19 September 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 21 comments

I got the new issue of North & South magazine today. It contains an article on the mystery of what Lincoln knew and when he knew it with respect to Ulric Dahlgren’s role in the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. The article was written by Prof. David E. Long of East Carolina University.

I have been aware of this article for quite some time. David spoke to our Civil War Roundtable last year, and we spent some time together discussing the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. Between his CWRT talk and our private discussions, David laid out his theory in detail, although I’d never seen it spelled out in writing. David contacted me about eight weeks and asked if I would be willing to read and comment on the thing before it was actually published. I said sure, but for reasons that I don’t quite understand why it never materialized. He never sent it. Today was the first time that I read it.

It says precisely what I expected it to say: that Lincoln not only knew, but that he specifically ordered the assassination of Jefferson Davis, and that Ulric Dahlgren was his hand-picked instrumentality for accomplishing the objective. While David is now a history professor, he spent a number of years practicing law (here in Columbus, ironically enough), and the article is written as if he is making legal arguments.

However, David faces the same lack of specific evidence that I did, and his arguments are based solely on circumstantial evidence, as there is no direct evidence whatsoever for any of us to rely upon. He argues that Ulric Dahlgren became a trusted confidant of Lincoln, and that Lincoln used Dahlgren as a mole in Army of the Potomac headquarters. When the time came to implement this plan, Dahlgren got the job as the leader of the raid.

According to David’s theory, Kilpatrick’s column was the diversionary column, while Dahlgren’s column had the primary responsibility for executing the plan. He correctly points out that conventional interpretations of these events have it the other way around, and argues that the White House actually created a veil of deception to create the illusion that the raid was the brainchild of Kilpatrick in the minds of the public.

Just after the end of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Dahlgren proposed a raid on Richmond from the southwest if the Confederate cavalry went on a raid. The plan was rejected because Joseph Hooker felt it was too risky. David correctly points out that none of the prior published histories of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid have connected the proposed 1863 raid with the 1864 raid (although I discussed it in my 2003 book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age, and I also discuss it at length in the biography in two places). In his mind, it’s proof positive that Dahlgren was the driving force behind the plan to assassinate Davis and his cabinet.

He addresses the validity of the Dahlgren Papers and concludes that they were authentic, a conclusion I wholeheartedly support. However, the authenticity of the documents doesn’t reach the point of proving that Lincoln knew.

David is working on a book-length treatment of these events. I gave him some material on Ulric Dahlgren that he hadn’t seen, and I will be interested to see how he uses it in the book when the time comes. I’m not sure what the status of the book is, but I’m looking forward to reading it when it’s done. It’s got to be better than Duane Schultz’s The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War, which is such a stretch that I can’t even begin to suggest that he’s drawn valid and supportable conclusions.

I’m glad that I finally got to read what I’ve been hearing about for a long time. I remain unconvinced. While I respect David’s scholarship and his enthusiasm for the subject, the fact remains that the only evidence is purely circumstantial, and in my lawyer’s mind, when you add it all up, it doesn’t constitute sufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof to convict Lincoln of complicity in the conspiracy. I continue to believe that Lincoln did not know, and that Stanton was the driving force behind this episode, not Ully Dahlgren or Abraham Lincoln.

I also still beleive that there’s at least a 50-50 chance that Dahlgren was just cowboying when he went off on his raid. I think it’s entirely possible that he was acting “off the reservation”, as the expression goes.

I repeat what I’ve said previously: the evidence is not persuasive one way or the other, and we will never know the truth. Which makes it a fascinating controversy to explore again and again. I know that it intrigues me.

Scridb filter


  1. Bill Bergen
    Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 7:22 am


    After reading the article I reached the same conclusion that you did. And, like you, I remain intrigued by this whole question and try to keep an open mind.

    I read the article as well, and think he scores some points and has a more coherent theory about how everything transpired and why than any I have read so far. That Lincoln was close to Dahlgren Sr. was something I missed and want to study on my own. But having built his case with small step after small step, he is forced to take running giant steps to get to the conclusion that Lincoln ordered a raid to assinate Davis and his cabinet. I think we disagree with Long only because we take somewhat shorter steps to get to a suspicion that Dahlgren acted on his own. That, on balance, is what the evidence indicates.

    I know this controversy is one of those that I will ponder until someone comes up with evidence that conclusively points one way or another. Until that time, I will keep looking and wondering. I am looking rather intensely at Stanton’s actions in the late summer and throughout the fall of 1863; if anything emerges, I will let you know.


  2. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 9:02 am

    Just one point here with regard to Stanton and the matter: if there WAS evidence to support the theory that Dahlgren acted on his own and that Lincoln not only didn’t know but wouldn’t have approved the raid, why after Lincoln’s death did Stanton try to hush the whole matter up (the missing papers earlier discussed on other threads) rather than take the opportunity to at least PRIVATELY in some form or other, leave proof of the truth of the matter.

    I understand that at that time (or maybe ANY time) Stanton would not wish to give credence to the Confederate contention that the documents were genuine by making ‘the truth’ public, but why not at least put the whole thing down on paper somewhere for posterity in order to preserve Lincoln’s honor should the event ever again come to light? After all, LINCOLN, not Stanton was the elder Dahlgren’s friend so why would Stanton care if Ulrich were found to be the responsible party should an investigation be launched to determine what we are all trying to determine here?

    To me, just another nail in Lincoln’s coffin (so to speak) is Stanton’s effort to blot the entire affair out of existence. Stanton was not a stupid man. He knew well enough that in due course of time historians would take an interest in this particular event, publicized widely as it had been at the time and sometimes referred to as opening a ‘Pandora’s Box’ that led eventually to LINCOLN’S assassination. Therefore, one would think that he would have put the whole matter down on paper proving that Lincoln had never been involved and that what occurred had been the brainchild of a perhaps unstable if courageous young man whose heart – if not his head – had been in the right place. Even if Stanton’s ‘proof’ had been nothing more than a sworn statement as a member of the Cabinet that the Lincoln Administration had NOT been involved, it would have been sufficient for most historians (after all, the winners write history, not the losers). But there is nothing – only silence. And, again perhaps only to myself, that silence on behalf of a man like Stanton itself speaks volumes.

  3. Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 10:59 am

    This recent trend in CW history to write these types of articles in which the circumstantial is stretched into what appears to be fact is beginning to get under my skin. Perhaps some historians are lately feeling that there’s nothing left to write about, so we’re getting this from all sides. Take a controversial subject, take the “non-conventional” side (anything juicy that bucks current notions about personalities, etc) and present it in a way that appears to be fact. The danger in all this, though, is the reader who accepts the speculation as fact. Readers are led beyond the acceptable result that differing sides of a controversy are “possible” and led to believe that, for instance, Long’s assertions have more weight in the evidence than other possibilities.
    IMHO, Long should have made much more of the point that everything he postulates is based on shaky circumstantial evidence. The postulations in the article are terrific – and have been proffered in other articles and books before – but this style of presentation can give many the wrong idea about what is fact, what is speculation, and what is not supported in the historical record.
    I don’t know. Maybe 30 years ago this type of writing wouldn’t be printed without running the gauntlet of a tougher editorial department. Maybe there would be much more of an effort to have disclaimers throughout, and more made of exculpatory evidence. I have a collection of the popular CW magazines going back 40 years, and this is definitely a trend you wouldn’t have seen back then, I think. And it’s not just CW subjects – look at many of the history shows on TV today and you see the very same thing.
    Again, it’s not just investigations into various theories of controversies, but that new trend to present the highly speculative as if fact. Maybe the shock factor is becoming more attractive to an increasingly bored audience.


  4. Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 12:36 pm


    The very close relationship between Admiral Dahlgren and Lincoln is very well documented. Check out Schneller’s bio of Admiral Dahlgren, Quest for Glory–it’s all in there. If you want to see primary sources, take a look at the published papers of Nicolay and Hay. John Dahlgren’s name comes up very frequently.

    Beyond that, I agree with you.


  5. Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 12:37 pm


    Could it be that Stanton decided to cover his own tracks after the Lincoln assassination?


  6. Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 12:38 pm


    Amen, brother.


  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 7:57 pm


    Cover his own tracks in what way? By blaming Dahlgren, Stanton could have historically speaking, not only covered his OWN tracks but Lincoln’s as well. Surely, he was far LESS likely to be seen as ‘innocent’ when he became directly involved in the ‘disappearance’ of the original documents.

    Someone once pointed out in an article naming Mosby as a party to Lincoln’s death, that ‘the guilty flee where there is no pursuit’. Parenthetically, in Mosby’s case, the writer was wrong as Mosby had EVERY reason to avoid arrest, but he did in fact, NOT ‘flee’. Rather, he remained in Northern Virginia, the area in which he had operated during the war. On the other hand, by attempting to destroy all traces of the original documents, Stanton gives every appearance of a man ‘fleeing’ despite the fact that none were pursuing him – or Lincoln for that matter. If the article writer is correct, then it would appear that Stanton’s actions constitute an actual admission of guilt. But even if Stanton HAD been involved, that does not automatically exonerate Lincoln – it merely takes the onus off Dahlgren as the sole miscreant.

    As for articles being written based upon speculation: again, how else can they be written when those involved have long gone to their reward? Coming to a conclusion by deduction that is based upon evidence supported by the facts, historical documents, contemporary testimony etc. is what being an ‘historian’ is all about. As none of us lived through these times, we must, of necessity base what we write on the conclusions (and sometimes speculations) arising from and based upon the evidence at hand. Sometimes there is no doubt about that evidence – who won, who lost, dates of battles, births, deaths etc. But damned little history could be written if historians limited themselves to such concrete, irrefutable things.

    Most histories contain more than a bit of ‘deduction’ (or call it speculation if you will) which in turn is based upon the writer’s perception of the iron-clad facts as well as more circumstantial pieces of the puzzle. Indeed, I believe that frequently, many new and interesting insights are garnered when previously accepted facts – circumstantial and otherwise – are seen through new and different perspectives frequently brought about by such ‘speculations’.

    There is a difference here between historical revisionism performed to turn the orthodox view of a matter on its head (often merely for the sake of doing just that) and the exploration of other possibilities not ruled out by clear and concise facts referable to the event in question. There is no reason that today, as in the past, sacrosanct ‘orthodoxies’ may be proven erroneous and replaced by a more accurate interpretation of the event or events. But that only comes about when we aren’t afraid to ‘speculate’ ourselves or entertain the speculations of other competent sources.

  8. Wed 20th Sep 2006 at 9:21 pm

    I hear you Valerie, but I don’t think you read my response very carefully – I think you wanted it to say something else.

    What I wrote was that mere speculation is now presented as FACT – not that speculative and theoretical writings are inherently wrong, but that the rules have changed today compared to a couple decades ago.

    If you have the article, just read the first couple paragraphs and you’ll see what I mean. If you still feel the same way, then you read it differently and you still don’t understand my point.


  9. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 21st Sep 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I haven’t gotten my copy yet, so I cannot speak to the article.

    However, I do find that frequently, writers cast their conclusions as ‘fact’ inasmuch as they have used ‘fact’ to arrive at same. Naturally, the problem lies in the translation, interpretation and/or interpolation of facts arriving at the conclusion being presented as something OTHER than a translation, interpretation and/or interpolation but as the facts themselves.

    For instance, 1 + 1 +? We can all agree that 1 is 1 and that’s a fact. We can also agree that it is possible to add together 1 to another 1 and that, too, is a fact (no pun intended). The problem arises when we get to the other side of the ‘=’ sign. In the above example, the ‘conclusion’ is obvious. However, it is also math and math has a tendency to be fairly ‘proveable’. With less concrete and more circumstantial ‘facts’, even though they ARE ‘facts’, the other side of the ‘=’ sign is, in most instances, reasonably open to debate.

    It would seem to me therefore, that your problem is not with speculation, per se, but with the presentation of speculation, deduction, educated guesses, conclusions etc. as that part of the equation to the LEFT of the ‘=’ sign; that is, when all of the above is now presented as ‘fact’ rather than what it is. If that is your point, I agree wholeheartedly. Fact is fact and even though I might find that a series of facts and even prior accepted conclusions lead to ‘point A’, I am not permitted to present my point of view as ‘fact’, only as what it is: my point of view. If the article writer is presenting his conclusions and deductions – no matter how persuasive – as ‘fact’, I will take issue with him as, I assume, you also do.

  10. Thu 21st Sep 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Right, Valerie – that’s my point exactly. Let me put up a couple sentences from the beginning of the article:

    “During the winter of 1863-1864, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, attempted to have Jefferson Davis assassinated. It is perhaps the least known fact of the Civil War and the Lincoln presidency, has gone almost untouched upon by the significant body of Lincoln scholars and authors over the years, and has been largely misunderstood and misrepresented by the community of Civil War historians for nearly a century and a half. The evidence of the plot, the fact that the attempt was made, and that it grew from the fertile mind of Abraham Lincoln, is the best kept secret of the Civil War and the Lincoln White House…”

    Now, does this sound like it belong more in the pages of the National Enquirer than North&South, or am I missing something?

