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[490]

Chapter 30:

  • A train of Confederate successes in the beginning of 1864.
  • -- the battle of Ocean Pond. -- Gen. Seymour's expedition into Florida. -- its defeat and complete disaster. -- Sherman's expedition in the Southwest. -- his first experiment of “the moveable column.” -- his designs upon Mobile and the Confederate lines in North Georgia. -- the co-operating column of cavalry. -- Gen. Polk evacuates Meridian, and falls back to Demopolis. -- Forrest defeats the Federal cavalry. -- disastrous and disgraceful conclusion of Sherman's adventure. -- the Red River expedition. -- Gen. Banks' designs upon Texas. -- the Confederate commands in the Trans-Mississippi. -- the Federal advance up Red River. -- the Confederates fall back towards Shreveport. -- battle of Mansfield. -- how the action was brought on. -- rout of the enemy. -- singular scenes on the pursuit. -- battle of Pleasant Hill. -- an unfortunate mistake of orders. -- Churchill's corps panic-stricken. -- Gen. Walker holds the field. -- the enemy continues his retreat to Alexandria. -- his march a career of unparalleled cowardice and crime. -- large spoils of the Confederates. -- the extent of Banks' disaster. -- termination of his vision of empire west of the Mississippi. -- Forrest's expedition up the Mississippi. -- capture of Fort Pillow. -- Hoke's operations on the North Carolina coast. -- comparative unimportance of these Confederate successes. -- the raid of Ulric Dahlgren. -- the parts of Custer and Kilpatrick. -- failure and ludicrous cowardice of the several expeditions. -- Dahlgren's atrocious designs. -- he retreats, and is chased by Pollard. -- manner of his death. -- discovery of “the Dahlgren papers.” -- sensation in Richmond. -- President Davis' melodrama. -- statement of Edward W. Halbach in relation to the “Dahlgren papers.” -- the papers first found by the schoolboy Littlepage. -- how transmitted to Richmond. -- the theory of forgery. -- its utter absurdity


Although the Northern public was gratified in contemplating the sum of Federal victories in the year 1863, it had yet to see in the early months of 1864 a remarkable train of Confederate successes, which, in the aggregate, did much to re-animate the Confederates, and to subdue expectation at Washington. These successes were principally a decisive victory in Florida; the defeat of Sherman's expedition in the Southwest; and a triumphant issue in the most important campaign that had yet taken place west of the Mississippi River.


[491]

Battle of Ocean pond.

The operations against Charleston having been virtually abandoned, it was decided at Washington to use the surplus troops in an attempt upon Florida. A command of six or seven thousand men, including two regiments of negroes, was organized under Gen. Seymour, left Charleston Harbour in eighteen transports, and in the month of February ascended the St. Mary's River. The enemy was allowed to land, as the small Confederate force under Gen. Finnegan was unequal for anything like a battle, and was awaiting reinforcements despatched by Gen. Beauregard, in whose military department the State of Florida was included. Colquitt's brigade arrived in time to unite with Finnegan and hold the position at Oulustre not far from Ocean Pond, an inland lake, where it was proposed to cover the capital of the State and defend the road from Lake City to Tallahassee. The joint Confederate force did not number more than five thousand men.

On the 20th February, this little force was advanced several miles to meet the enemy. A severe battle opened in the afternoon; for two hours the enemy was steadily pushed back; until at last about sunset, a simultaneous attack of the Twenty-Seventh and Sixth Georgia Regiments on the enemy's centre and flank broke his whole line into confusion. Five pieces of artillery were taken, two thousand small arms, and five hundred prisoners. The enemy left upon the field three hundred and fifty dead, and abandoned all of his severely wounded. The action was decisive, as it resulted in the expulsion of the enemy from Florida, and the preservation of this State to the Confederacy.


Sherman's expedition in the Southwest.

Another notable event about this time was Sherman's expedition into Central Mississippi, in which, with an army of about thirty thousand men, he proposed to sever his communications behind him, and to strike off into the heart of the country. It was his first experiment of “the movable column,” but unlike that in the later months of 1864, it had opposing military forces to encounter, and came to the most wretched grief.

The conceit of the Federal commander was to operate upon what was called a “strategic triangle” --to move from Vicksburg to Mobile, by the way of Selma; a heavy column of cavalry to start from Memphis, move rapidly across Mississippi and Alabama, come upon the flank of Gen. Polk's army, and harass his retreat while Sherman rushed upon him in front; and thus by the possession of Mobile and Selma to obtain two important water-bases — the one on the Mississippi at Vicksburg, the other at [492] Mobile on the Gulf, and to establish his army firmly in the triangle formed by the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, and the railroad leading from Selma to Demopolis and Meridian. The immediate objects of the movement were to cut off Mobile from Johnston, who lay in front of Grant on the lines in North Georgia, to break up Polk's army, and then to turn down on Mobile, and co-operate with Farragut's fleet, which was at that time thundering at the gates of this city.

On the 3d February, Sherman left Vicksburg with about thirty thousand infantry, pushed east, and crossed the entire State of Mississippi to Meridian. A few days later the column, eight thousand strong, under command of Gens. Smith and Grierson, started from Corinth and Holly Springs, and passed, with the usual incidents of pillage and destruction, through one of the richest districts of the Confederacy. The junction of this cavalry force with Sherman at Meridian was the critical point of his plan, and it was thought would enable him to advance upon Demopolis and Selma.

