Wade Hampton's strategy. [from the daily Charlotte (N. C.) Obrerver, April 7, 1895.] an attack on Richmond foiled. Kilpatrick and Dahlgreen, with 4,000 Cavalry, were Planning to take the almost Defenseless city, Burn it and Kill the President and Cabinet.
The South complains, and justly, of Northern historians for their misrepresentations of facts, and the men of the South who made the facts, during the war between the States. A man's enemies are they of his own household, declares Sacred Writ, and when we come to consider the subject of this paper and the inaccuracy of two of our own historians with reference to it, the question forces itself, What can we do to deliver us from our friends? A great injustice has been done that grand man and soldier, Wade Hampton, by both Pollard in his ‘Lost Cause,’ and McCabe in his ‘Lee and His Campaigns.’ Both of these historians recognize the peril that threatened Richmond and its inhabitants of sack, pillage and murder from the raid of Kilpatrick and Dahlgreen in March, 1864. Pollard says: ‘In a general history there is little space for detached events. 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, 1864; a very small incident in military view, it is to be taken among the most interesting events of the war, as containing one of the most distinct and deliberate evidences of the enemies' atrocity that had yet been given to a shocked and surprised world.’ McCabe says: ‘An expedition consisting of 4,000 cavalry was fitted out with great care, for the purpose of capturing Richmond and releasing the Union prisoners confined there. The command of this expedition was intrusted to Kilpatrick. He was seconded by Ulric Dahlgren, a young officer of great skill and daring. The plan of the expedition was as follows: A column under General Custer was to make a dash on Charlottesville to draw attention from the main body which was to proceed to Beaver Dam, on the Central Railroad; arriving there, the column was to be divided, a part under General Kilpatrick was to move on Richmond along the north bank  of James river, while the remainder under Colonel Dahlgreen were to cross to the south side, move down the right bank of the James, release the prisoners on Belle Isle, opposite Richmond; recross the river, burning the bridges after them, and rejoin Kilpatrick in the city. Richmond was to be given to the flames and President Davis and his cabinet killed.’ Up to this point in the transaction both historians are accurate enough—but let us see farther. McCabe says: ‘Kilpatrick approached the city by the Brook turnpike, and there, with scarcely a show of fighting, turned off and kept down the peninsula’; and Pollard says: ‘Kilpatrick moved down on the Brook turnpike on the 1st of March, near the outline of the Richmond fortifications and without once getting in range of the artillery, took up a line of march down the peninsula, while Dahlgren, not venturing to cross the high water of the James River, abandoned his enterprise on the south 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 Kilpatrick, with a view of further operations, or add to the security of his retreat.’ The injustice of this account done to Kilpatrick is not within the scope of this article. But why the splendid strategy of General Wade Hampton should be so entirely ignored, by which the enemy were foiled in their plans, and the city of Richmond saved from the impending fire and carnage, is a fact beyond the comprehension of the writer; and that this misstatement of facts should exist when one of the historians at least was in Richmond at the time, a member of the editorial staff of the Richmond Examiner, which paper contained, the day after the deliverance of the city, an accurate account of the conflict that brought such magnificent results. The true history of Kilpatrick's raid and the causes of its failure are these: On Sunday, the 28th of February, 1864, General Kilpatrick crossed the Rapidan river at Germanna ford with about 2,000 picked men from the cavalry force of the enemy, and proceeded in the direction of Richmond, executing the movement with such celerity and skill that he succeeded in cutting the railroad in rear of General Lee's army, which was then lying in winter-quarters around Orange Courthouse, without serious opposition; thus cutting off the possibility of sending reinforcements to Richmond, which was in an almost entirely defenceless condition. After detaching, at Beaver Dam, 500 men under Colonel Dahlgren, and sending them  around to the north of Richmond, Kilpatrick, with the remainder and main body of the force, about 1,500 strong, proceeded in a southeasterly course, going into camp on the night of March 1st near Atlee's Station, nine miles from the city, on the Virginia Central Railroad. This raid was so well timed by the enemy that there were only two regiments of cavalry on the right flank of the Army of Northern Virginia to oppose them. These were the 1st North Carolina, Colonel Cheek commanding, and the 2d North Carolina, Colonel Andrews commanding, in winter-quarters near Milford Station, in Caroline county, nearly fifty miles from the picket lines on the Rapidan river, and so depleted were they by details for picket and other duties, that the effective