previous next

Chapter 47: the Maryland line and the Kilpatrick and Dahlgren raid.

In February, 1864, an expedition was organized in the Federal Army, of a force of three thousand picked cavalry, to make a dash on Richmond, release the prisoners, burn the city, and escape by way of the Peninsula to Old Point Comfort. On February 29th, it started one column of four hundred men under Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, to cross the James River in Goochland County, above Richmond, and the other, under Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick, to make a direct attack on the city, while Dahlgren attacked from the south side.

Crossing at Ely's Ford, after surprising and capturing the picket there, they passed in rear of General Lee's army (capturing “en route” a whole court martial of Confederate officers, but passing by a camp of sixty-eight pieces of artillery that was unprotected, and would have fallen an easy prey), until, under the guidance of a negro that had been sent by Secretary Stanton, they reached the James [463] River at Dover Mills, where a ford was supposed to be. Finding none, they accused the negro guide of treachery, and barbarously hung him to a tree with a leather strap.

In the winter of 1863-64, the Maryland line, consisting of the Second Infantry, First Cavalry, First, Second, and Third Maryland Artillery, were stationed at Hanover Junction to guard Lee's flank toward the Peninsula and the railroad bridges over the North and South Anna, on the preservation of which depended Lee's communications with Richmond.

This movement around Lee's flank was at once discovered, and Colonel Johnson was directed by General Lee to look out for it.

The Maryland line cavalry was extended in a picket line along the Pamunkey to New Kent Court House, leaving only seventy-five men in camp. With these, during the night, by his scouts, Johnson located Kilpatrick's column, and then started with sixty men and two pieces of artillery to close up on Kilpatrick.

Just before daylight of March Ist, the Marylanders struck one of Kilpatrick's flanking parties and drove them in on the main body. They followed the enemy through Ashland down to the outer defences of Richmond; there Kilpatrick had dismounted his twenty-five hundred men and was making a [464] regular attack on the works. General Wade Hampton heard that the Federal cavalry was approaching the city, and immediately moved out to attack him.

The Marylanders drew up on his rear picket just as, by a happy chance, an officer and five men bearing a despatch from Dahlgren galloped into their arms. The despatch informed Kilpatrick that Dahlgren would attack on the River Road at sunset, that Kilpatrick must attack at the same time, and together they would ride into Richmond. Colonel Johnson at once drove in Kilpatrick's picket, who, finding himself attacked in rear at once retreated toward the White House. The Marylanders followed him, never losing sight of his rear-guard, and driving it in — on him whenever the ground allowed, until he got to Tunstall's, under the protection of infantry sent from Williamsburg or Yorktown for his rescue. The pursuers captured one hundred and forty prisoners and got off with an insignificant loss.1

Dahlgren, hearing the firing, concluded for reasons unknown to him, that Kilpatrick had attacked four hours before the appointed time, and kept under cover until dark, when he made an attack upon the north side of the [465] city. Here, March 1st, he encountered the company of Richmond boys (under eighteen years of age) at the outer intrenchments, and their fire becoming “too hot, he sounded the retreat, leaving forty men on the field.”

Continuing his retreat down the Peninsula, he was met by a few men of the Fifth and Ninth Virginia cavalry, and some home guards, all under command of Lieutenant James Pollard, Company H, Ninth Virginia cavalry, who, placing his men in ambush, waited until the Federals were close upon them, when a volley was fired, and Colonel Dahlgren, who had ridden forward and tried to discharge his pistol, fell dead, and his command were taken prisoners.

General Wade Hampton in his report said:

We captured upward of one hundred prisoners, representing five regiments, many horses, arms, etc. ... and forced this body of the enemy to take a route which they had not proposed to follow, while the other force, under Dahlgren, was prevented from forming a junction with Kilpatrick by the interposing of my command between the two.

This brought about the precipitate retreat of Dahlgren, and his ultimate death, with the destruction of his command.