Gen. Polk's little army having been reinforced by two or three brigades from the Mobile garrison for the purpose of checking the enemy far enough to save his accumulated stores and supplies, was yet in no condition to give battle, being but half of Sherman's numbers; and, therefore, evacuated Meridian, and retired to Demopolis. Meanwhile Gen. Forrest, with not more than twenty-five hundred cavalry, had been detached to watch the movements of Smith's and Grierson's commands, and was left to confront eight thousand of the best-equipped cavalry that the enemy had ever put in the field. But the great cavalry chief of the West showed no hesitation. He struck the enemy on the broad prairies near West Point; and at Okalona, on the 21st February, he had a more important action, and put the enemy in shameful retreat back to Memphis.

This action of Forrest was decisive of the campaign; it broke down Sherman's means of subsisting his infantry; and it illustrated on what slight conditions depend the defeat or success of an enterprise which leaves a well-defined base to penetrate the interiour of a country. Sherman in his first experiment of “the movable column” obtained only the cheap triumphs of the ruffian and plunderer. He was compelled to make a hasty retreat over one hundred and fifty miles of a country he had ravaged and exhausted; he accomplished not a single military result; he demoralized a fine army; and of the cavalry which was to co-operate with him, this master of billingsgate in the army declared “half went to h-11, and half to Memphis.”


The Red River expedition.

Gen. Banks, the Federal commander, had remained for some months idle and ostentatious in New Orleans, with just as much of the State of [493] Louisiana in the Union as was covered by his pickets. But he hoped to signalize the year 1864 by a remarkable expedition, which was to proceed up Red River as far as Shreveport, thence across the country into the central region of Texas, thereby destroying the Confederate lines on Red River, and their supplies, which were then drawn principally from that portion of Texas.

He proposed to move on this expedition with a land force, and a squadron of gunboats and transports — the former numbering about forty thou sand men. Maj.-Gen.DickTaylor was at this time commanding the Confederate forces operating along the west bank of the Mississippi River. Gen. Kirby Smith was commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, with headquarters at Shreveport. Gen. Price was temporarily commanding the district of Arkansas, with headquarters in the field, in the neighbourhood of Camden. The Confederate force in Arkansas numbered about eight thousand effective men. That of the Federals was conjectured to be about fifteen thousand men, the greater part of which, under Gen. Steele, held Little Rock. Gen. Taylor had about ten thousand men, Louisiana and Texas troops.

About the middle of March, Gen. Banks commenced his advance up Red River; and about two weeks later, Gen. Steele commenced advancing from Little Rock, in the direction of Shreveport, intending to unite with Banks at that point, and to assist in capturing the place. Gen. Taylor made some desultory attempts to oppose or check the advance of the enemy, but he was gradually forced back by overwhelming numbers, retreating as slowly as possible in order to give his reinforcements time to reach him before he fell back to Shreveport. Gen. Smith had ordered two brigades of Missouri infantry and two brigades of Arkansas infantry, which had been operating in Arkansas, to go to Taylor's relief; and he also hurried up some cavalry from Texas.


Battle of Mansfield.

Red River is a very narrow and tortuous stream, and at the time of the expedition was quite low. At Alexandria, one hundred and sixty miles below Shreveport, are the “( Falls,” which obstruct the channel and prevent navigation in low water. On the road from Shreveport to Alexandria, forty miles from the former place, is Mansfield, a little village of about five hundred inhabitants. Twenty miles from Mansfield, on the same road, is the village of Pleasant Hill. Twenty miles further on is Blair's Landing on Red River. Still further on, forty miles above Alexandria, on Old River, which in high water communicates with Red River, we come to Natchitoches, the oldest town on Red River, the scene of the last conference [494] between the agents of Aaron Burr and Gen. Hamilton in reference to the expedition of the former to conquer the Spanish and unfriendly powers in Louisiana and Mexico.

Gen. Smith had determined to make a stand at a point between Mansfield and Shreveport, where he calculated on having his army concentrated, expecting by the superiour valour of his men to defeat the enemy's large force, but if not, to fall back on Shreveport, and fight from fortifications. On the morning of April 8th, Gen. Taylor, with his command now augmented to fifteen thousand, had reached within two miles of Mansfield, and had halted, determined to have an affair with the enemy. The Arkansas and Missouri infantry organized into two divisions, the Missourians under Gen. Parsons and the Arkansians under Gen. Tappan, and both under Gen. Churchill, were at Keachi, a village twenty miles from Mansfield. Churchill was under orders to march his command until he formed a junction with Taylor. Accordingly, his command, on the 8th of April, marched from Keachi to Mansfield, a distance of twenty miles, and reached their camp after dark.

Gen. Banks was marching his army by brigades, with intervals of from one to three miles, each brigade with its train — a favourite plan of marching with the Federal troops. The place selected by Gen. Taylor for engagement was calculated to give great advantage to the party attacked. He expected that as soon as Banks' forces came up they would attack him, as they had been doing for the past twenty days.

