, Derrick is administrator of the Western Theater in the Civil War website and had ancestors that fought on both sides of the conflict. 

Readers are encouraged to secure their copy of this exciting new title through the links below: 

Hardcover 6" x 9", 240 pp, images, maps, $32.95

Savas Beatie (strongly preferred)

Amazon (if you must support the Bezos empire make sure you leave a review!) 

1. We Shall Conquer or Die tackles a rarely visited topic of the war in the western theater, partisan actions. What inspired you to choose this topic for a book-length study?

    Honestly, I never intended to turn this into a book length project. The Battle of Sutherland’s Hill has always been touted as the “only” battle fought in Daviess County, where I live. Ever since middle school, I have wanted to learn more about it when my dad stopped at the Kentucky historical marker to let me take a look. As I got older, I always wanted to learn more about the fight, but was never really able to find much. There just wasn’t anything that I could easily find as a teenager.

     In 2017, I decided to do some serious research and began to uncover quite a bit of the story, with the intention of making a small booklet for local consumption. The more I dug, the more I realized that the events in my hometown were actually connected to several other important raids, battles, and skirmishes and the book was born! When I started the research, my interest in the irregular war in Kentucky really grew, and it is now to the point where there could possibly be another project on that kind of topic in the future.

2. Any special challenges conducting research on this topic?

    The biggest challenge was finding information on the units and people. Some of them proved to be very obscure with very little books, diaries, or letters written about or by them that were easily attainable. Several high ranking officers failed to submit reports on various occasions, or else those reports just failed to survive. I had to do a lot of searching in period newspapers, which proved to be a gold mine of information. I also made several trips to the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis to look at the several boxes of documents that they had on the Indiana Legion. That was always my favorite thing to do, and it was a lot of fun to handle the period documents and see the reports written by the men I was researching. What I had to do was search for the small details, which, somehow, ended up leading to the larger details on several occasions. 

3. As a first-time author, what were some significant learnings along the way? Any advice for other first-time authors? Things to avoid?

    I learned a lot! Since this was the first time I had ever done anything like this, I went about it in a way that I definitely would not do now. As I said above, I did not intend for this to turn into a book so I started writing a part that ended up being toward the end. Then I started writing different chunks at a time. I definitely will not be doing that in the future! I would suggest having a clear outline of what you want to do, with the majority of the research completed beforehand. I wrote a large portion of the original manuscript while also researching, and so I had to constantly go back and add in more information, which was quite time consuming and frustrating. I also know how to properly organize a book now that I’ve gone through the process. If I follow my own advice, I’m confident that I will have a much easier time!

4. One of the more amazing things within Civil War study are the connections you can make. Any surprising connections you made along the way? 

    I think the most surprising thing I found was the vast diversity of people that were involved with the events. There was a future Secretary of State, governors, French immigrants, and so many other interesting characters. One memoir I used was written by a Confederate soldier whose old farm ended up having several personal connections to me. A subdivision was built on part of his former property where I used to live, and the school I teach at was built on the other part of his farm in 2022. His parents are buried on a hill by our parking lot.

5. We Shall Conquer or Die is a superb example of taking essentially local historical events and placing them into the broader context of the war. Any great road stories of working with local historical societies or local residents that helped explain this story?

    Through a large part of this process, Greg Biggs became a sort of historical mentor for me. His knowledge of the war in the Fort Donelson and Clarksville area was a huge help, and he was able to connect me with several other historians like Dr. Benjamin Cooling. He took me to all the sites that were accessible in that area and helped me dig up some helpful sources. 

Brigadier General Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson, C.S.A.

6. Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson is the most fascinating character in this story. Could you please give us some background on him?

