27 February 2007 by Published in: Union Cavalry 14 comments

Thanks to regular reader and old friend Pete Vermilyea–thanks, Pete!–I made a fascinating discovery today.

Ulric Dahlgren was born in 1842 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. At age seven, his mother dead, the family moved to Washington, DC when his father was appointed to command the Navy’s Ordnance Bureau. While the family lived in Washington, Ulric attended the Rittenhouse Academy, a prestigious private boy’s school. Ulric did not graduate, but left early in 1858, his restless nature prompting him to search for greater adventures.

One of his classmates at the Rittenhouse Academy–also born in 1842–was David Herrold. Herrold, of course, was one of the Lincoln assassination conspirators who fled with John Wilkes Booth. Herrold surrendered but Booth refused, and Booth was killed by Boston Corbett of the 16th New York Cavalry. Herrold was hanged with the rest of the conspirators. Herrold likewise did not graduate from the Rittenhouse Academy–he transferred to another school–but definitely was a student there while Dahlgren was there, and they were definitely classmates during their time there together.

I own a copy of the 1858 school circular for the Rittenhouse Academy. It includes a complete listing of all students enrolled that year, as well as the full curriculum for the school. Because Herrold was not a student there that year, his name does not appear in the listing, which is why it never even occurred to me that they would have been classmates. However, they were born the same year, so they would have had to have been classmates. But for Pete tipping me off about this, I never even would have thought to investigate or even make the connection. You can bet that I will be mentioning it in the book…..

I find it fascinating that two young men of great promise who were boyhood schoolmates both died in the midst of attempts to assassinate heads of state. I’m sure it’s coincidence, but wow, it surely is interesting and intriguing.

Thanks again for tipping me off to this fascinating find, Pete.

Scridb filter


  1. Wed 28th Feb 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Dear Buttermilk Ranger ,
    Superb photo ! I am constantly amazed at how many Civil War era personages were acquainted with one another ! A much smaller population to be sure .
    all for the old flag ,
    David (not Boston ) , Corbett

  2. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 10:22 am

    One of the things that always intrigued me was the way in which the hunt for Booth was undertaken and Booth’s own seemingly disjointed flight.

    It was almost immediately believed that Booth after his flight from the Capitol had ‘gone to Mosby’ which meant, of course, that he would be trying to reach the guerrilla command of Col. John Mosby which operated within sight of Washington in Northern Virginia and even across the Potomac (indeed, on the morning of Lincoln’s death, it is reported that wanted posters were distributed for Mosby naming him one of the conspiracy). Of course, there were still other ‘irregulars’ operating after Appomattox (McNeill’s being one) to which Booth might have fled for help in escaping south, but Mosby’s was not only the largest – the 43rd Battalion had been made into a regiment at the end of the war – but the best equipped, mounted, manned and led ‘irregular’ force in that part of the country and probably – with the exception of Forrest’s forces – in the war.

    Unlike Lee’s naked, starving ranks in Petersburg, Mosby’s command was very strong and COULD have provided Booth with the means of escape had the assassin reached him. Now whether he WOULD have, is not known for Mosby was a law unto himself and had been so almost from the beginning of his partisan career in 1863 although he answered first to General J.E.B. Stuart and later to Gen. Robert E. Lee as a recognized command in the Army of Northern Virginia. Still, he had the discretion to act as he saw fit in any contingency and the surrender of Lee did not deter him from continuing to fight. It was only the threat of a Union incursion of 40,000 men under General Hancock into the area known as ‘Mosby’s Confederacy’ and the destruction of all that remained of civilian property and holdings that made Mosby disband and send his men in for parole.

    However, at the time of the assassination, Mosby was still operating despite Lee’s surrender and Booth knew that surely for the newspapers had reported the guerrilla Chief’s rejection of a call to surrender his men upon Lee’s surrender. Yet, apparently Booth made no real effort to reach Mosby despite the fact that the Confederate sympathizers with whom he dealt in Maryland were well aware of how to reach the ‘Gray Ghost’. Indeed, Booth even met several of Mosby’s men who had been paroled just before the end of his flight. Yet, for some reason, there is nothing stated by anyone involved of an attempt by Booth to reach Mosby although ‘Captain’ Jett – one of the Rangers Booth met – later testified that Mosby had been told of the assassination and had spoken warmly of Booth. No other mention was ever made of any such conversation and given Mosby’s taciturn and secretive nature, one has to wonder if he would have expressed such a dangerous sentiment to someone who was not one of his ‘inner circle’ which Jett surely was not.

