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1864 April 9: Colonel Dahlgren’s Operations and Death

April 14, 2014

Following is a detailed account of the death of Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren, reprinted from several Southern newspapers.  It appeared in the April 9, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The italics in the reprinted articles was added by the Journal.

K I L P A T R I C K ‘ S   E X P E D I T I O N.

Fury  of  the  Richmond  Press.



Nothing has aroused the ire of the rebels like the recent raid on Richmond, if we are to judge of their sentiments by the expressions of the Richmond papers.  It is however quite probable that the occasion is siezed [sic] on to “fire the Southern heart” anew, by startling misrepresentations of the acts and purposes of the Union troops, and that the fury and indignation exhibited by the organs of the JEFF. DAVIS [Jefferson Davis] is partially assumed.  We subjoin some extracts to show their spirit :

The first article below, as it appeared in other newspapers of the time, consisted of more paragraphs before the ones printed in the Journal. Those additional paragraphs put what follows into context, so are printed here:

[From the Richmond Examiner,¹ March 7th.]

“The column of Yankees under Dahlgren took on their route two prisoners, Captain Dement² and Mountcastle, who accompanied the force from Goochland to the debut at Walkerton.  From these gentlemen and other sources of information we gather some interesting accounts of Dahlgren’s excursion.  Dahlgren came down the Westham plank road, with eight hundred or a thousand men.  The Armory Battalion was on the enemy’s flank and appears to have been completely surprised.  But when the enemy came in contact with Henley’s Battalion the cavalry broke at the first fire.  The first volley of musketry seems to have done all the disaster that occurred.  There were eleven Yankees killed and some thirty or forty wounded.  After the affair Dahlgren seemed to be anxious for his retreat and divided his forces, so as to increase the chances of escape.  The force under his immediate command moved down the south bank of the Pamunkey and crossed the river at Dabney’s ferry.

"The Late Colonel Ulric Dahlgren," from Harper's Weekly

“The Late Colonel Ulric Dahlgren,” from Harper’s Weekly³

“Their exact number was not at first easily ascertained ;  and, as usual, the most exaggerated accounts were soon circulated throughout the county, increasing as they spread, until the miserable fugitives from the Richmond defenses were magnified into a full brigade.  From the ferry they proceeded by the most direct route to Aylett’s, on the Mattapony, watched closely at every step by scouts detached from Lieutenant James Bellard’s company of Lee’s Rangers, now on picket duty and recruiting service in King William, the residence of most of its members.  The ferry boat having been previously removed, and Pieutenant Pollard’s arrangements for disputing their passage when they reached the King and Queen side of the river being suspected, they dashed across the river as precipitately as possible, under the fire of a small squad of rangers left on the south bank for that purpose.  While passing through King William they captured one prisoner, William Edwards, and several horses, and mortally wounded a man attached  to the signal corps, whose name we could not learn.  Subsequently Colonel Dahlgren, in command of the party, ordered the release of Edwards and the restoration of his horse and of some valuables which were forcibly taken from his person when captured.

“The Yankees had no sooner reached King and Queen county than they were harassed, both front and rear, by the Rangers, showing fight as they advanced, until Lieutenant Pollard was reinforced by Magruder’s and Blake’s companies of the Forty-second Virginia Battalion, now on picket duty in King and Queen, and Fox’s company of Fifth Virginia Cavalry, on furlough in the same county.  Here the fight became general, resulting in the death of Colonel Dahlgren, and the capture of the greater number of the party, the rest having fled in disorder and panic to the nearest woods.  It is believed that few, if any, will reach Gloucester Point alive, as the Home Guard of King and Queen, whose bravery was conspicuous during the whole affair, are scouring the country and cutting off escape.

“A large body of this raiding party was pushing toward the peninsula at last accounts, preferring that route to the rather hazardous attempt to reach Gloucester Point through King William and King and Queen.  We regret this very much, as in both counties, adequate preparations were made to prevent the soil of either county from being converted into a highway, as in the earlier period of the war, for Yankee robbers, whose track is marked, wherever they are permitted to obtain a foothold, with desolation and blood.”

In The Prescott Journal, the reprint from the Richmond Examiner began here:

(From the Richmond Examiner¹ 7th.)

The publication of Dahlgren’s programme for the sack of Richmond was the occasion of constant excitement Saturday, and curiosity to know what course the authorities would pursue towards the three or four hundred land pirates put in durance at Libby.  To Dahlgren’s budget of villainy and cowardice are to be added some incidents which show, in the most striking colors, the character of this commander.

When the Yankee’s appeared at Frederick’s Hall they captured there Captain Dement,²  and this prisoner was taken in company with Dahlgren over the whole of his route.  Captain Dement reports that he witnessed the execution of the negro guide, and that Dahlgren furnished the reign from his own horse with which the unhappy victim was hung.

