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[351]

Col. Ulric Dahlgren, the defeated Raider.

Editor of the Confederate Column:
Sir,—In reply to the thrilling and romantic story of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, and his attempt to enter Richmond and carry off President Davis, dead or alive, which appeared in the Confederate Column of your paper of March 21, ultimo, I have nothing to say; but that, if not drawn from the imagination of the writer, it may well be accepted as an interesting foundation for a war novel, but the incidents therein related, if true, were not creditable to the hero.

I have been, however, requested to state the facts about this young man's death and burial in the interest of history, as I may justly claim in this connection to have been ‘magna peri fui.’

In March, 1864, an orderly of General Arnold Elzey, who at the time commanded the department of Richmond, came to my headquarters on the Williamsburg Road with an order, he stated, from President Davis, transmitted through General Elzey to me, to go the next morning to the depot of the York River Railroad with a detail of men from my command—the Tenth and Nineteenth Confederate Artillery, at the battery called the Richmond Defences.

Under this order, with a detail of some half-dozen men and a wagon, I went to the York River depot, and was shown the body of a man in a rough, undressed pine coffin, and found it marked in stencil on the lid of the coffin with his name—‘Ulric Dahlgren.’

Colonel Dahlgren had been killed by a squad of men while rapidly retreating from the attack on Richmond, in which he had been defeated. On his person was found the order to his men, should they be able to enter Richmond, to at once proceed to the Libby Prison and deliver the prisoners; and also [352] to President Davis' house and take him ‘dead or alive’ to Colonel Dahlgren or General Kilpatrick.

The Libby Prison, so called, and the President's residence were clearly described in the aforesaid orders, some of which were also found on the person of the few followers of Dahlgren who were taken prisoners by the Confederates.

The fact that Dahlgren had himself entered Richmond and thus familiarized himself with these locations was thus made plain.

The fact of these orders was made known to President Davis, and he directed that these orders and Dahlgren's body should be sent up to Richmond by the railroad. The lid of Dahlgren's coffin when I saw it had been removed, and was lying by the side of the rough box in which the body had been placed. He was apparently a young man, of about twenty-three or twenty-five years of age, dressed in an unbleached cotton shirt, and in green pants, apparently uniform pants. He had one leg cut off near the knee by a surgeon. There was no evidence of his having been shot apparent, as he was lying on his back in the coffin.

I at once had the lid of the coffin screwed on, and it was placed in the wagon, which proceeded immediately to Oakwood for burial. He was buried near the entrance, a young sapling only marking the grave, and there we left him, as we supposed, until the great resurrection.

A few days thereafter Colonel Ould, our Commissioner of Exchange, rode up to my tent, and, on dismounting, said that he knew that I had superintended the burial of Colonel Dahlgren, and that he wanted me to show him the grave; that he wished to disinter the body and take it down in the next leaving exchange boat and deliver it to his father. Admiral Dahlgren, who had communicated with him on the subject, and promised if his son's body was delivered to him that he would have General Grant's order forbidding all exchanges of prisoners revoked.

Having received an order from President Davis not to divulge the burial spot of Dahlgren to any one, I felt obliged to refuse Colonel Ould's request. A few days subsequently I received [353] through Sergeant Maccubbin an autograph direction from Mr. Davis to show to Colonel Ould or his sergeant the place of burial of Colonel Dahlgren, for the return of his body would be of material advantage to the confederacy.

I at once ordered my horse and rode with Sergeant Maccubbin to Oakwood and pointed out the spot. I, after a few days, learned that Maccubbin had opened the grave, but had found the coffin had been removed, and I received a sharp reproach direct from Mr. Davis, in having, as he supposed, been disobedient to his directions, to show Colonel Ould where this body was laid. I replied that I had shown Maccubbin the grave where it was buried, and if it was subsequently removed, I knew nothing of it.

After the war, when I saw in a Washington newspaper a notice that Admiral Dahlgren had recovered the body of his son, and that there was an imposing funeral in Washington, I was greatly surprised, and expressing this in the presence of Patrick Gibson, who at one time was on the staff of the Richmond Examiner, he said he knew who had taken up the body of Dahlgren, and had been paid a handsome reward by his father for its delivery to him; that it was disinterred by Martin Meredith Lipscomb, who was at one time quite a well-known character in Richmond, and said to be during the war a Union man.

John Wilder Atkinson, Late Commanding Tenth and Nineteenth Battalion, Artillery, C. S. A.

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