    Insofar as the ‘hunt’ for Booth was concerned, I was always shocked that so little effort was made to capture the man alive in order to elicit information from him regarding the nature and extent of the conspiracy to murder the President. Boston Corbett was a madman, a former hatter whose exposure to mercury had led him to castrate himself at 15 years of age and eventually end his life in a lunatic asylum (I believe). Why, if the goal was to take Booth alive, such a man was permitted to be a part of the hunt is beyond me! The LAST thing you would want under those circumstances was a madman looking for glory who was a good shot!

    As well, it seems that the rest of the conspirators did little or nothing to save themselves. Lewis Powell/Paine returned obligingly to the Surratt House where the police were waiting for him. Herald simply ‘gave up’. The authorities seemed to know immediately where to go and who to look for. Frankly, whatever strange things happened prior to the assassination – a request for a guard by Lincoln refused by Stanton and the guard provided going off for a drink at the critical moment etc. – what occurred among the assassins and their accomplices AFTER the crime was even stranger. I don’t know if the answer was malignant malaise on the part of all concerned or if the reasons for all of this inexplicable behavior had darker origins but it is interesting to make note of the ‘coincidences’ occurring all through these dark and bloody years.

  3. Rob Wick
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 2:38 pm

    First, Eric, it was Conger and Dahlgren. Now it’s Herold and Dahlgren. If you find any information that Booth and Dahlgren performed summer stock together somewhere, I’ll just ship you my notes and let you write my book!

    Valerie, there are some mistakes in your post that I respectfully would like to point out. There were never any orders as to whether Booth was supposed to be captured dead or alive. Of course, the best thing would have been to bring him back for questioning and trial, but Everton Conger said in his statement aboard the monitor Montauk that he had received no direction either way. The idea that Boston Corbett shot Booth against orders came about from Byron Baker, another government detective with Everton Conger who was pissed because Conger got the largest portion of the reward money.

    Where Corbett ended his life is unknown, since after shooting up the Kansas state legislature (where he had been an assistant doorman) he escaped from the asylum he had been sent to, never to be heard from again. At the time, Corbett told his commanders that he shot Booth because after Conger set the barn on fire he saw Booth headed toward the door where Byron Baker was standing. He said that he felt Booth was going to shoot either Baker or someone else, so he decided to fire. While Corbett certainly had mental instability, he was a brave and dedicated cavalryman. Really, the only reason he shouldn’t have been on the manhunt was because he was still suffering from the effects of having been a prisoner at Andersonville. And technically, he wasn’t “selected”. He was one of the volunteers who showed up when the “boots and saddles” call was made.

    Stanton never “refused” a guard to Lincoln. Stanton did not want Lincoln to go to the theater because of his security concerns. Lincoln asked Stanton to let Thomas Eckert, Stanton’s chief aide, go to the theater with them. Stanton refused, because he was trying to get Lincoln to cancel his plans, not because he wanted Lincoln unguarded. There was no “guard” assigned to the president that evening (or any other evening for that matter. Lincoln never had presidential protection like we see today). What John Parker’s actual role is has been subject to debate for years, but the best guess is that he was simply an escort to Lincoln going to and from the theater.

    It amazes me that it has been 70 years since Otto Eisenschiml’s book on Lincoln’s assassination came out and despite William Hanchett’s vigorous rebuttal of each point, it still has legs.


  4. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 3:11 pm

    I know that there was nothing said about Booth being taken alive and THAT is what I find most interesting. Certainly there was a tremendous amount of opinion which held that the Confederate government was involved in the conspiracy, so why there was NOT a demand that at all costs Booth be taken alive I cannot imagine! Remember, Booth was an actor, NOT a soldier. Had the assassin been Mosby (Jeffry Wert called Mosby ‘the most lethal man’ he had ever written about), I could understand the fear of trying to take him alive, but I cannot imagine how even FAIRLY competent men couldn’t have managed to take Booth or at least wound rather than kill him.