Captain Dement effected his escape in the fight near Walkerton.  When Dalgren found the small body of Confederate cavalry in his front, he insisted upon Captain Dement riding by his side, as he advanced to demand their surrender.  The reply of our officers to the demand of surrender, was “Give them hell, boys.”  Dahlgren fell at the first fire and the horse of Captain Dement was shot under him, the rider fortunately escaping without injury.  Dahlgren received two bullets in the head, two in the body and one in the hand.  He died instantly.

Captain Demens escaped to a skirt of woods and hearing some of the Yankee fugitives expressing a desire to find him and surrender to him, came forward and received the surrender of almost the entire party.  Dahlgren’s body has been stripped naked and was lying on the road, and it was by Captain Dement’s orders that it was interred.

Both Captain Dement and Mr. Montcastle describe Dahlgren as a most agreeable and charming villain.  He was very civil to the prisoners, shared his food with Captain Dement, and on several occasions invited him to take a nip of whiskey with him.  He was a fair haired, very young looking man, with manners as soft as a cat’s.

The Richmond Whig adds to this :

Capt. DEMENT states that DAHLGREN’S men were completely fagged out, having lost six nights sleep, and were in no condition to fight.  Although Capt. Dement was with Daldgren four days and nights, he said and heard nothing of the infernal designs against Richmond until the papers, which have been published, were found on his dead body.

"Ambuscade and Death of Colonel Dahlgren," from Harper's Weekly

“Ambuscade and Death of Colonel Dahlgren,” from Harper’s Weekly³

[From the Richmond Examiner, March 8.]

Dahlgren’s body was boxed up at Walkerton with the object, we understand, of its positive identification, and the establishment of the fact of the finding of the infamous documents upon it, all of which have been attested by witnesses.  Henceforth the name of Dahlgren is linked with eternal infamy, and in the years to come defenceless women and innocent childhood will peruse, with a sense of shrinking horror, the story of Richmond’s rescue from the midnight sack and ravage led by Dahlgren.  It would seem something of the curse he came to bestow upon others lighted upon his own carcass, when it fell riddled by avenging southern bullets.  Stripped, robbed of every valuable, the fingers cut off for the sake of the diamond rings that encircled them, when the body was found by those sent to take charge of it, it was lying in a field, stark naked, with the exceptions of the stockings.  Some humane person had lifted the corpse from the pike and thrown it over into the field, to save it from the hogs.  The artificial leg worn by Dahlgren was removed, and is now at General Elzey’s headquarters.  It is of most beautiful design and finish.

Yesterday afternoon the body was removed from the car that brought it to the York River Railroad depot and given to the spot of earth selected to receive it.  Where that spot is no one but those concerned in its burial know or care to tell.  It was a dog’s burial, without a coffin, winding sheet or service.  Friends and relatives at the North need inquire no further ;  this is all they will know—he is buried a burial that befitted the mission upon which he came.

[From the Richmond Whig, March 8.]

The body of Col. Ulric Dahlgren, killed in the swamps of King and Queen, by the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, was brought to the city Sunday night, and laid at the York River depot during the greater part of the day yesterday, where large numbers of persons went to see it.  It was in a pine box, clothed in confederate shirt and pants, and shrouded in a confederate blanket.  The wooden leg had been removed by one of the soldiers.  It was also noticeable that the little finger of the left hand had been cut off.  Dahlgren was a small man, thin, pale, and with red hair and a goatee of the same color.  His face wore and expression of agony.  About two o’clock P. M., the corpse was removed from the depot and buried—no one knows, or is to know, where.

[Col. Dahlgren used no wooden leg.  The stump had not yet become sufficiently hardened to admit it ;  when he rode, his leg was strapped to the saddle.  Col. D. had light, flaxen hair—not red.  Otherwise the description is correct.—ED. N. Y. TIMES]

[From the Richmond Whig, March 7th.]

Are these men warriors !  Are they soldiers, taken in the performance of duties taken as legitimate by the loosest construction of the code of civilized warfare ?  or are they assassins, barbarians, thugs, who have forfeited (and expect to lose) their lives ?  Are they not barbarians redolent of more hellish purposes than were ever the Goth, the Hun or the Saracen !  The consentaneous voice of all Christendom will shudderingly proclaim them monsters, whom no sentimental idea of humanity, no timorous views of expediency, no trembling terror of consequences, should have shielded from the quickest and the stearnest death.

What more have we to dread from Yankee malice of brutality than we now know awaits us, success attend them ?  What have we to hope from their clemency ?  Will justice meted out to those poor creatures stimulate either the brutality of the Yankees on the one hand, or increase their capacity and means for diabolism on the other ?  Both are no in the fullest exercise.