    Johnson is a guy that definitely needs to have a movie made about him. Before the war, and as a young man, he earned his living on the Texas frontier and lived quite the life of adventure until the war brought him back home to Kentucky. His parents, and two brothers were Unionists, while he and two other brothers joined the Confederate army. He served as a scout for Forrest before he commanded his own regiment in 1862. In 1863 he commanded a brigade during Morgan’s disastrous raid into Indiana and Ohio. He was able to escape into Virginia and tried to reform what was left of Morgan’s command. 

7. One of the more notorious officers in Ohio Civil War history was the infamous Colonel Rodney Mason of the 71st Ohio. Tell us the story of the “fight” at Clarksville, Tennessee on August 18, 1862, and Stovepipe Johnson’s involvement. 

    Mason was definitely one of the most interesting figures on the Federal side of this story. He, and the 71st Ohio, had gained a less than flattering reputation after the Battle of Shiloh. However, I would argue that the accusations made toward him and his men were mostly unfair. After Shiloh, the regiment was sent to Clarksville, Tennessee, almost as a way to “not screw anything up.” Clarksville was well behind the lines and away from any major fighting, but the problem of Confederate irregulars was growing substantially in the summer of 1862. Mason, with half of his regiment in Clarksville, and the other half acting as a garrison in Dover, Tennessee (Fort Donelson), simply did not have the manpower to properly defend the area. He repeatedly asked for reinforcements and informed higher command of his predicament, but these pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears. 

A rare view of the senior officers of the 1st and 2nd O.V.M. regiments taken in May 1861 while both were in the 90-day service. From left to right: Lt. Col. Rodney Mason (2nd), Major Augustus A. Parry (2nd), Major John Hughes (1st), Adjutant Joseph S. Parrott (1st), Lieutenant Colonel Edwin A. Parrott (1st), and Colonel Alexander McDowell McCook (1st). Mason later commanded the 71st Ohio resigned his commission August 22, 1862 after the events at Clarksville. A member of the 55th Illinois later acidly referred to Mason as "that globule of adipose pomposity." 
(Larry M. Strayer Collection) 

    In August 1862, Johnson captured Hopkinsville, Kentucky without a shot fired, and then set his sights on Clarksville. He was joined by Colonel Thomas Woodward, who was attempting to raise his own regiment in the Kentucky/Tennessee border area, and his 100 or so men. Mason’s men were strung out performing different tasks, such as telegraph repair, guarding the wharf, accompanying the smaller steamboats down river. Out of his 225 men on hand, only 158 could report to him for duty in case of attack. Unfortunately, for Mason, Johnson and Woodward arrived and quickly surrounded his camp at Stewart College. With nearly 800 men, Mason and his officers held out as long as they could, and initially thought of fighting it out. One Federal officer was allowed to tour the Confederate lines. He claims the Confederates had a section of artillery and several men with “volcanic guns,” recently captured Henry rifles from the Hopkinsville Home Guard. 

    This information, along with the fact that his men did not have enough water in camp, was enough to convince Mason and his officers to surrender. Johnson’s telling of the story has a bit more flair. His version is something straight out of a movie where he says he jumps a fence, kicks in a door, hustles up the stairs of the college, and finds Mason quaking in his pajamas ready to immediately surrender. The episode tarnished Mason’s reputation to the point where he and several of his officers were cashiered from the army for “repeated acts of cowardice in the face of the enemy.” 

8. The fights at Owensboro and Sutherland’s Hill take place in a momentous week in American history- the same week as South Mountain and Antietam, Munfordville, and Iuka. Did the timing of these Kentucky engagements help increase their obscurity, i.e. they were lost in the shuffle? 

    That’s a good question and I think these events definitely caused the fights to get overshadowed. On September 19th, Gabriel Netter, a popular Union colonel who was also a Jewish French immigrant, was killed by a musket ball to the chest after he broke the Confederate encirclement of his camp. On the 20th, the Indiana Legion made its only assault of the entire war when it drove up a force twice its size. Such a story of resistance, and success, would have ordinarily made for a much bigger story. But Indiana troops were involved in all the larger engagements, and so the reports and casualty lists dominated the Hoosier papers. Some stories did emerge, but I think had these fights happened in a time with less major fighting, there would be much more written and reported! In Kentucky, the local papers were all weekly, bi-weekly, or had ceased operations. Louisville had a few daily papers, but they reported on the events for a few days and then moved on.