    Secondly, why was Corbett there in the first place? Was the pursuit of Booth so haphazard and lacking in competence that anyone could go along? Why not sell tickets, for heaven’s sake? This was a man who held the answer to so many questions that people were asking (and continue to ask) and yet, he was hunted like a runaway slave – a creature of no account other than to be sure that he was taken. Makes NO sense to me at all.

    Why did Stanton, once he knew that Lincoln was going anyway, not send the man for whom Lincoln asked?? It’s one thing to say that he was trying to dissuade the President, it’s quite another to say that a mere Cabinet minister could tell the President of the United States to take a hike! And if no guard were assigned, again WHY NOT? If Stanton was concerned for Lincoln’s safety and could not get him to change his plans, then why not send the man requested as well as load the place up with guards??? Either Stanton was concerned and acted too stupidly for words (and Lincoln wasn’t much brighter under the circumstances) or Stanton was concerned (as you point out) and acted in a way to assure that his concerns came to pass. Either way, there was something VERY amiss in Stanton’s actions that day. Oh, and why didn’t Lincoln contact Eckert himself and forget about Stanton?

    I know that there wasn’t Presidential protection as there is today, but given the circumstances that prevailed and the fact that the authorities seemed to be more than aware of Booth and his ‘colleagues’, at least a minimal amount of protection seems nothing more than reasonable especially given that Lincoln was going to a place with which Booth was entirely familiar. Doesn’t any of this strike you as ‘wrong’? Or do you believe that everyone in Washington – including Booth – was just ‘off’ that night? Or the night before or the week before or the YEAR before. Booth made no secret of his allegiance or Mrs. Surratt wouldn’t have had the police at her house within hours of Lincoln’s shooting!

    Sorry, but I simply cannot accept THAT MANY coincidences of stupid, foolish and frankly inexplicable actions by so many ostensibly intelligent people. It’s an unbelievably bad script, the only difference being that it was reality and not fiction.

  5. Rob Wick
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Where to start, Valerie?

    Those in charge of the manhunt had every intention of bringing Booth back alive if at all possible, so there was no need to say “Booth must be brought back alive at all costs.” I’m not really sure where you’re going with the issue of Booth being an actor and not a solider. At this point he was the suspected presidential assassin and was just as dangerous and desperate as any professional solider. And for the Garrett Farm Patrol, it wasn’t a question of fear of Booth. When Conger, Byron Baker and Edward P. Doherty were talking to Booth in the early morning hours of April 26, they were doing so in full view of Booth and Herold, who easily could have taken any number of shots at them at any time. With the lights they carried, Booth and Herold could see them clearly, but they had no sight of the two men. Indeed, Booth told Byron Baker that he was a brave man because Booth had several opportunities to shoot him. So the reason for shooting Booth had nothing to do with fear.

    Why was Corbett there? Why was any of them there? When the call came for volunteers, any one could show up if they wanted to. Again, it’s not a question of competence. It is a question of we’ve got a good lead on this and can’t waste time with psychological interviews of each potential hunter to make sure he doesn’t take a shot at Booth before we’re ready. I think just about every man who served in the Union army during the Civil War would have ached to go on that manhunt, in order to bring Lincoln’s killer back in. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information on the way that Booth was hunted down. To be sure there were serious holes in the way people were looking, but from the very first day the government had a concentrated effort on to find Booth, but they were dealing with a lot of unknowns. First, they had no idea where he had gone, if he was traveling alone or if he had help from the Confederate underground. Also, they had no idea that Booth had broken his leg until they interviewed Dr. Samuel Mudd. And I will certainly admit that there were people on the same side fighting against each other, hampering the investigation, but Booth’s manhunt was not treated like he was simply a runaway slave.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever studied the relationship between Lincoln and Stanton, but on several different occasions, Stanton did tell Lincoln to “take a hike” as you put it. Sometimes Lincoln let it stand, other times he insisted his directions be followed. No guards were assigned to Lincoln because Lincoln himself did not want them. No amount of persuasion would have stopped Lincoln from going to Ford’s Theater that evening. Oh, and he did ask Eckert himself, and Eckert, who knew that Stanton wanted Lincoln to stay away from the theater, said he couldn’t go. Plus, the war was, for all practical purposes, over. Given that no American president had ever been shot up to this point, who would have guessed that with the war over, the danger hadn’t passed? Maybe short sighted, but certainly not stupid.

