28 February 2013 by Published in: Research and Writing 1 comment

imagesThis article appeared in the August 13, 1865 edition of the New York Times and is the earliest account of the fascinating story of how Ulric Dahlgren’s remains were secretly recovered and taken to a safe spot near Atlee’s Station, Virginia.

COL. ULRIC DAHLGREN.; Curious Story Regarding the Disposition of his Remains.
Published: August 13, 1865

From the Richmond Bulletin, Aug. 5.

The month of March, 1864, is memorable in Richmond for one of the grandest Union raids that up to that time had menaced the Confederate capital — a raid which was the immediate precursor of Gen. GRANT’s famous campaign from the Wilderness to James River. The history of this raid is too familiar to the minds of all of our readers to make necessary any recapitulation of it, even if it comported with our space. It is known that COL. DAHLGREN, after the attack on Richmond on Tuesday, the 1st of March, did not succeed in forming a junction with Gen. KILPATRICK, and while passing through King and Queen Counties, toward Gloucester Point, was killed, on the night of Wednesday, March 2, near Walkerton. It is also known that his body was brought to Richmond, but what disposition was made of it by the Confederate authorities was kept a mystery at the time, and the facts, even to this day, have never been published. We purpose to give them to the public for the first time, vouching for their entire authenticity.

When intelligence was received in Richmond of the death of Col. DAHLGREN, messengers were sent to bring it to the city for identification. It reached the city on Monday, March 7, by the York River Railroad, and laid during that day at the depot, where it was examined by large numbers of persons. His death had been caused by a gun-shot wound in the head. The little finger of one hand had been cut off on the field where he fell by some one anxious to secure, with the least trouble, a valuable diamond ring. That night the body was carried to Gen. ELZLY’s office, in Belvin’s block, and the next day. having been placed in a common pine coffin, of the kind then used for the burial of soldiers, which in turn was placed in a box, was transferred to the Oakwood Cemetery, a mile east of the city. The hearse used on this occasion was a four-mule street wagon, and the attendants consisted of a Confederate officer of inferior rank and two soldiers. Arriving at Oakwood, which was the burial place or all soldiers who died at Chimborazo, Howard’s Grove, and other hospitals in the eastern portion of the city and suburbs, the negro grave-diggers and other attendants about the cemetery were driven off and ordered to absent themselves until notified that they might return. One of the negroes, now living in the city, having his curiosity excited, secreted himself in the woods near by determined to see what was to be done. The two soldiers dug a grave, placed the box in it and covered it up. They then shouted to recall the attendants of the cemetery, and getting into the wagon, returned to the city. The only circumstance in the proceedings that struck the negro as unusual was the mystery observed and the circumstance of the box, no corpse ever having been brought there before except in a pine coffin; but there having been a great deal of talk as to what was to be done with the body of Col. DAHLGREN, he at once decided that this could be no other than the corpse of that officer. He, however, kept his opinion to himself at the time.

The question, what had been done with the body of DAHLGREN? was the subject of inquiry and conversation for many days in Richmond, to be revived from time to time up to the day of the evacuation. And there were many stories on the subject — that it had been burnt, sunk in the river, &c. A city paper of that day announced, with a solemn and knowing air, that it would never be found until the trump of doom should sound. A number of Union men of the city, believing it possible that it might be recovered, were anxious to secure and preserve it for the family of the deceased. Prominent among them was Mr. F.W.E. LOHMAN, a grocer, doing business near the New Market. Mr. LOHMAN at once began his inquiries and investigations — which, in the then state of popular feeling, it was necessary to conduct with great caution — determined, at whatever cost and risk, to ascertain its fate. After nearly a month’s patient and untiring inquiry, he, with the assistance of Mr. MARTIN MEREDITH LIPSCOMB, whose business it was to attend the interment of all Union prisoners who died at this post, made the acquaintance of the negro grave-digger, whom we have mentioned as being the sole spectator of the burial of Col. DAHLGREN. They found him at Oakwood, pursuing his regular business. When first approached on the subject, the negro was very much alarmed, and protested he would have nothing to do with the matter. But after repeated assurances by Mr. LIPSCOMB, whom he knew well, that he might rely upon LOHMAN, and that no harm should befall him, he consented, on Mr. LOHMAN’s giving him a hundred-dollar note, to point out the grave. This he did by walking near and casting a stone upon it, while LOHMAN and LIPSCOMB stood at a distance. He was afraid to employ any other method lest he might excite the suspicion of the superintendent of the cemetery or some of the attendants. The grave lay among thousands of those of Confederate soldiers. Subsequently, after a great deal of persuasion and the promise of a liberal reward, the negro agreed to meet Mr. LOHMAN at the cemetery on the night of the 6th of April, at 10 o’clock, and exhume the body.