cavalry force in hand with which to operate against this raiding party, consisted of 200 men from the 1st North Carolina Cavalry and fifty men from the 2d North Carolina Cavalry. General Jas. Gordon, the gallant and lamented Gordon, to whose brigade these regiments belonged, was absent on short leave, so Major-General Wade Hampton entered into the minutest details in handling this shadow of a force against the bold movements of Richmond's would-be destroyers. After preparing several days' rations, this force mounted at 8 o'clock Monday, February 29th, and moved down the Fredericksburg Railroad in the direction of Hanover Junction, accompanied by two pieces of Hart's Battery of Artillery, that was wintering near. General Hampton, this Gideon who always accomplished the most magnificent results with the least possible loss, well knowing that his force was too small to seriously embarrass the movements of the enemy by direct attack, kept his men in hand, preserving their spirits and the strength of them and their horses, waiting to strike the enemy a blow under the fifth rib when it was possible to be accomplished. All of Monday night and Tuesday we were in the saddle and on the alert, though not all the time in motion. Keeping at a respectful and safe distance from Kilpatrick, and avoiding an encounter, General Hampton was keeping himself, through his scouts, thoroughly posted on the movements of the enemy. Tuesday night, March 1, 1864, the light of camp-fires at Atlee's Station, nine miles from Richmond, was plainly visible several miles to our front, and between us and Richmond. Fires that were doubtless made to guide Dahlgren, were as brilliant to us as to him, so toward them we immediately took our line of march, the vicinity of which we reached shortly before midnight. Our progress was necessarily slow, on account of the rain which had fallen continuously  since we moved out the night before. The mud by this time had become deep, and horses and men were somewhat jaded. At 10 o'clock the rain had ceased, and snow began to fall; and our clothing, before wet, now began to freeze. When you add all this to that seeming natural tremulousness that is the accompaniment of a night attack under the most favorable circumstances, it will readily be admitted that this combination was enough to shake up a tin soldier. We had approached within a mile of the camp-fires when we were brought to a sudden halt by a volley poured into the head of our column by the enemy's pickets; but on account of the pitchy darkness only one man was wounded, Sergeant McNeil, of Company C, First North Carolina Regiment, being shot through the arm. Perfect silence had been enjoined by General Hampton for two reasons. The camp-fires being so close to Richmond and between us and the city, they might be those of friends, and this information must be obtained before any attack was made. If they were those of the enemy, our arrangements must be perfected before the enemy were roused from their slumbers. So in silence and without pursuit of the pickets that had fallen back, we waited until the alarm was supposed by them to be false. Then General Hampton ordered the first squadron of the First North Carolina Regiment, composed of Companies F and C, to dismount, deploy as skirmishers, advance toward the camp, and when assured of the fact that foes, not friends, were in front, to charge the camp. The captain of Company F, being the ranking officer, had command of the execution of these details and the subsequent attack. When this skirmish line had advanced a short distance, a horse was discovered tied to a fence, which had been abandoned by those who had fired and fallen back; this horse was equipped with new bridle, saddle and blanket, that pointed sharply to the fact that the enemy were near; but this suspicion was forced to a certainty of conviction when our advance brought us near enough to the picket, who challenged ‘Who comes there?’ General Hampton was quickly informed of the certainty, of the enemy's presence. He quickly placed the two pieces of Hart's Battery in position on an eminence close by, and gave instructions to the commander of the dismounted men to charge when the artillery had fired fourteen shells into the enemy's camp. We were now within 150 yards of the sleeping foe, who seemingly, overcome by the exposure and fatigue of three days and two nights of severe weather, were now an easy victim to surprise and panic. This little band of forty dismounted men counted the shells with great precision  as they went over their heads into the enemy's camp, which were fired with that rapidity which would indicate to a startled foe the presence of as many batteries as there were pieces. As soon as the fourteenth shell had passed on its mission of inquiry, those dismounted men rose and charged the enemy's camp with all the noise that could emanate from forty mouths with the dreaded rebel yell; and from forty well-handled repeating carbines; all of this conducted by old ‘vets’ who so well knew that what we lacked in numbers must be compensated for in noise and rattle. The night attack of the three hundred of Israel that put to flight the hosts of the Midianites was not more successful than this one. The enemy, routed, were