    Nowhere in the article does Long say these are simply his conclusions from shaky circumstantial evidence. Everything is presented as hard, fast, certain fact.

    I’d like to answer Long’s assertions above by telling him that “it’s because what you’re saying has no basis in fact!”

    I do expect there to be a flurry of Letters to the Editor on this one. If not, it would only be because no one wants to waste their time on this one. But I think we’ll see it.


  11. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 21st Sep 2006 at 9:21 pm

    Alas, however, that is how many people write today. Few make the statement that the conclusions they’ve reached – however informed and reasonable – are still speculative since there is no absolutely conclusive evidence either way.

    Of course, there are conclusions considered ‘orthodox’ in the historical community that are based on circumstantial evidence. Indeed, probably MOST ‘orthodoxy’ arises in that way and that is because so very few ABSOLUTES are available. When they are, then there is little controversy but even the most acceptable ‘truths’ are open to interpretation.

    I happen to concur with Mr. Long’s conclusion from the facts I have seen – albeit I have not read his piece. However, I would never have presented it in that way. I would have said that there was evidence which indicates that President Lincoln could well have been involved – and I think that that statement is reasonable. However, to make the bald statement that it is a matter of irrevocable fact is less than honest. On the other hand, he got your attention, didn’t he and maybe that’s why he made the statement in the first place! ๐Ÿ˜€

  12. Thu 21st Sep 2006 at 10:58 pm

    That you agree with his conclusions is perfectly fine – as we’ve said, it’s in the presentation of the material. I guess simply put I just see a new genre arising – and I don’t know if it’s because writers are starting to think there’s nothing new to write about, or maybe publishers are looking for that shock factor to sell books and magazines.

    Orthodoxy has never held much water with me – I love to explore the evidence. I think Eric’s the same way – hence our book on Stuart’s Ride. But if you’re going to say A is A and B is B, you better damn well have the evidence for it. If maybe A is A or B is B, then you need to be honest with your reader and explain it that way.

    Whether Lincoln tried to kill Davis, or was homosexual, or dressed up as a woman, is fine fodder for banter. But the way the headlines are written now, I feel like I’m in the supermarket checkout line instead of reading supposedly “scholarly” works.


  13. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 22nd Sep 2006 at 8:28 am

    Just a note before I leave for my tour of Mosby’s Confederacy: I gave the article a quick glance last night and, of course, immediately discovered something of IMMENSE interest. Mr. Long refers to John Mosby as speaking with CUSTER sometime after the war. We know that he spoke with Wistar as Eric mentioned from Mosby’s own letters. However, to my mind, if John Mosby had any contact with George Armstrong Custer after the war, it most probably would have been to shoot the man, not talk with him. Mosby never forgot nor forgave Custer for the hanging and shooting of his men at Front Royal although there is some question as to whether or not Custer can be faulted or at least faulted exclusively given that the order was Torbert’s. Nonetheless, Mosby’s antipathy for Custer never wavered and that ‘s why I could not believe Mr. Long’s off-hand mention of their meeting (and talking civilly, that is!) in his article.

    At the same time, however, I am also far too ignorant to state with any confidence that such a meeting did NOT take place. Ergo, I have sent the question out to some Mosby experts whom I know to see if they can further enlighten me. If it turns out that this ‘meeting’ to which Mr. Long refers is unknown to the persons whom I have contacted, it is probable that it never took place and that puts Mr. Long’s accuracy in grave doubt.

    I will let the group know the results when I receive the information requested.

  14. Mike Peters
    Sat 23rd Sep 2006 at 12:11 pm

    JD wrote:

    “Now, does this sound like it belong more in the pages of the National Enquirer than North & South, or am I missing something?”

    I’m with you man. Sensationalism has always sold more copies & stirred up more controversy. Revision is OK as long as it is backed with some hard evidence. Long offers conjecture. And speculation is fine if it is labeled as such.