The ground selected was a large plantation three-quarters of a mile in width, and three or four miles in length. The Mansfield and Alexandria road ran across it. The ground traversed by the road was higher than on either side, forming a ridge. Gen. Taylor, in falling back, crossed the clearing, and halted his command on the west side, in the timber. The advance-guard of Gen. Banks discovering that the Confederates had halted, also halted. It appeared as if each party desired the other to attack, and several hours were passed in inactivity. About four o'clock in the afternoon, Gen. Taylor, becoming impatient, and desiring to camp, determined to drive back the advance-guard of the enemy. For this purpose he sent forward a battalion of skirmishers, which the enemy perceiving when about half way across the field, sent a regiment of cavalry to cut it off. Gen. Taylor, to save his skirmishers, sent a regiment to their relief; the enemy immediately developed an entire brigade; the Louisiana Brigade was ordered to charge, and thus in a few moments a general action was provoked.

The Louisiana troops moved gallantly forward, at a rapid run, making across the clearing half-a-mile, under a terrible fire of the enemy's artillery and small arms. There was no pause until they struck the enemy, broke the line of his first brigade, and captured nearly the whole of it. A second [495] line of the enemy shared the same fate. In this line one of the Federal regiments called for “quarter,” and ceased firing, when Gen. Mouton rode up to receive their surrender. Several shots were fired at him, and he fell dead, his body pierced by four balls. Incensed at this atrocious act of cowardice and treachery, the Louisiana troops poured into the regiment that had called for quarter volley after volley of musketry, shattering it, and killing or wounding nearly every man in it. It was nearly dark when the battle ceased. The enemy was driven back; both wings of his army were flanked; he lost eight hundred killed and wounded, several thousand prisoners, one hundred and fifty wagons, eighteen pieces of artillery, and five or six thousand stand of small arms.

At two o'clock next morning, Churchill's corps, which had not been in the engagement of the night before, was ordered forward, and put in the advance in pursuit of the enemy, who was soon discovered to be in full retreat. A detachment of cavalry in advance, acting as skirmishers, were constantly picking up stragglers. A thousand men were captured in this way during the day. The scene of the disorderly retreat was decidedly picturesque. The Zouaves, in their wide trousers, loose jackets, and skull caps, all red, torn, dirty, and with lapdogs frequently in their arms, which they had stolen as they had come up, presented a singular spectacle, as they were marched to the rear in squads of fives, tens, or fifties, generally by a Texas cavalry-man, accoutred in ragged pants, a wide hat, and big spurs, armed with a long Enfield rifle, and riding a Spanish mule or a mustang pony. On the road from the battle-field to within a few miles of Pleasant Hill, the Confederates were never out of sight of a deserted wagon, some burned and some left standing, ambulances, caissons, boxes of ammunition, boxes of crackers, packages of medicines, dead Federals, dead horses, and broken and abandoned guns. Some of the wagons were loaded with cradles, intended for cutting the wheat crop of Texas, and many of them had in them various articles which had been stolen from citizens in the march.


Battle of Pleasant Hill.

As the Confederates advanced within three miles of Pleasant Hill, it was reported that the enemy had made a stand there. The troops in advance were halted to rest them, and to give time to the rear to close up. A council of war was called by Gen. Taylor, who thought that the enemy would again retreat as soon as our force developed itself:

Pleasant Hill, as before stated, is a small village through which runs the main road to Alexandria. To the southwest of the village was a large clearing traversed by three deep gullies. On the southeast corner stood what was known as the College Building. [496]

From the point where the Confederates halted a road makes a detour from the main road and comes into a clearing back of the village, at the southwest corner. Just before entering the clearing, a road branches off from this and makes a still greater detour to the south, and comes into the clearing back of the college. Gen. Taylor, supposing that the enemy had formed across the main road, directed Walker's division of Texas troops, the cavalry in reserve, and also the Louisiana infantry in supporting distance to advance along the road, attack, and drive him. Churchill with his corps was ordered to take the road which has been described as leading around the village, and thereby strike the enemy in the flank. Gen. Taylor was not aware that this road came in at the southwest corner, but thought it came in at the southeast corner near the College, and hence failed to caution Churchill against coming in too soon. The army advanced as directed, and Churchill, provided with a guide, moved forward. When he came to where the other road led off to the right, the guide insisted that Gen. Taylor intended the troops to take it, and come in by the College. Gen. Churchill replied that Gen. Taylor had not spoken of turning off that road, and as the main road led forward he determined to continue on it. The guide, knowing the country well, understood Gen. Taylor's plan, although the commander had blundered in describing it. Churchill advanced until he reached the edge of the clearing, then marched to the left, forming his line parallel with the main road, but three-quarters of a mile from it. The Federals had formed a line across the road in the thick timber, and had thrown up logs and rails several feet high to protect them. They had also formed two lines, on the left flank of this first line, and at right angles to it, and parallel to the road, in two gullies running through the clearing, with their left resting on the edge of timber. Their reserve line was formed beyond the village, the right flank resting on the main road and the left extended to the vicinity of the College. A battery was planted at the west end of the village in the road, and another planted on the rising ground near the College. The enemy's forces were thus admirably posted to repel an attack and to take advantage of any success they might obtain. They kept their positions well covered by heavy bodies of sharpshooters, and the Confederates had to advance in line of battle in full force to discover their position.

Gen. Walker had advanced along the road, but had met with so much resistance from skirmishers as to induce Gen. Churchill to believe that he had discovered the enemy, and was really in his rear. He therefore ordered an advance at double-quick in the direction of the firing. Meanwhile Walker, having driven in the skirmishers, discovered the enemy in large force concealed in the underbrush, and ordered a charge. But the brush was almost impenetrable, and the enemy was in a cover from which he could not be easily driven. In front of his position for one hundred yards [497] the small trees were cut off as by an even scythe about four feet high, by the incessant volleys of the enemy's fire. Churchill, coming up soon, struck the first line of the enemy posted in the gully. The vigour of the attack was remarkable; the troops ran over the first line of the enemy, never pausing to take prisoners, and merely shouting to the affrighted Federals to get to the rear. In a few moments a second line of tile enemy was pushed back, and Churchill was soon up where Walker was attacking. By the combined assault the enemy was driven from his position, and fell back to the gullies in the field.

Walker's and Churchill's men were now intermixed and in some confusion. Col. Bums, commanding the 2d Brigade of Missouri infantry, succeeded in getting his brigade in order, and, supported by the other commands, moved by the right flank until he came into position to charge the enemy in their new position. In a few moments the Federals were driven back through the village. The 11th Missouri infantry captured a battery which had been planted in the road. In charging the enemy, our forces came full against the village, and Burns' brigade, being in advance in the flank movement, were consequently an the extreme right, and reached beyond the main part of the village. Just as they had driven the enemy through the village, the line of his reserves, which, by its position, was immediately on our right flank, commenced firing, and advancing the left, which had rested near the College. The Confederates were thus suddenly exposed to a flanking and rear fire. They were scattered from the last charge, and fell into disorder.

About two hundred of the Missouri brigade were taken prisoners. A confusion and panic ensued, which it soon became impossible to arrest. The retreat on the part of Churchill's corps was converted into a rout, with no enemy pursuing. Gen. Parsons passed the fugitive troops on a fleet horse, shouting: “The enemy are on you; meet me at Mansfield.” Some of the officers led the men in their flight. One officer came galloping by the Field Infirmary, crying out: “Get away from here; the enemy have planted a battery on the hill, and will commence firing in a minute.” The enemy had no battery in less than a mile, and the officer was so badly frightened that he had mistaken two of our pieces, which a panic-stricken lieutenant had deserted, for a Federal battery. But there were instances of gallantry even in this retreat. Col. Burns attempted long to rally his brigade, and failing, followed it from the field as calmly as if he were returning from drill. Col. Moore, commanding the 10th Missouri infantry, was the last to leave the field. On foot he had collected about fifty men, and was sharpshooting the enemy as long as lie attempted to follow. Through the efforts of Cols. Burns and Moore, principally, the troops were halted and organized about two miles from the village. Part of Walker's command remained on the ground taken from the enemy, as also some [498] cavalry and a regiment of Arkansas infantry. Instead of showing any inclination to pursue or even attempting to take the ground he had lost, the enemy commenced falling back immediately, leaving his dead and wounded on the field. As night fell, Gen. Smith arrived upon the field, ordered Churchill's corps back to Arkansas to the relief of Gen. Price, and directed Gen. Taylor to follow up the enemy.

The Confederate loss in the battle of Pleasant Hill was two hundred killed, five hundred wounded, and about two hundred and fifty prisoners. The Federal loss was killed three hundred, wounded eight hundred, prisoners two thousand. In about a week thereafter our prisoners were returned, in partial payment of a deficiency on a former exchange. The Federal prisoners were sent to Tyler, Texas.

The morning following the battle, Gen. Green, with his Texas cavalry, was put in advance in pursuit of the enemy. The gunboat squadron was retreating down the river. The cavalry fired upon it at Blair's Landing, and Gen. Green was killed by the fragment of a shell. The enemy was vigorously annoyed all the way to Alexandria; and there he was compelled to make a stand, to gain time to get his boats over the rapids, as the river had fallen so much as to make it impossible to float them over. Gen. Taylor's force had been weakened too much to attack and drive the enemy from his fortifications; and “Yankee ingenuity” triumphed over the “Falls” by the construction of a tree-dam six hundred feet across the river. The boats were floated off, and the land forces passed on by the light of the burning town, which they fired as they left. It was the last act of atrocity in a career of unparalleled cowardice and crime. Along the line of Banks' march but few sugar-houses, cotton gins, or even dwelling-houses were left standing. It was said that his troops marched on their retreat “with a torch in their right hand, plunder in their left, and their arms on their backs.”

Gen. Banks, instead of winning laurels, and harvesting the wheat-fields of Texas, returned to New Orleans ruined in military reputation, with the loss of eight thousand killed and wounded, six thousand prisoners, thirty-five pieces of artillery, twelve hundred wagons, one gunboat, and three transports and about twenty thousand stand of small arms. Most of the captured wagons belonged to Steele, who, after various skirmishes in Arkansas, had returned to Little Rock with two wagons out of a train of near eight hundred, and after having lost all of his artillery. Thus ended the expedition to capture Shreveport and overrun Texas; and thus dissolved the vision of Banks' splendid empire west of the Mississippi, now practically reduced to the tenure of New Orleans, the banks of the river, and a strip of sea-coast.