If these men go unpunished, according to the exceeding magnitude of their crimes, do we not invite the Yankees to a similar, and, if possible, still more shocking effort s?  If we would now what we ought to do with them, let us ask what would ere now have been their fate, if, during a war, such a body of men, with such purposes and such acts, had made an attempt on and were taken in London or Paris?  The English blow fierce and brutal Sepoys, who disregard and exceed the just limits of war, from the mouths of cannon ;  the French fusilade them.  If we are less powerful, have we less pride and self-respect than either of these nations ?  These men have put the caput lupinum,4 on themselves.  They are not victims ;  they are volunteers for remorseless death.  They have rushed upon fate, and struggled in voluntary audacity with the grim monster.  Let them die, not by court-martial, not as prisoners but as hostes humans generis [sic],5 by general order from the President, Commander-in-Chief [Jefferson Davis].

Will the Cabinet and President have the nerve do what lies palpable before them ?  This is the question in all mouths.  What concerns this people most now is not whether its public officers will come out of this war with brilliant European reputations—not whether, after leading the people out of Egypt, they shall have the reputation that Moses preserved of being very meek—but they wish protection to themselves, their wives and children and their honor.

[From the Richmond Whig, March 8th.]

Four Yankee negro soldiers, captured in James City county, were brought to this city yesterday, and delivered at the Libby, where they were distributed, as far as they would go, into the solitary cells of the Yankee officers captured during the recent raid.  This is a taste of negro equality, we fancy, the said Yankee officers will not fancy overmuch.

[From the Richmond Sentinel, March 5th.]

If the Confederate capital has been in the closest danger of massacre and conflagration, if the President and Cabinet have run a serious risk of being hanged at their own doors, do we not owe it chiefly to the milk and water spirit in which this war has hitherto been conducted !

It is time to ask, in what light are the people of the Confederate States regarded by their own government ?  As belligerents resisting by war an invasion from a foreign people—or as a gang of malefactors evading and postponing the penalty of their crimes ?

But “we are to consider,” it seems, “not what wicked enemies may deserve, but what it becomes us, as Christians and gentlemen, to inflict.”  Oh, hypocrisy; and thou forty person power which alone can sound its praise through they forty noses !  What cant is this ?  We wonder whether Mr. Davis is aware of what many very honest people begin to mutter and murmur.  They say, can this man be saving up for himself, in case of the worst, a sort of plea in mitigation of punishment ?  If the cause for which a hundred and fifty thousand of us have died, be borne down at last, is this Christian meekness of his intended to save his own life ?  They say what comfort are these fine sentiments to the houseless families who have been driven from their homes in Tennessee or Virginia, when they find that our armies, even on the enemy’s soil, are withheld from giving the invaders a taste of real war in their own quenched hearths and blazing barns ?  For what have we set over us a government at all if it be not to protect us against our enemies ;  to avenge us of our enemies when need is ;  to uphold our cause in all its fulness and grandeur, and to keep our banner flying high ?  But this is lowering the cause and dragging the banner through the dust ;  this is encouraging, inviting our invaders to ravage and pillage us at pleasure, sure that they will not be visited with the like in their turn.

1.  The Richmond Examiner During the War; or, The Writings of John M. Daniel: with a Memoir of his Life, by his Brother Frederick S. Daniel (New York: Printed for the Author, 1868) is available on the Internet Archive.
2.  Probably William Fendley Dement (1826-1907), 1st Maryland Artillery Battery (Confederate). A farmer before the War, he was the first lieutenant of the Battery on its organization in Richmond, Virginia, in July 1861. He was appointed captain in June 1862 when R. Andrews Snowden was promoted. During his service, he participated in the engagements at Seven Pines, the Seven Days Battles, the fights on the Gorkoron peninsula, Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), the battles of Cedar Run and Manchester, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the battles of Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. He surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. After the War, he returned to farming and also worked for the Treasury Department.
3.  The March 26, 1864, issue of Harper’s Weekly featured Ulric Dahlgren’s story, along with these two illustrations. The University of Wisconsin-River Falls’ Chalmer Davee Library has microfilm copies of Harper’s Weekly for 1858-1865 (UWRF online catalog).
4.  Latin, used in the English legal system to refer to a person considered to be an outlaw.
5.  Another Latin term, correctly spelled Hostis humani generis, literally meaning “enemy of mankind.”  It is a legal term originating from admiralty law, before the adoption of public international law. Maritime pirates and slavers were held to be beyond legal protection, and could be dealt with as seen fit by any nation, even if that nation had not been directly attacked.

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