    If I may, I would suggest that you read either Mike Kauffman’s “American Brutus” or Ed Steer’s “Blood on the Moon” which I think might help in answering some of the points you’ve raised.


  6. Steve Meserve
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 8:46 pm

    >And if no guard were assigned, again WHY NOT? If Stanton was concerned for Lincoln’s safety and could not get him to change his plans, then why not send the man requested as well as load the place up with guards???

  7. Steve Meserve
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Lincoln never had guards, and only rarely had an escort when he traveled about the city. Even when warned specifically that there was a plot to take his life before he could be sworn in as president, he made the journey from Philadelphia to Washington accompanied by only two menhis friend War Hill Lamon and detective Allen Pinkerton. During the war, the White House was an open building that anyone could enter and request an audience with the president. Lincoln routinely walked from the White House to the War Department alone, with neither escort nor guard.
    The simple fact is that Abraham Lincoln was the first American president assassinated. Prior to his death, no one took the threat of such an insane act seriously. There was, then, nothing out of the ordinary for Lincoln not to be accompanied by armed guards when he left home. It is certainly nothing on which you can base a conspiracy theory or for which you can accuse Stanton or anyone else of either incompetence or criminal negligence.

  8. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 01st Mar 2007 at 11:12 pm

    I have read both men’s books and they are excellent. However, Lincoln as well as Stanton, Baker and others knew of various ‘assassination plots’ long before the war was over. To say that the war was over and that was it, just isn’t sensible. Given the fact that most Southerners applauded Lincoln’s death (albeit quietly to avoid dying themselves), I would say that Lincoln was hardly ‘safe’ once Lee had surrendered. The war really WASN’T over. Davis and his government were on the loose, Johnston had not yet surrendered, Mosby was lurking in Northern Virginia as dangerous as ever, covert operatives were still abroad bent on killing as many Yankees as they could while the opportunity was still extant (remember the Sultana!), so the war was hardly over.

    Lincoln had refused guards although certainly when it was thought in Washington that Mosby might attempt to kidnap the President from the Old Soldier’s Home, guards not only ‘appeared’, but slept in the President’s doorway according to some sources.

    As for my comment about Booth being an actor: I meant that he certainly was not as dangerous as would have been the case had he been a hardened combatant. All cornered men are dangerous, but a man who was dangerous BEFORE being cornered becomes all the MORE dangerous once he is. I cannot imagine that Booth would have declined the opportunity to play the greatest role of his life at a trial rather than dying in a dirty farm yard. If they were talking to him, the ‘danger’ of his shooting them seems to have been greatly reduced. So, while everyone is talking and no one is shooting, Corbett settles the matter through a crack in the barn wall. Wasn’t anyone watching this nutcase? Or, perhaps, they didn’t even know he was there? That’s not the way to ‘bring ’em back alive’, folks – as can clearly be shown by the result obtained.

    I believe (but I cannot swear) that Boston Corbett was a known figure in the Capitol which meant that his mental condition was ALSO known. As noted, if everyone was permitted to ‘go along’ on the manhunt for Booth, one can hardly consider this a ‘well run’ tactical operation. If they wanted Booth alive, it seems reasonable that they would have chosen the very best trained men to pursue and capture him. Weren’t there any soldiers in Washington that could have been called upon for this purpose?

    I do not speak of conspiracies, only stupidity. The kidnap/assassination plots were known by Lincoln and Stanton among others. Booth’s allegiances were also known and his presence in the area if not known absolutely by Baker and others certainly should have been a concern. Booth was a well known figure. He had visited Ford’s Theater before the assassination so he made no secret of his presence in Washington.

    On the other hand, the authorities seemed to know of Booth’s connection with Surratt because they went to Mary Surratt’s home before Lewis Paine got back there from his attempt to assassinate Seward. Why was no one keeping watch for Booth at Surratt’s house given his open threats – and I DO mean ‘open’; that is, voiced in the presence of witnesses not a party to the cabal.