He added:

I cannot close my report without expressing my appreciation of Colonel Bradley T. Johnson and his gallant command. [466] With a mere handful of men, he met the enemy at Beaver Dam, and never lost sight of him until he had passed Tunstall's Station, hanging on his rear, striking him constantly, and displaying throughout the very highest qualities of a soldier. He is admirably fitted for the cavalry service, and I trust it will not be deemed an interference on my part to urge, as emphatically as I can, his promotion.2

General G. W. C. Lee said: “A short distance beyond the fortifications I met the boy company, and some, or all, of the other companies of the Department battalion coming in; and was told, in answer to my inquiries, that the boy company had arrived first at the intermediate line of fortifications, and, not finding any troops there, had concluded that there was an outer line.” [467]

The “Department battalion” was composed of the clerks from all the departments of the Government, not from the Treasury Department alone-and of a company of Richmond boys under eighteen years of age, and it was this latter company that went by mistake to Green's farm, which was not far beyond the line of fortifications on the northern plank road to which the “Department battalion,” and another (Armory Battalion?) were ordered; and it was this company of boys which first became engaged with Dahigren's column, and which had the most to do with checking it, and perhaps driving it off

The following special orders were discovered on the body of Colonel Dahlgren:

Guides, pioneers (with oakum, turpentine, and torpedoes), Signal Officer, Quartermaster, Commissary; Scouts and pickets-men in rebel uniform. These will remain on the north bank and move down with the force on the south bank, not getting ahead of them; and if the communication can be kept up without giving an alarm, it must be done; but everything depends upon a surprise, and no one must be allowed to pass ahead of the column. Information must be gathered in regard to the crossings of the river, so that, should we be repulsed on the south side, we shall know where to recross at the nearest point. All [468] mills must be burned, and the canal destroyed; and also everything which can be used by the rebels must be destroyed, including the boats on the river. Should a ferry-boat be seized, and can be worked, have it moved down. Keep the force on the south side posted of any important movement of the enemy, and in case of danger some of the scouts must swim the river and bring us information. As we approach the city the party must take great care that they do not get ahead of the other party on the south side, and must conceal themselves and watch our movements. We will try and secure the bridge to the city (one mile below Belle Isle) and release the prisoners at the same time. If we do not succeed, they must then dash down, and we will try and carry the bridge from each side. When necessary, the men must be filed through the woods and along the river bank. The bridges once secured and the prisoners loose and over the river, the bridges will be secured and the city destroyed. The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city, it must be destroyed, and yeff Davis and Cabinet killed. Prisoners will go along with combustible material. The officer must use his discretion about the time of assisting us. Horses and cattle which we do not need immediately must be shot rather than left. Everything on [469] the canal and elsewhere of service to the rebels must be destroyed. As General Custer may follow me, be careful not to give a false alarm. The signal officer must be prepared to communicate at night by rockets, and in other things pertaining to his department. The quartermasters and commissaries must be on the lookout for their departments, and see that there are no delays on their account. The engineer officer will follow to survey the road as we pass over it, etc. The pioneers must be prepared to construct a bridge or destroy one. They must have plenty of oakum and turpentine for burning, which will be rolled in soaked balls, and given to the men to burn when we get into the city. Torpedoes will only be used by the pioneers for destroying the main bridges, etc. They must be prepared to destroy railroads. Men will branch off to the right with a few pioneers, and destroy the bridges and railroads south of Richmond, and then join us at the city. They must be well prepared with torpedoes, etc. The line of Falling Creek is probably the best to work along, or, as they approach the city, Goode's Creek, so that no reinforcements can come upon any cars. No one must be allowed to pass ahead, for fear of communicating news. Rejoin the command in all haste, and, if cut off, cross the [470] river above Richmond and join us. Men will stop at Bellona Arsenal and totally destroy it, and anything else but hospitals; then follow on and rejoin the command at Richmond in all haste, and if cut off, cross the river and join us. As General Custer may follow me, be careful and not give a false alarm.

General Fitzhugh Lee, in a letter to the Historical Magazine of New York, and published in the Magazine in 1870, says:

Personally, as a man educated to be a soldier, I deplore Colonel Ulric Dahlgren's sad fate. He was a young man full of hope, of undoubted pluck, and inspired with hatred of “ rebels.”