We have seen that three notable expeditions of the enemy, in the early part of 1864-that against Florida, that against Mississippi and Alabama, [499] and that against Texas,--had resulted in extreme disaster. They were followed by some expeditions and episodes on the Confederate side, which must be briefly mentioned here, as their results, although successful, threw but little weight into the scales of the war. Such was the expedition by which Forrest, in the month of April, spread terrour along the banks of the Mississippi, stormed Fort Pillow, 1 and cut a swath across the State of Kentucky; Such, too, was the expedition of Hoke, which captured in North Carolina the strong position of Plymouth, that protected the whole Roanoke Valley, taking in the place sixteen hundred prisoners and twenty-five pieces of artillery. The latter success was thought, indeed, to be of permanent value, as it left the enemy only two places, Washington and Newbern, on the coast of North Carolina; but the force that had moved to Plymouth had to be recalled to the great campaign about to take place in Virginia, and the line of operations it had drawn was soon obliterated from the general map of the war.

In a general history there is but little space for detached events. We have briefly treated those which preceded the large and active campaigns of 1864. But we must make an exception to this rule in case of an expedition of Federal cavalry, directed against Richmond, in the month of March, which, although a very small incident in military view, is to be taken among the most interesting events of the war, as containing one of the most distinct and deliberate evidences of the enemy's atrocity that had yet been given to a shocked and surprised world.


The raid of Ulric Dahlgren.

About the close of February, an expedition of Federal cavalry was organized to move towards Richmond, in which Col. Ulric Dahlgren--a son of the Federal admiral who had operated so ineffectually against Charlestonwas [500] second in command. One branch of the expedition under Gen. Custer was to create a diversion and distract attention in the direction of Charlottesville; the other was to divide at Beaver Dam, one part of it under Gen. Kilpatrick to move down on the north side of Richmond, the other, commanded by Dahlgren, to cross the James River at some point in Goochland County, make an attack upon the south of the capital, which was supposed to be undefended, release the Federal prisoners there, fire “the hateful city,” and murder in cold blood the President and his principal officers! Such was the fiendish plot of the enemy, the chief part of which was to be enacted by a young man some twenty-odd years old, whose education, social pretensions, and soft manners would scarcely have given one the idea of an enterprise which compassed all the revenge, villainy, and cowardice of the most savage warfare.

The parts of Custer and Kilpatrick were very weakly carried out. The first reached the vicinity of Charlottesville, and finding Stuart's horse artillery there, retreated at a rapid pace, and fell back to his infantry supports at Madison Court-House. The second, moving down on the Brook turnpike, came, on the 1st March, near the outer line of the Richmond fortifications, and without once getting within range of the artillery, took up a line of march down the Peninsula. Meanwhile, Dahlgren, not venturing to cross the high water of the James River, abandoned his enterprise on the south side of Richmond, and, unapprised of the ludicrous cowardice and retreat of Kilpatrick, proposed, by moving down the Westham plank-road, which skirted the river, to effect a junction with him, with a view to further operations or to the security of his retreat.

On the night of the 1st March, Dahlgren pursued his way towards Richmond, with seven or eight hundred horsemen. The night was very dark; there was nothing on the road but a force of local soldiery, composed of a battalion of artisans in the Richmond Armory and a battalion of department clerks; this thin force of unskilled soldiers was all that stood between Dahlgren and the revenge he had plotted to pour in blood and fire upon the devoted capital of the Confederacy. But it was sufficient. The valorous cavalry that came on with shouts of “Charge the d-d militia,” broke at the first fire; and a single fire of musketry, that killed eleven of his men, sufficed to scatter in shameful flight Dahlgren's picked command of “braves.”

After this dastardly event, Dahlgren, anxious now only for his retreat, divided what of his force he could collect, so as to increase his chances of escape. The force under his immediate command moved down the south bank of the Pamunkey, and in the afternoon of the next day crossed the Mattapony at Ayletts in King and Queen County. As the ferry-boat at this place had been taken up and hid, Lieut. Pollard, who had posted from Richmond to chase the raiders, supposing they would not attempt to [501] cross here, and wishing to dispute the passage of the river wherever it might be attempted, went, with a few men of “Lee's rangers,” farther up the river to Dunkirk, where it was thought the enemy would endeavour to cross. But the raiders, having found an old flat-boat at Ayletts, succeeded in crossing here, swimming their horses. Lieut. Pollard, now finding that the enemy had succeeded in crossing the river below him, immediately left Dunkirk, and went in pursuit, with the intention of hanging on his rear, and harassing him as much as possible with his handful of men.

The rear-guard of the enemy was overtaken a short distance above Bruington Church, and driven down the road on their main body. The party under Lieut. Pollard, numbering now about twenty, advanced, and a desultory fire was kept up for a mile or two. Pollard's party was afterwards joined by some “I Home-Guards,” under Capt. R. II. Bagby, and the whole force now probably numbered thirty men.

The enemy, having reached the forks of the road near the point where “Butler's Tavern” once stood, took the right fork. Here Lieut. Pollard asked the advice and information of persons who were familiar with the roads and country, and it was decided to ambush the enemy at a point about a mile and a half below Stevensville. The enemy numbered about one hundred and had forty negroes with him. A feint was made by sending a few men in pursuit of the fugitives, while the main force hastened down the left fork of the road leading to Stevensville. The place of ambush was reached about dark.