driven from their camp in the greatest consternation. Many of them left their horses and equipments behind them, some mounting bareback, and all left with the greatest celerity. The charge was made so swiftly that we got to the house which was occupied by the officers in command as headquarters just as they were getting out of it; and Corporal Goodman, of Company F, had a personal encounter with a Yankee colonel, around the same corner of the house. Each was using the corner as a shield against the attack of the other. The colonel thrusting his pistol around the corner fired and carried off one of Goodman's fingers, and Goodman with his carbine fired and brought down the colonel, severely wounded in the breast. When we had charged across the enemy's camp the dismounted men were reinforced by the remainder of the 1st North Carolina as a precaution against the enemy's return to the attack when they had time to form. But so thoroughly convinced were they of a large force on our part, that this apprehended attack was not made by them. This we gathered from the country people, who told us next day as we followed their line of retreat to the Old Church in New Kent county, that the enemy said they had been attacked the night before by 3,000 cavalry. The result of this affair, as to carnage and capture, was a loss to the enemy of twenty killed and wounded, 100 horses, 300 stand of arms, about the same number of saddles, and a great many blankets. The loss on our side during the charge was Captain Goodman, just mentioned, and Private E. Lipe, Company E, 1st North Carolina Cavalry, the latter shot through the lungs and disabled for the remainder of the war. All this had transpired by 3 o'clock Wednesday morning, when our and the enemy's wounded were started off for Richmond by a circuitous route lest they would fall in with the enemy if going by the most direct road.  When about a mile from the late scene of action the ambulances, under charge of surgeon Williams, of the 2d North Carolina Cavalry, were met by a column of troops. The driver of the advance ambulance, sharing in the elation of our victory, commenced to relate vociferously the events that had just transpired to the officer at the head of this column, supposing in the darkness that they were some of our own people. Dr. Williams coming up at this juncture, realizing from some cause, perhaps from pronunciation, as in the case just related, that he was in the presence of the enemy, remarked to the officer in command that he supposed that he and his train were captured. The officer asked him what command had done all this mischief. Dr. Williams discreetly replied that it was Hampton's Division. After a few remarks the officer dismissed Dr. Williams, telling him he did not wish to be encumbered with wounded, and thinking that he was doubtless in a very critical situation, marched no further in the direction of the camp-fires he had been seeking, but filed off by a left-hand road, making all possible haste to the Peninsula. This force was the 500 picked men, under Dahlgren, who had gone to the upper James, and being unable to cross, as was his first design, on account of continuous rains, was now seeking a junction with Kilpatrick, with a view of making a combined attack on Richmond at daylight next morning. The purpose of this paper is not to expand on the gallant Dahlgren and the tragic ending of his life next day — they are matters dilated upon at great length by both historians mentioned, when the causes that forced him into King and Queen county in such defenceless condition and that accomplished the failure of this dastardly enterprise, have been entirely ignored. But for Hampton and his little band of, shall I say, braves, Kilpatrick and Dahlgren would have combined their forces that night, and at dawn would have taken and burned the city, released the prisoners, and if all their designs were accomplished would have murdered the President and his cabinet. This was of easy accomplishment, because there were no troops in the city to defend it, and none could be gotten from Lee's army over the railroad the enemy had destroyed. It is possible that these flourishing historians attribute the deliverance of the city to the cowardice of the enemy, because it would not sound grand to say that the capital of the Confederate States of America, and the capital of the great Commonwealth of Virginia, the mother of Presidents and generals, was saved from destruction by two hundred and fifty ‘Tar Heels,’ under a general who came  within one hundred miles of being one himself. Two hundred and fifty ‘Tar Heels’ and only forty of them engaged, saved the city—oh, no! As the fellow who was dying said, I don't mind passing to to the realities of an unknown world; I contemplate that with the most perfect composure, but it does break my heart to think that I am dying and am summoned to the Great Bar from the butt of a blamed little goat. If this could have been the active force that guided the deliberation of these historians, they were more discriminating and less candid than the writers of proud, imperial Rome, who did not hesitate to give to the discordant honk of geese the credit of their city's deliverance.
N. P. Ford, Captain Co. F., First N. C. Cavalry.