  15. Arthur Candenquist
    Sat 23rd Sep 2006 at 8:01 pm

    I conducted a 2-1/2 day seminar on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid with David Long two years ago, and also participated with him on the same subject at a symposium. Whilst I concentrated on the military aspects & objectives of the Raid and David focused on Lincoln’s involvement (or non-involvement) in the Raid, there’s no question that he wants to advance his theories as far as he can. I’ve also develpped an hour-long slide presentation on the Raid, relying heavily in my research on the same primary sources that Virgil C. Jones used when he wrote his definitive book on the Raid, Eight Hours Before Richmond. “Pat” Jones interviewed eyewitnesses to the events surrounding the Raid in the years before they died. While David’s circumstancial evidence bears examining, there is no proof that the Raid originated in Lincoln’s mind nor did he advance it before it was proposed to him. The War was entering its fourth full year in 1864, and it seemed like it would go on forever. In addition, the plight of Union soldiers held captive in Libby Prison and on Belle Isle in Richmond was becoming well known, thanks to reports provided by Elizabeth Van Lew. Maj.-Gen. Benj. Butler, headquartered at Fortress Monroe, was a very politically ambitious man who had eyes on the Executive Mansion in Washington. As the commanding officer of Brig.-Gen. Isaac Wister, Butler stood to gain a lot of favorable publicity that would have been of immense political value to him in the election of 1864 had Wister’s raid been successful. Gen. Butler also had a personal score to settle with the President of the Confederate States. Despite the fact that Butler campaigned very hard to have Jefferson Davis nominated for president at the 1860 Democratic national convention, Pres. Davis was not amused by Butler’s behavior when Butler’s troops captured New Orleans in 1862 and he, among other things, declared that the ladies of New Orleans were to be treated as common prostitutes if they showed any disrespect to the Federal occupation forces. Mr. Davis branded Butler a common criminal and an enemy of mankind who should be executed without trial should be be captured. Another equally ambitious man was Maj-Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick, spending an idle winter of 1863-64 encamping at his headquarters, Rose Hill, in Culpeper County, Va. Kilpatrick had eyes on the state house in Trenton and envisioned himself as the next governor of New Jersey. With the failure of the Wister raid, why not propose the same type of raid on a grander scale, with the likelihood that he, Kilpatrick, might be the next occupant of the Executive Mansion if his raid should be successful and the War brought to a close? During his convalescence in Washington following the amputation of his leg, Col. Dahlgren was a frequent visitor to the Executive Mansion, thanks to his father’s close friendship with Mr. Lincoln, and there is a documented meeting between Lincoln and Dahlgren while Mr. Lincoln was being shaved a few days after Lincoln’s meeting with Kilpatrick in mid-February 1864. Was the raid discussed between Lincoln and Dahlgren? There is no evidence to prove it but it is quite likely that the raid was discussed, for Dahlgren reported to Kilpatrick’s headquarters near Stevensburg, Va., a few days later, as the Army of the Potomac was about the celebrate Washington’s birthday with a ball to be held in an enormous wooden building constructed just for the purpose. But Dahlgren was not there in Culpeper County to dance.
    It’s interesting to note that, after the failure of the K-D Raid, vehement objections about knowledge of the darker aspects of the raid—burning Richmond to the ground and the killing of Jefferson Davis and the cabinet—were raised at the highest levels of the Army of the Potomac. Maj.-Gen. Kilpatrick denied ordering any depredations against the Confederate government or the civilian population of Richmond, stating that if what was contained in the Dahlgren Papers was true, then the orders must have come from Col. Dahlgren, who was not in a position to defend himself, having been killed at Mantapike Hill in King & Queen County on the night of March 2nd, 1864. Maj-Gen. George Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, vigorously denied knowing of the darker aspects of the raid in a flurry of correspondence he conducted with General Lee. But in private letters to Mrs. Meade, he confided in her that he believed that the depredations proposed against the Confederate government and the civilian population lay squarely with Gen. Kilpatrick. Interestingly enough, there was nothing but silence from the Executive Mansion regarding the controversy. Nevertheless, once the Dahlgren Papers were published in Southern newspapers and inflamed public opinion about the barbarism of warfare proposed by the Federal government not only in the Confederacy but also in Europe, the Confederate States soon began earmarking substantial amounts of money for the Confederate States Secret Service, for expenditures that have recently come to light regarding “black flag warfare” as terrorim was known in the 1860s. That being the case, it is quite likely that the telegram dated 9.25 p.m. on February 11th, 1864, ordering Gen. Kilpatrick to go to Washington to see Abraham Lincoln might well have been Mr. Lincoln’s death warrant. Of course we’ll never know for sure. But David Long seems determined to find the “smoking gun” and place it squarely in Mr. Lincoln’s hand. ~~~AC

  16. Sat 23rd Sep 2006 at 9:31 pm


    Many, many thanks for the fascinating comment. And thanks also for validating my thoughts. Yours match mine almost to the letter.