In the mean time Pollard's force had been increased by a detachment from the 24th Virginia Cavalry, Capt. McGruder commanding, and now numbered about seventy or eighty men. These were also joined by Capt. Fox, of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, with a few men, and he, being the ranking officer, assumed command of the whole force, which was ranged along the road in ambush.

Scouts were sent out to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy, who, it was found, had reached a point about a mile distant, on what was called the “River road,” where they were in bivouac. A consultation was held among the Confederate officers, and it was at one time decided to attack the enemy, but the final decision was to await his approach.

Some of the officers thought that the raiders would remain in bivouac only long enough to feed their horses, while others thought that they would not advance before morning, or, at least, before the rise of the moon about 2 or 3 A. M. Those who held the latter opinion went to neighbouring houses for the purpose of securing a little rest. Among these was Lieut. Pollard, who was, consequently, not present when the enemy came up.

The enemy advanced about 11 o'clock at night, Col. Dahlgren leading [502] his men. He saw a few men in the road, and ordered them to surrender He was answered by a fire from a few guns. The fire was returned by a few shots from the enemy's front. There was no “desperate fight;” there was no “cutting the way out,” nothing of the sort. A few guns were fired on each side, resulting in the killing of Col. Dahlgren-possibly by his own men-and the wounding of two or three privates. Thrown into confusion by the slight fire, and panic-stricken, the raiders fled down the road they had just come up, and endeavoured to escape through a field immediately in front of the concealed position of the Confederates. They were baffled in this by a creek which ran from the place of ambush into the Mattapony. Near this creek they camped during the remainder of the night, and, having been deserted completely by their officers, surrendered the next morning, probably eighty soldiers and thirty negroes-others being picked up during the day.

The great interest of the affair remained to be disclosed. There were discovered on the dead body of Dahlgren a written address to his men, and other documents, revealing to the startled sensibilities of the people of Richmond the horrours which they had narrowly escaped. The Confederates had here documentary evidence of the atrocious spirit of the enemy, which it was important to exhibit to the world; for whatever had been the constant assertion on this subject, the persistent denials of Torthem prints, their audacious recrimination, and the stereotypes of Federal hypocrisy about “Union,” “cause of humanity,” “hopes of the world,” etc., had heretofore imposed upon the credulous, and put a certain garb of virtue on the most iniquitous designs. But here at last the enemy had, by a document plainer and more significant than any published to the world from the bureaux of Washington, revealed the stark and deformed genius of the war.

On the person of Dahlgren there was discovered the following address to the officers and men of the command, written on a sheet of paper having in printed letters on the upper corner,

Headquarters Third Division, Cavalry Corps,-- , 1864:
Officers and men:
You have been selected from brigades and regiments as a picked command to attempt a desperate undertaking, which, if successful, will write your names on the hearts of your countrymen in letters that can never be erased, and will cause the prayers of our fellow-soldiers, now confined in loathsome prisons, to follow you and yours wherever you may go.

We hope to release the prisoners from Belle Island first, and having seen them fairly started, we will cross the James River into Richmond, destroying the bridges after us, and exhorting the released prisoners to destroy and burn the hateful city, and do not allow the rebel leader Davis, and his traitorous crew to escape. The prisoners must render great assistance, as you cannot leave your ranks too far, or become too much scattered, or you will be lost. [503]

Do not allow any personal gain to lead you off, which would only bring you to an ignominious death at the hands of citizens. Keep well together, and obey orders strictly; and all will be well, but on no account scatter too far; for in union there is strength.

With strict obedience to orders, and fearlessness in the execution, you will be sure to succeed.

We will join the main force on the other side of the city, or perhaps meet them inside.

Many of you may fall; but if there is any man here not willing to sacrifice his life in such a great and glorious undertaking, or who does not feel capable of meeting the enemy in such a desperate fight as will follow, let him step out, and he may go hence to the arms of his sweetheart, and read of the braves who swept through the city of Richmond.

We want no man who cannot feel sure of success in such a holy cause.

We will have a desperate fight; but stand up to it when it does come, and all will be well.

Ask the blessing of the Almighty, and do not fear the enemy.

U. Dahlgren, Colonel Commanding.

It might be supposed that the Richmond authorities would have attempted some substantial retaliation, in view of these murderous and incendiary disclosures, and would have treated those of Dahlgren's raiders who had been captured as the felons they really were. But President Davis was weak and melodramatic on the subject of retaliation; a distinct victim had never yet been exacted for innumerable murders and massacres committed by the enemy; a single act of substantial retaliation had never been done by the Confederate Administration; and now the utterly absurd and puerile notice in Richmond of the Dahlgren raid was to bury the body of its leader in a concealed grave, and to put several tons of powder under the Libby Prison to intimidate its inmates. Such stupid melodrama is almost incredible in the head of a great government, and merely gave occasion to the enemy to exclaim about “rebel barbarities,” and to surround with romance a deed of villainy from which the public, without such appeals to their interest and sympathy, would have turned with aversion. Indeed so far did the misrepresentation and hypocrisy of the North go on this subject, that the authenticity of the papers found on Dahlgren was denied, and with that singular disposition of Northern newspapers to interpret as heroism, and entitle as fame, the worst villainies of the war, and its most ruthless and comprehensive works of destruction, the name of Ulric Dahlgren was written as “the young hero of the North,” who had been “assassinated” on the path to glory.

