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We will cross the James River into Richmond, destroying the bridges after us & exhorting the released prisoners to destroy & burn the hateful City & do not allow the President Davis and his cabinet to escape… The men must keep together & well in hand & once in the City it must be destroyed & Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed… Dahlgren’s orders

Photograph showing a group of officers at Fairfax courthouse including: Major Ludlow, Lt. Rosencranz, Count Zeppalin, Lt. Colonel Dickinson, and Ulric Dahlgren.

Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick with 4,000 picked men was to raid Richmond. Col. Ulric Dahlgren, son of Rear Adm. John Dahlgren, commanded an advance force of 500 men. While the main body under Kilpatrick rode along the Virginia Central Railroad tearing up track, Dahlgren rode south to the James River, hoping to cross over, penetrate Richmond’s defenses from the rear, and release Union prisoners at Belle Isle. Kilpatrick reached the outskirts of Richmond and skirmished before the city’s defenses, waiting for Dahlgren who was delayed, and Kilpatrick was forced to withdraw with Confederate cavalry in pursuit.

Hampton attacked Kilpatrick while in the meantime, Dahlgren’s men, unable to penetrate Richmond’s defenses, tried to escape pursuit by riding north of the city. Dahlgren’s command became separated, and his detachment was ambushed by  the 9th Virginia Cavalry and Home Guards in King and Queen County near Walkerton. Dahlgren was killed and most of his men captured but papers found on Dahlgren’s body ordered him to burn Richmond and assassinate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.

Meade, Kilpatrick, and Lincoln all disavowed any knowledge of the Dahlgren Papers and the battle continues today with James McPherson, PBS’s house historian, asserting that the papers may be false while most reputable historians accept their authenticity and even go so far as to point out the White House meeting where Kilpatrick received his orders directly from Lincoln – their nefarious content excluding them from the normal chain of command.

The Dahlgren affair : terror and conspiracy in the Civil War    New York : W.W. Norton, c 1998 Duane Schultz Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, Va., 1864 Hardcover. 1st ed. 298 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 283-288) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

March 5, 1864, was the day on which the Civil War changed to what the Richmond Examiner called “a war of extermination, of indiscriminate slaughter and plunder.” It changed because of a few sheets of paper found on a muddy trail outside Richmond. Their legacy was a new and terrible style of warfare.

Kilpatrick was known as “Kill-Cavalry” because of the unusually high casualty rate among his men. Kilpatrick was also reputed to be the most notorious scoundrel in the Union army who lied, thieved, and whored his way through the war yet managed to attain the stars of a major-general – the fruits of sycophancy with Lincoln.

In a failed cavalry raid to free thousands of union prisoners, the union commander, twenty-one-year-old Ulric Dahlgren, was killed; on his body were found orders instructing his men to find and assassinate Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Confederate cabinet.

There was an immediate outpouring of horrified, indignant rage throughout the South, and after the union disclaimed any knowledge of the papers or the order they contained, Jefferson Davis authorized the use of guerrilla raids  against the north in the form of  bank robberies, arson, and sabotage.

This narrative is the first full-length analysis of the link between Dahlgren’s failed raid and the Confederate campaign of reprisal.

General Wade Hampton was for a time the commander of all Lee’s cavalry and at the end of the war was the highest-ranking Confederate cavalry officer

 

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