  17. Arthur Candenquist
    Sun 24th Sep 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Eric~~~You’re welcome. In the interest of space, I could have gone on to cite a number of other documented examples which clouds the issue of Lincoln’s direct involvement before Kilpatrick or Dahlgren got involved. Contrary to what David Long stated in his article, other historians HAVE examined the correlation between Stoneman’s 1863 raid and the K-D Raid of 1864. In fact, Pat Jones wrote in his book that Kilpatrick looked at how close Stoneman came to accomplishing his mission in the 1863 raid and this gave him the confidence that he could pull off such a raid in 1864. Needless to say, I get very suspicious when an author states as fact that he/she is aware of something of historical importance that multitudes of other historians managed to overlook. Thus, David Long begins his article by stating that his research has proven to him without a doubt that the K-D Raid originated with Lincoln, a fact that no one else has ever uncovered, and that he selected Ulrich Dahlgren to lead the raid and that Kilpatrick was just a diversion. To be a truthful and accurate historian to have made statements like that, one can only assume that there is documented proof to support those claims. It’s incredible that David Long found that proof when it escaped so many other historians, including this writer. Knowing what we know of Judson Kilpatrick and his ambitions and penchant for taking advantage of any opportunity that could possibly be of some benefit to him, I find it equally incredible to believe, in the absence of any documented proof, that Kilpatrick would have been willing to allow Dahlgren to reap the glory had the raid been a success, and that he, Kilpatrick, would have been content to occupy a secondary role in achieving the objectives of the Raid. With Dahlgren dead and unable to defend himself, why would Kilpatrick have expended so much energy and pen and ink blaming others for the failure of the raid if he had occupied only a seconadry role in the Raid? He blamed Dahlgren for failing to achieve his objectives (inlcuding crossing over the James River at Jude’s Ferry); he blamed Butler for failure to send troops up the peninsula from Yorktown to support him when Col. Walter Stevens and the Confederate troops at the Intermediate Defenses of Richmond turned Kilpatrick’s troopers back on the Brooke Turnpike on March 1st. But nowhere does Kilpatrick say “don’t blame the failure of the raid on me; I only had a secondary role and wasn’t in charge of the raid.” If Kilpatrick’s role had only been secondary, there’s little question that Kilpatrick—knowing him as the man he was—would have been quick to shift the blame from himself for those reasons—if they were true. But Kilpatrick never said that, and in the denials and objections voiced by the Army of the Potomac’s high command regarding the black flag warfare after the failure of the raid, Kilpatrick’s role as a secondary office was never raised. Most likely because he wasn’t in a secondary role.
    Parting thoughts: in 1872 (J.B. Lippencott, Philadelphia), John Dahlgren wrote a vigorous defense of his son and the raid (I have a copy in my personal library) entitled MEMOIR OF ULRICH DAHLGREN BY HIS FATHER. The story of the raid covers Chapter XI. On Page 204 of the book, Admiral Dahlgren states: “The project of an expedition to rescue the Union soldiers from the horrible dungeons of Richmond where they were immured reached him [Ulrich Dahlgren] about this time. The idea originated with General Kilpatrick and, on being submitted in all its details, met the approbation of the Secretary of War, and of the President of the United States.” Being as close as Admiral Dahlgren was to Abraham Lincoln (after all, David Long states that Lincoln went to see John Dahlgren almost every single day that Lincoln occupied the Executive Mansion), I would think that John Dahlgren would have been in a good positon to know what was going on, especially where his son was concerned. There’s more, but ’nuff said. ~~~AC

  18. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 26th Sep 2006 at 8:48 am

    I have heard back from most of the ‘Mosby experts’ I know and none of them knows anything about Mosby having contact with Custer after the war although he did write a letter to Custer’s wife regarding the Front Royal monument to his executed men. But there seems to be no record or recollection of any contact between the two and that is not surprising considering that Mosby would not have had direct contact with Custer given his loathing of the man.

    Mosby might have seen fit to respond to something that Custer said or wrote, but he would not have INITIATED any contact. It would have been entirely out of character for the man and especially when one considers that Custer attacked GRANT and his Administration for their ‘Indian Affairs’ policies and actions. So Mosby had TWO reasons to hate Custer: his treatment of Mosby’s men at Front Royal and his feud with Mosby’s ‘best friend’, Ulysses Grant.