The authenticity of “the Dahlgren Papers” --the most important only of which we have copied above — is probably no longer a question with the intelligent. But to put it beyond all dispute, we annex here [504] detailed statement of the circumstances of the discovery of these papers obtained from the living witness under whose eye they first came:

Statement of Edward W. Halbach in relation to
The Dahlgren papers.

In the summer of 1863, I, Edward W. Halbach, was living at Stevensville, in King and Queen County, Virginia. I had already been exempted from military service on account of the condition of my health, and was now exempt as a schoolmaster having the requisite number of pupils. But feeling it my duty to do what I could to encounter the raids of the enemy, I determined to form a company of my pupils between the ages of thirteen and seventeen years. My commission and papers prove that the company was formed, and accepted by the President for “Local defence.” A member of this company, thirteen years of age at the time, captured the notorious “Dahlgren papers.” The name of this boy is William Littlepage.

Littlepage and myself were at Stevensville when the rangers passed that place on their way to the appointed place of ambush. Being determined to participate in the affair, we set off on foot, having no horses to ride, and reached the rendezvous a little after dark. The Yankees came up in a few hours, and were fired on. Immediately after this fire, and while it was still doubtful whether the enemy would summon up courage enough to advance again, in a word, before any one else ventured to do so, Littlepage ran out into the road, and, finding a “dead Yankee” there, proceeded to search his pockets to see, as he said, if he might not be fortunate enough to find a watch. The little fellow wanted to own a watch, and, as the Yankees had robbed me, his teacher, of a gold watch a short time before, I suppose he concluded that there would be no harm in his taking a watch from a “dead Yankee;” but his teacher always discouraged any feeling of this kind in his pupils. Littlepage failed to secure the prize by not looking in the overcoat pockets, and the watch (for there was really one) was found afterwards by Lieut. Hart. But in searching the pockets of the inner garments, Littlepage did find a segar-case, a memorandum-box, etc.

When the Yankees had been driven back and thrown into a panic by the suddenness of our fire and the darkness of the night, a Confederate lieutenant, whom, the enemy had captured at Frederick Hall, embraced the opportunity presented to make his escape, and actually succeeded in getting over to our side.

We could, by this time, hear the enemy galloping rapidly over the field, and arrangements were soon made to prevent their possible escape. Our force determined to go down the road towards King and Queen Court-House, and barricade it.

But, as before mentioned, myself and the only member of my company had with me, were on foot, and unable to keep up with the horsemen. It was therefore decided that the prisoners whom we had captured should be left in my charge. In the confusion, however, all the prisoners had been carried off by others, save the one claiming to be a Confederate officer, which he afterwards proved to be-and a gallant one at that. But, under the circumstances, I felt compelled to treat him as an enemy, until time should prove him a friend.

Wishing to find a place of safety, and feeling that it would be hazardous for so small a party to take any of the public roads (for we knew not how many more Yankees there were, nor in what direction they might come), I decided to go into the woods a [505] short distance, and there spend the night. My party consisted of myself, Littlepage, the “lieutenant,” and several other gentlemen of King and Queen County. We walked into the woods about a quarter of a mile, and sat down.

Up to this time, we had not even an intimation of the name and rank of the officer commanding the enemy. In fact, we felt no curiosity to know. All we cared for was to punish as severely as possible the raiders with whom we were contending. We knew that one man was killed, but knew not who he was. We were just getting our places for the night, and wrapping up with blankets, garments, etc., such as we had, for the ground was freezing, and we dared not make a fire, when Littlepage pulled out a segar-case, and said: “ Mr. Halbach, will you have a segar? ” “ No,” said I; “ but where did you get segars these hard times?” He replied that he had got them out of the pocket of the Yankee who had been killed, and that he had also taken from the same man a memorandum-book and some papers. “ Well,” said I, “ William, you must give me the papers, and you may keep the segar-case.”

Littlepage then remarked that the dead Yankee had a wooden leg. Here the Lieutenant, greatly agitated, exclaimed: “ How do you know he has a wooden leg? ”

“ I know he has,” replied Littlepage, “ because I caught hold of it, and tried to pull it off.”

“There, ” replied the Lieutenant, “you have killed Col. Dahlgren, who was in command of the enemy. His men were devoted to him, and I would advise you all to take care of yourselves now, for if the Yankees catch you with anything belonging to him they will certainly hang us all to the nearest tree.”

Of course it was impossible for us to learn the contents of the papers, without making a light to read them by, or waiting till the next morning. We did the latter; and, as soon as day broke, the papers were read, and found to contain every line and every word as afterwards copied into the Richmond newspapers. Dahlgren's name was signed to one or more of the papers, and also written on the inside of the front cover of his memorandum-book. Here the date of purchase, I suppose, was added. The book had been written with a degree of haste clearly indicated by the frequent interlineations and corrections, but the orders referred to had also been re-written on a separate sheet of paper; and, as thus copied, were published to the world. Some of the papers were found loose in Dahlgren's pockets, others were between the leaves of the memorandum-book.

The papers thus brought to light were preserved by myself in the continual presence of witnesses of unquestionable veracity, until about two o'clock in the afternoon of the day after their capture; at which time myself and party met Lieut. Pollard, who, up to this time, knew nothing in the world of the existence of the Dahlgren Papers. At his request, I let him read the papers; after doing which he requested me to let him carry them to Richmond. At first, I refused, for I thought that I knew what to do with them quite as well as any one else. But I was finally induced, by my friends, against my will, to surrender the papers to Lieut. Pollard, mainly in consideration of the fact that they would reach Richmond much sooner through him than through a semi-weekly mail. The papers which were thus handed over to the Confederate Government--I state it again-were correctly copied by the Richmond newspapers.

A thousand and one falsehoods have been told about this affair-by our own men as well as by the Yankees. Some of our own men were actuated by motives of selfishness and ambition to claim each one for himself the whole credit of the affair; when, in fact, the credit belongs to no particular individual, but, collectively, to the whole of our party. We were a strange medley of regulars, raw troops, old farmers, preachers, schoolboys etc. But I believe that all present did their duty, only to find that all the credit was [506] afterwards claimed, with a considerable degree of success among the ignorant, by those who were not present.

The credit of the command of our party belongs alone to Capt. Fox, than whom there was no more chivalric spirit in either army. In making this statement, I am actuated only by a desire to do justice to the memory of one who was too unassuming to sound his own trumpet. I am also told, by soldiers, that Lieut. Pollard deserves a considerable degree of credit, for the part he played in following and harassing the enemy up to the time they took the right fork of the road near Butler's Tavern.

You are, of course, aware of the fact that the enemy has always denied the authenticity of the Dahlgren Papers, and declared them to be forgeries. To prove the utter absurdity and falsehood of such a charge, I submit the following:

1. The papers were taken by Littlepage from the person of a — man whose name he had never heard. It was a dark night, and the captor, with the aid of the noon-day sun, could not write at all. I afterwards taught him to write a little in my school.

The question occurs: Can a boy who cannot write at all, write such papers, and sign to them an unknown name? If they had been forged by any one else, would they have been placed in the hands of a child? Could any one else have forged an unknown and unheard of name?

2. The papers were handed to me immediately after their capture, in the presence of gentlemen of undoubted integrity and veracity, before whom I can prove that the papers not only were not, but could not have been, altered or interpolated by myself. These gentlemen were with me every moment of the time between my receiving the papers and my delivering them to Lieut. Pollard.

3. If Lieut. Pollard had made any alterations in the papers, these would have been detected by every one who read the papers before they were given to him, and afterwards read them in the newspapers. But all agree that they were correctly copied. In short, human testimony cannot establish any fact more fully than the fact that Col. Ulric Dahlgren was the author of the Dahlgren papers.

With regard to the part taken by myself in this affair, I lay no claim to any credit. I do not write this version of the affair to gain notoriety. I have made it a rule not to mention my own name, except in cases where I found that false impressions were being made upon the public mind. You know very well that my being Littlepage's captain entitled me to claim the capture of the papers for myself. But this I have never done. And, even when called upon by Gen. Fitz. Lee to give my affidavit to the authenticity of the papers, I wrote him word that Littlepage was the captor of them. In his letter to Lieut. Pollard, which was forwarded to me, he asked: “ Who is Capt. Halbach? ” I replied, for myself, that I was nothing more than the humble captain of a company of school-boys, and that if I deserved any credit, it was only so much as he might choose to give me for preserving the papers, when advised to destroy them, to avoid being captured with them in my possession, which, I was told, would result in the hanging of our little party.

I have never given the information herein contained before, because I had hoped that it would be given to the public by others, and I give it now, because I regard it as a duty to do so. My own course, after the killing of Dahlgren, was as follows: I joined those who agreed to bury him decently in a coffin, and in compliance with a promise made to a scout by the name of Hogan, I prepared a neat little head-board with my own hands, to mark his grave. This was not put up, because the messenger from Mr. Davis for the body of Dahlgren arrived while we were taking it out of the ground where it had been hastily buried.


1 In the capture of Fort Pillow the list of casualties embraced five hundred out of a garrison of seven hundred; and the enemy entitled the affair “The Fort Pillow massacre,” and Northern newspapers and Congressional committees circulated absurd stories about negro troops being buried alive. The explanation of the unusual proportion of carnage is simple. After the Confederates got into the fort, the Federal flag was not hauled down; there was no surrender; relying upon his gunboats in the river, the enemy evidently expected to annihilate Forrest's forces after they had entered the works; and so the fighting went on to the last extremity. Some of the negro troops, in their cowardice, feigned death, falling to the ground, and were either pricked up by the bayonet, or rolled into the trenches to excite their alarm — to which circumstance is reduced the whole story of “burying negroes alive.” Forrest was a hard fighter; he had an immense brain; but he knew but little about grammar and dictionaries. In describing the alarm and bewilderment in Fort Pillow to a superiour officer-who, by the way, has frequently expressed the opinion that Forrest, notwithstanding his defects in literary education, stood second only to Stonewall Jackson as the most remarkable man of the war,--Forrest said: “General, the d-d Yankees kept firing horizontally right — up into the air.”

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