The appointed night having arrived, Mr. LOHMAN, his brother, JOHN A. LOHMAN, and Mr. LIPSCOMB, started for the cemetery in a cart drawn by a mule. The night was dark and stormy, and well suited to conceal their movements. The party left the city at 9 o’clock, and reached their destination about 10, and there found waiting for them the grave-digger and two assistants. The negroes being assured that all was right, began their work of exhumation, the three white men remaining with the cart outside the inclosure of the cemetery. The heavens were hung with their deepest black; no object ten feet distant could be distinguished, and no sounds broke upon the loneliness of the place save the howling of the winds and the resurrectionist’s spade. Once the mule, snuffing the tainted air of the city of the dead, attempted to break away, but was quickly quieted by a firm hand.

In twenty minutes from the time the negroes began their work they approached the cart, bearing between them the coffin, which, being badly made, fell to pieces as they rested it on the ground. It was then discovered that the body bad not decomposed in any perceptible degree. Mr. LOHMAN satisfied himself of the identity of the corpse by passing his band over it. The little finger, torn off to secure the jewel it bore, and the leg, lost in battle, were missing. He paid the negro with whom he had contracted fifteen hundred dollars, and placing the body in the cart, the party started on their return. The mule, alarmed as animals frequently are when drawing a dead body for the first time, become difficult of management, and with the darkness of the night, made the first part of the expedition one of no little peril. More than one hour was spent in reaching the gaslights of the city on Church Hill. It was part of the plan to convey the body to the house of WILLIAM S. ROWLETT, a Union man, living on Chelsea Hill, a half mile northeast of the city, there to remain until a metallic case could be procured for it. From Church Hill, Mr. LOHMAN drove down Broad-street to Seventeenth-street, thence up Seventeenth-street to its northern terminus, and thence up the hill to Mr. ROWLETT’s, reaching the last place at 2 o’clock on the morning of the 7th of April. Here the body was wrapped in a blanket, and Mr. LOHMAN came to the city in search of a coffin, which he obtained by the aid of Mr. LIPSCOMB. On his way into the city from ROWLETT’s, LOHMAN notified a number of persons of Union sentiments, among whom were several ladies, where the body had been placed, and they hurried out to see it. Several of these persons had seen Col. DAHLGREN while he was exposed at the York River Railroad depot, and immediately recognized the body as his. The metallic coffin having been procured, and the body placed in it, the two LOHMANS, at noon on the 7th, set out with it, concealed, in a wagon loaded with young fruit trees, for the farm of ROBERT ORRICKS, a Union man, living in Henrico, two miles from Hungary Station.

At 4 o’clock that evening they reached ORRICKS’, and buried the body under an apple-tree in a field, avoiding the graveyard for tear of exciting inquiry, which might lead to discovery.

The rest of this story may be told in a few words. ORRICKS, some months after the second burial of Col. DAHLGREN, succeeded in getting through the Confederate lines, and seeking an interview with Com. DAHLGREN, informed him of what had been done to secure the body of his son. The corpse of the soldier laid in this, its second grave, until the evacuation of Richmond, when an order having been sent for it by the War Department, it was again disinterred by the two LOHMANS and sent to Washington.

It has been our object to left the veil of mystery from an obscure and interesting event. In doing so, we have confined ourselves to facts strictly relative to the secret fate of Col. DAHLGREN’s body from the time of its arrival in Richmond, which, until after the capture of the city, remained, to all except the few individuals named by us in the course of our narrative, one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the war. Many Confederate officials knew that the body had been deposited at Oakwood, but they were ignorant to the last that it had ever been removed. It has at length found its last resting place.

This is a largely accurate description of a fascinating event with all of the hallmarks of a great thriller.

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Comments

  1. Sharon Watson
    Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I can vaguely remember a story my father told me in the late 1950′s. We lived in Shepherdstown, WV and often visited Antietam Battlefield and Boonesboro. Once when going over South Mountain and passing the Dahlgren Chapel, he told us that a women had been buried there and grave robbers dug up her grave and cut off her finger to steal her diamond ring. He must have been relating this story to us and my young mind got it confused. Until I read this post and investigated online a little further, I had never known the connection between the chapel and Ulric because I knew he hadn’t lived or died in the area. Thank you for clearing up this little mystery for me. Now if I could only figure out how he knew about the story in the days before the internet………?

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