12 April 2007 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 5 comments

Robert E. Lee’s adjutant, Col. Walter Herron Taylor, had some interesting insights on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. I’ve owned a copy of Taylor’s published war-time letters for some time, but it just never occurred to me to bother checking them. Thanks to old friend Teej Smith for pointing out to me that there is a treasure trove in this book for the student of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. Taylor is the officer standing on the right side of the Matthew Brady photograph of Lee taken in Richmond shortly after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox; the officer on the left side of the photo is Lee’s oldest son, Maj. Gen. George Washington Custis Lee.

I knew that Dahlgren’s column of the raid nearly captured an even greater prize than Jefferson Davis–Robert E. Lee. Lee was a passenger on the last train to get through on the Virginia Central Railroad. Here’s Taylor’s take on it: “As I told you, the General was influenced by my intemperate telegram to postpone his return to the army until Monday, thereby running great risk of capture, as the train upon which he travelled was the very last one that made the trip, the enemy reaching the railroad but a few hours after the rain had passed.” Good stuff.

Even better stuff: In April 1864, a few weeks after Ully Dahlgren was killed during the raid, Robert E. Lee was directed to inquire of George Gordon Meade whether the kidnapping and assassination of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet were, in fact, the policy of the U. S. government. Lee enclosed photographic copies of the Dahlgren Papers with his letter as evidence of the plot. A week or so later, Meade responded that it was not, and included a letter from Judson Kilpatrick disavowing Ully Dahlgren. Here’s Taylor’s very interesting take on these events.

“The General was directed some days since to inquire of General Meade if he or his Government sanctioned what Dahlgren had proposed and ordered in his address to his troops; this morning the answer came & it is to the effect that neither [General] Meade, [General] Kilpatrick nor the authorities at Washington ordered or approved the burning of Richmond, the killing of Mr. Davis & his cabinet or anything else not rendered necessary by military causes. That rascal Kilpatrick in his letter says that the copies (photographic) of the address which we sent were verbatim copies of an address which Col Dahlgren had submitted to him & which he had approved in red ink except that they lacked this approval and had that about burning the city & killing the high officials, thereby intimating that we had forged these copies & interpolated the objectionable exhortations. The low wretch–he approved the whole thing I am confident now. [General] Meade’s disclaimer is much more decided and candid–that I had expected.”

Taylor certainly had the measure of his man when it came to his assessment of Judson Kilpatrick. Wretch is certainly an appropriate word, and so is rascal. 🙂

Adding this material to the Dahlgren bio only further enriches it. One of these days, I need to finish the thing and declared it done, but I keep finding material like this every time that I think that I’ve got it wrapped up.

Scridb filter


  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Sun 15th Apr 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Sounds like a ‘cop out’ to me. Sure Kilpatrick was Kilpatrick, but how he could have gone off on such a raid carrying with him (according to what I’ve read) explosives experts and sufficient troops to engage in the operation without anyone knowing about it or without the ‘blessing’ of at least his MILITARY superiors is just not credible.

    I believe that Meade was doing a CYA for himself and probably for others who would have been dragged into the matter if he had been implicated. We certainly know that Stanton (and his henchmen Baker and Wood) were more than willing to play fast and loose with ‘the rules’ and Lincoln’s treatment of the Constitution does not bear close scrutiny either – that is, not if one reveres the Constitution.

    Sorry, but give the above, I can see no reason for – and every reason against – believing that Dahlgren or Kilpatrick (or both) were solely responsible for what was planned.

  2. Gary Emling
    Mon 16th Apr 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Could you please give the title of the volume of published letters of Col. Taylor that you mention in this item? Thanks.

  3. Thu 04th Aug 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Im happy to heer of some one with information on Col. Taylor, I potray him as a living historian, Id like to know if you have eny more information on Him your willing to share.

  4. Emily Johnson
    Wed 01st May 2013 at 11:23 am

    Thank you very much for this! In my history class, we are conducting a mock trial for Robert E. Lee and I am assaigned to portray Mr. Taylor. This helped for my research! Thanks!

  5. katt neese
    Sun 26th Oct 2014 at 9:52 pm

    It was really nice to read more on my ancestor Walter Taylor. His mother was a Cowdrey and is my 5th grand aunt

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