9. Taken as a whole, what impact did Stovepipe Johnson’s actions in western Kentucky have on the broader war in Kentucky? What impact did it have on Bragg’s Kentucky campaign which occurred around the same timeframe?

    Johnson’s actions definitely impacted Bragg’s campaign. Because of his operations, he kept thousands of Union soldiers away from the front lines. I wonder how Munfordville, or Richmond, may have played out had the several regiments of infantry and cavalry been with the armies instead of taming western Kentucky. What if at Richmond the Union army had an additional two cavalry regiments instead of the one that proved less than adequate? During the rest of the campaign, once the armies moved toward Perryville, Johnson’s memory of events is simply not correct because the timelines just do not match. After some digging, it seems that by October he intermittently disrupted Ohio River steamboat traffic near Caseyville, Kentucky. By this time, the Union had a much more firm grip on the region and he was forced to fall back to middle Tennessee.

10. As the war progresses, Adam Johnson and his command becomes part of the “regular” Army of Tennessee. Describe Johnson’s service through the rest of the war. 

    Johnson was only able to get a few hundred of his original 800 men to move to Tennessee. Many of his men refused to do so because they believed that when they joined his Partisan Ranger regiment, they would only be fighting in an independent manner and not with the regular army. His claims that Morgan saved his men from becoming infantry and so joined his command. He participated in the Christmas Raid, and then commanded a brigade during Morgan’s disastrous raid across the Ohio River. After he attempted to rebuild Morgan’s division, Johnson performed his own version of anti-irregular operations in the pro-Union areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. By 1864, he was sent back to western Kentucky to replicate what he managed to do in 1862, but this time as a brigadier general. He seems to have been successful in recruiting a few hundred men, but the Union was more aggressive this time around. During an attack on his camp at Grubb’s Crossroads, near Princeton, Kentucky, Johnson was accidentally shot by one of his own men. The bullet entered his temple and severed both of his eyes, permanently blinding him. He spent the rest of the war in a Union prison before being released in 1865. He returned to Texas and managed to become a very successful businessman.

11. Readers might be interested in driving through and seeing some of the sights in person. What is the state of preservation of places like Owensboro, Sutherland’s Hill, etc.? Is there a driving tour available? 

    There is no official driving tour of any of the spots where Johnson was in command. The entire area of Clarksville has been built over, as is Camp Miller in Owensboro. However, most of the other sites have some semblance to how they looked in 1862. Being mostly farmland, you can still get a sense of how the opposing forces maneuvered and took up positions. There is not much in the way of signage for either site, except for a historical marker and monument at Sutherland’s Hill, but nothing to explain who/what actually happened there. I’m hoping to change that soon.

12. Any future publication projects?

    I have lots of ideas, but since we are in the process of building and all of my books are in storage, I’ve put my research on hold. I’d like to do something on the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, Munfordville, the irregular war in 1864-1865 Kentucky, and even something on the “Kentucky Line” during the winter of 1861-1862. I’m not sure if any of these will turn into books one day, but they are the topics that I am thinking about the most. Once we are moved in, I plan on picking one of these and moving forward!

13. How can readers buy copies of your book?

    Buying from Savas Beatie is the best way, for me and them. I’ve encouraged people to order directly from their site or buy from me if they are local. If someone has purchased from Amazon, I would encourage you to leave a verified review so we can gain an advantage with the algorithm!   

Readers are encouraged to secure their copy of this exciting new title through the links below: 

Hardcover 6" x 9", 240 pp, images, maps, $32.95

Savas Beatie (strongly preferred)

Amazon (if you must support the Bezos empire make sure you leave a review!) 


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