Fired by ambition, and longing to be at the head of “the braves who swept through the city of Richmond,” his courage and enthusiasm overflowed, and his naturally generous feelings were drowned. His memoranda and address to his troops were probably based upon the general instructions to the whole command.

The conception of the expedition, I have heard since the war, originated in General Kilpatrick's brain. It furnishes the best specimen of cavalry marching upon the Federal side; but it showed, upon the part of somebody, a most culpable want of knowledge [471] of data upon which to base such a movement.

I have only to add in conclusion, that what appeared in the Richmond papers of that period as the “Dahigren papers,” was correctly taken from the papers I carried in person to Mr. Davis; and that those papers were not added to or changed in the minutest particular, before they came into my possession, as far as I know and believe; and that, from all the facts in my possession, I have every reason to believe they were taken from the body of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, and came to me without alteration of any kind.

When Mr. Blair came to Richmond I mentioned Colonel Dahlgren's special orders, and he said, “Did you believe it?” I said that there had been no time for such a forgery, and that there was an itinerary in the same hand also. Upon Mr. Blair making some laughing remark of disbelief, I offered to send for the book, and said it had been photographed and sent to General Meade, who was then in our front-“with an inquiry as to whether such practices were authorized by his Government; and also to say that if any question was raised as to the copies, the original paper would be submitted.” No such question was [472] then made, and the denial that Dahlgren's conduct had been authorized was accepted.

Mr. Blair laughed again and said: “Now, the fact is I do not want to believe it, and if you could convince me I would rather not look at it.” I had felt much the same unwillingness, having been intimate with his parents. Once Commodore Dahlgren had brought the little fair-haired boy to show me how pretty he looked in his black velvet suit and Vandyke collar, and I could not reconcile the two Ulrics.

The Maryland Line, commanded by Colonel Bradley T. Johnson, rendered noble service in the conduct of his force against the Dahlgren raid.

Shortly after this, Colonel Johnson promised me that the Maryland Line should capture a flag for me.

In the following fall, September, 1864, there was a sharp cavalry affair between Early's cavalry, under Lomax, and Sheridan's, under Custer and Wilson, at Bunker Hill, in Buckley County, now West Virginia.

Charge and counter-charge succeeded each other back and forth the turnpike, and in one of them Captain George M. Emack, commanding Company B, First Maryland regiment, cut down the man carrying the guidon of the opposing regiment, while he wrested from his hand the guidon and brought it off. [473] Emack had the luck that some men have, of being hit almost every time he went under fire. He was the most reckless, daring soldier of that gallant command, and had received sixteen wounds in battle. In fighting for the guidon he received his seventeenth, which sent him to hospital for a week or two. Colonel Johnson directed him to deliver the captured guidon to me in person, as the performance of the pledge of the Maryland Line to me, with a letter announcing the fulfilment of the promise.

It was preserved as a souvenir of gallant service, and escaped the examination of my trunk when it was rifled at Fortress Monroe after the capture of President Davis. I have it now; but a fine Pennsylvania flag sent at another time was then taken from me, and possibly figures as one of the recaptured trophies of the Federal Armies.

1 Lieutenant R. Bartley, Signal Officer, U. S. A., accompanying Dahlgren,

2 General Hampton presented Colonel Johnson with a sabre in compliment for his having thus saved Richmond from capture, and General Elzey, who commanded the Department of Richmond, issued an order of which the following is an extract:

headquarters, Department of Richmond, March 8, 1864.
General Orders, No. 10.

... To Colonel Eradley T. Johnson and the officers and soldiers under his command, the thanks of the Major-General are especially due for the prompt and vigorous manner in which they pursued the enemy from Beaver Dam to Richmond, and thence to Panlunkey, and down the Peninsula, making repeated charges, capturing many prisoners and horses, and thwarting any attempt of the enemy to charge them.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1870 AD (1)
September, 1864 AD (1)
March 8th, 1864 AD (1)
February, 1864 AD (1)
1864 AD (1)
1863 AD (1)
March 1st (1)
March (1)
February 29th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: