18 March 2007 by Published in: General musings 7 comments

I’ve continued to explore the connection between Ulric Dahlgren and Davey Herold, which I first mentioned in this blog on February 27. My research indicates that it’s quite probable that Herold and Dahlgren knew each other, but it’s now clear that they didn’t attend Rittenhouse Academy at the same time; they missed each other by a couple of months.

Herold’s father was the clerk for the Washington Navy Yard, and the family lived in a large brick house right outside the gates of the Navy Yard on 8th Street. Davey Herold attended a private school as a boy and then attended Georgetown College from 1855 to 1858, where he studied pharmacy. He entered Rittenhouse Academy in January 1859. He then took a job in the pharmacy at the Navy Yard.

Ully Dalgren left Rittenhouse Academy in December 1858, meaning that they just misssed each other at school. However, I think it’s not only probable that the two young men knew each other, I think it’s quite likely. They were two months apart in age. They grew up in precisely the same environment, the Navy Yard. Given that Ulric’s father commanded the Navy Yard while Davey Herold worked there, there’s no question that the families knew each other. When Ully came home to his father’s house to recuperate after his July 1863 leg wound, Davey Herold may well have delivered medicine to Ully, and the two may have reminisced about their common childhoods.

Both died very young as a consequence of their participation in plots to assassinate a head of state, and I can’t help but wonder whether learning of Dahlgren’s participation in the plot to kidnap and assassinate Davis in any way influenced Davey Herold’s decision to join John Wilkes Booth’s assassination conspiracy.

This connection, which has never been explored by anyone (thanks again for bringing it to my attention, Pete Vermilyea), and it’s REALLY intriguing. I’ve proposed an article on it to Chris Lewis, the editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and hope he will take me up on it. It will be fascinating indeed to see how it plays out.

I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of this particular project.

Scridb filter


  1. James Epperson
    Sun 18th Mar 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Eric, I think it is an interesting coincidence — sort of like John Brown knowing Jesse Grant and family back in Ohio — but I don’t see how you can get much of an article out of it. I really don’t think Dahlgren’s escapade had that much influence on Herold’s decision to join Booth. Is there a reason to think it did? Does this fill some hole in the historical narrative? I’m sorry to rain on your parade, but I just don’t see the value of it beyond the coincidence.

  2. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 19th Mar 2007 at 11:04 am

    Much would have to do, I think, with the two men’s opinion of the other – or even if they in fact DID have ‘an opinion’ of the other. While closeness in proximity and age can foster knowledge, that knowledge is just as often negative as positive – or even neutral. Dahlgren was a child of priviledge, one doubts that Herald was given his father’s status in the yard. It may be that though Dahlgren KNEW of Herold and even had contact with him, that there was no ‘relationship’ such as would have led to influence on either man. This was an era with a notable social cast system. People of Dahlgren’s ‘cast’ would probably not have associated with someone in Herold’s cast anymore than Admiral Dahlgren would have associated with Herold’s clerk father.

    Then, too, obviously the two men were on opposite sides of the conflict which would have further ‘distanced’ them from any type of relationship that could have led to an influence by one upon the other. If men in the same family were divided by sectional loyalty, how much greater would have been a division between men who were worlds apart in their social standing. There was already a great ‘division’ in place between the two before the tragedy of the war even began.

    Over time, it seems to me that there was much more to John Wilkes Booth than has been understood and appreciated except, perhaps, by Michael Kauffman. The handsome young actor seemed a veritable ‘Pied Piper’ who led people to abandon even the semblance of rationality in order to follow his seductive influence (talking about influence). Men of reasonable intelligence seemed to relinquish even the strongest of human responses, the concept of self-preservation in order to follow Booth. His errors, miscalculations and plainly irrational acts seemed entirely without moment to those who fell under his spell from Davey Herold to Mary Surratt and everyone in between. I am reminded of two figures in liturature and history here: Svengali and Rasputin. Booth seems a real candidate for a similar place in history.

  3. James Epperson
    Mon 19th Mar 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Eric, I think Ms. P. has a good point about the two men being of a different “class.” We like to think of America as a classless society, but it is not, and never has been, and the son of a Navy Admiral, himself a wounded and decorated army officer, would not (IMO) have much in common with the son of a clerk. I agree that the coincidence is interesting, even fascinating, but I don’t think it means anything.

  4. Teej Smith
    Tue 20th Mar 2007 at 3:14 pm

    If Davey Herold attended private school and then Georgetown, it would appear to me that his family had some social standing. I’m an army brat whose father was an NCO. Even so, I went to school with and played with officers’ children all the time. While that doesn’t establish a link between Dahlgren and Herold as young adults it would lend credence that they knew each as children, no?


  5. Tue 20th Mar 2007 at 3:19 pm


    My point precisely.


  6. James Epperson
    Tue 20th Mar 2007 at 4:17 pm

    It seems we have a bit of a disconnect here. That Herold and Ully could have been passing acquaintances is clear, but what is less clear is how
    Ully’s involvement in his ill-fated raid on Richmond could have influenced
    Herold to take up with Booth.

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 20th Mar 2007 at 5:08 pm

    A lot would depend upon Herold’s father’s position as a ‘clerk’. Was he a civilian who ‘clerked’ at the yard or a military man who fulfilled that duty? As well, we must remember that public education was not widespread. If a man wanted his children to have an education, he usually had to pay for it. Possibly, Herold’s father was able by dint of effort to afford to send his child to the school to which Dahlgren was sent but that does not necessarily mean that he and his son were in any way the social equals of the Dahlgrens or would have had any contact with them.

    And while an ‘army brat’, child of an NCO or even a private soldier may interact (play) with the children of officers, I doubt even in this egalitarian climate that there would be much social contact as those children grew older.

    Finally, if I understand it aright, the Union strongly denied that any such plot had been afoot in the Dahlgren-Kilpatrick raid. Whatever might have been charged by the Confederate government and newspapers sympathetic to that government, the federal government and the northern press obviously denied that Dahlgren was in fact INVOLVED in an assassination plot. Therefore, unless there is evidence that Herold knew otherwise it is probable that he never connected Dahlgren to any such conspiracy except, perhaps, as a matter of conjecture.

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