    No, I think it is safe to say that Mr. Long has simply made a mistaken and substituted Custer for Wistar in his article. Now the question is, did WISTAR make the admission to Mosby that Long posits in his article was made by Custer? If he did, then the error has to do with a misplaced name. If, on the other hand, General Wistar did NOT, then the error grows in scope and importance.

  19. Tue 26th Sep 2006 at 10:41 am

    No, Valerie, I don’t think it’s a safe assumption at all.

    I have a copy of the document in question in my possession. It comes from the collection of Virginia Historical Society. It’s undated, and there is no author’s name on it. However, it does state, quite unambiguously, what Long repersents it says.

    Personally, I give it little credence because it cannot be corroborated and because we don’t know who wrote it. However, just because I don’t give it credence doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. In fact, it does. As stated, I have a photocopy of it in my Dahlgren files at home.

    Don’t make those sorts of assumptions unless you’ve seen the primary sources.


  20. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 26th Sep 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Is there a ‘source’ (anonymous or otherwise) which states that Mosby spoke with Custer as Mr. Long reports? Perhaps I misunderstand what you are saying here but if this is the case, I would appreciate knowing more about it so that I can pass it along to those with whom I communicated on this matter. Certainly they said NOTHING about ANY ‘source’, however questionable, eluding to Mosby meeting and/or speaking with Custer after the war and Custer imparting such information to his former foe.

    I know of the Mosby/Wistar conversation as mentioned in Mosby’s letter to which you referred, but I am unaware of any source stating that Mosby spoke with Custer and apparently those who are considered somewhat ‘expert’ in Mosby are also unaware of it or at least they didn’t mention anything about a report of that nature – with or without a source. That is all that I meant, not that such a document might not exist.

    Still, I would expect that these men who spend LOTS of time combing through historical papers relative to Mosby and his command would have at least mentioned the fact that such a meeting had been reported even if the source was anonymous and/or questionable. Instead, they simply stated that they knew of no such meeting. Ergo, I was of the opinion that perhaps Mr. Long had simply mixed up his Union generals given that Mosby was involved with both Custer and Wistar during the war. However, his mention of Mosby in the article was only in passing though – as you did yourself with the Wistar conversation – he used it to validate the claim that the murder of Davis was at least one of the objectives of the raid.

    In any event, the only ‘assumption’ I made was that Long wrote Custer when he actually meant Wistar. If no source connected Mosby to Custer relative to the conversation both you and Mr. Long reported between Mosby and SOME knowledgeable Union officer – and as none of the experts I questioned made any mention WHATSOEVER of Mosby speaking with Custer after the war – then I can see no other logical answer than to assume that Long got his Yankee generals mixed up.

    On the other hand, if you know of a source linking Mosby to Custer post-war, I hope (as I asked above) that you let me know what it is and where you found it so that I can pass it along to those whose opinion I asked. I’m sure they would be MOST interested. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Dudley Bokoski
    Mon 28th Apr 2014 at 9:34 pm

    I haven’t formed an opinion as to whether Lincoln knew, but Butler did report directly back to him on March 4th (copying Stanton) regarding what he had learned when Kilpatrick got to his lines. By itself, that is not enough to convince me Lincoln knew in advance. It could just be Butler was politically astute enough to know this was news which would be of interest to Lincoln and Stanton.

    It is worth noting Butler apparently did not know of the raid until it was well underway (based on reports in the O.R.). If there had been some scheme to do more than free the prisoners would it not have been likely Butler would have had orders to have his forces at the ready to exploit the confusion? Instead he appears to have only had been ordered not to advance beyond a certain point on the New Kent Road.

    Finally, Kilpatrick is quoted in the O.R. in Butler’s report as saying Dahlgren was ordered to move as a diversion supporting Kilpatrick’s movements. Why, at this early juncture and in reports back to superiors who allegedly would of known of some greater purpose, would Kilpatrick maintain his raid was the primary movement?

    As to Dahlgren’s papers, if the Confederates forged them it would have had to have been done very quickly, as they were forwarded to Cooper by Fitz Lee on the 4th. My best guess, and no more than a guess, is Dahlgren went beyond his warrant on his own authority, exceeding what even Kilpatrick intended.

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