    If no one wishes to consider a conspiracy by the Union or the Confederacy (or some from both sides), fine. But then I posit that the only other conclusion has to be a stupidity so vast and so wide-spread as to be inexplicable.

  9. Steve Meserve
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 8:41 am

    Are you seriously suggesting the sinking of the “Sultana” was an act of Confederate sabotage? That is even more hare-brained than the idea John Wilkes Booth and John Mosby ever even considered working together.

  10. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 11:38 am

    Frankly, the sinking of the Sultana was very well covered in a History Channel program which definitely linked it to former acts of sabotage carried out by various Confederate agents on federal vessels plying the rivers. The device that was thought to have been used was a bomb made to look like a piece of coal that was secreted in the coal deliveries to the vessels and would ignite, blowing the boilers when shoveled into the ships furnace. The Sultana exploded shortly after such a delivery was made. The program even provided an example of this device for viewing – and very clever it was for it was virtually indistinguishable from an ordinary lump of coal. And, of course, as it would simply be one of thousands of such ‘lumps’ the chances of it being found were virtually nil.

    Secondly, I never made any such connection between Mosby and Booth – but OTHERS have. The book Come Retribution certainly makes that connection. A very long and detailed article in a Civil War magazine plainly shows Mosby ‘in the loop’ according to the authors. I had an interest in the matter and attempted to discern from as many ‘experts’ as possible just how ‘real’ that link might have been. On the whole, most – including Michael Kauffman as noted – did not believe that Mosby was involved. Others thought that he WAS involved certainly in the Harney matter which was an attempt (if one believes it) to blow up the White House with Lincoln and his entire Cabinet. Among those who certainly hold that view is Ed Steers (Blood on the Moon) and Jane Singer who authored a well documented book (which was also the subject of a program on the History Channel) about certain Confederate covert (terrorist) operations.

    Sorry, Mr. M. I’m afraid that you cannot simply dismiss my points because I made them this time.

  11. Steve Meserve
    Fri 02nd Mar 2007 at 3:12 pm

    When you know a little more history, you will understand that the History Cahnnel likes sensasionalism, whether it has any basis in fact or not. Their productions are prone to present a possibility as a proven fact. It’s a shame you weren’t reading forum posts a couple of months ago when the “Sultana” question came up. There is conclusive evidence that the explosion definitely was NOT caused by sabotage, but by faulty repairs on a boiler.

  12. Bill Bergen
    Sun 24th Jun 2007 at 2:59 pm


    Just wanted you to know I tripped across a bit of Dahlgren original material here at the UVA library:


    If you have not already checked it out, I can the next time I am there (and I expect to make it in about a week).


  13. TimeBender
    Fri 18th Mar 2011 at 1:10 pm

    [about a teacher the at Rittenhouse Academy, Washington, DC, which Clarence (born 1856) attended until 1869]
    Washington Post (DC) 14 May 1905, p 11 col 5
    Clarence Norment Pays Off Old Scores with School Master.
    Clarence [F.] Norment, president of the Central National Bank, recently told how he got even with a man who was his teacher in the days of his youth, and used to wield the birch with frequency and vigor. Mr. Norment says that as a boy he hated this man fiercely, and vowed that if he ever reached the years of manhood he would lick him within an inch of his life.
    Not long ago a prominent lawyer entered the bank and introduced to Mr. Norment a man from the upper part of Maryland, who wanted a favor. Mr. Norment immediately recognized the old master.
    Are you Mr. Blank, who taught school at such a place? You are? Well, do you remember how you beat me for no reason at all, just because you were bigger; how you kept me in when I wanted to play ball; how you wrote notes to my father and got me more lickings? I bet you remember every bit. Well, I made a vow that if I ever met you when I got to be a man I’d whip you, if I had to go to jail for a month. Now get ready.”
    Mr. Norment got up in a threatening attitude, and the former teacher was livid with fear, and the lawyer speechless with astonishment.
    Then Mr. Norment and they all understood, but the fright Mr. Norment gave the dominie made up for all his grievances.

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