History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, in the War Between the States/Appendix–The Dahlgren Raid

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(From the Philadelphia Times.)

In February, 1864, several of the cavalry regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia were temporarily disbanded and sent to their homes to recruit their horses. The Ninth Virginia Cavalry, to which my company belonged, was ordered to protect the transportation of supplies from the Northern Neck of Virginia, which was very much interrupted at that time by the enemy's gunboats on the Rappahannock, Mattaponi, and Pamunkey rivers. Besides, they would frequently land parties from the boats and make incursions into the country to plunder. Colonel R. L. T. Beale, commanding the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, fixed his headquarters in Essex county, near Boulware's wharf, on the Rappahannock river, and ordered me to establish a picket line across the county of King William from the Mattaponi to the Pamunkey rivers.

I moved over into King William county, quartered my men in the court-house, being a convenient point to both rivers, and established a picket post at West Point, the head of the York, and the junction of the two rivers. The distance by water to my camp was three times as great as by land, which would enable my pickets to bring me word of the entrance of a boat into the mouth of either river, and give me time to meet her with my sharpshooters on some of the bluffs.

Being on detached service, I did not require any other leave of absence or passport than my own. Having captured some Spencer rifles, I made several trips to Richmond to try and get ammunition for them, which I failed to do, and finally exchanged them for Sharp's carbines. During a visit to Richmond I was staying at the house of a friend, and a lady relative of General Lee's came and told us that General Lee had telegraphed that the enemy's cavalry were on a raid in his lines. I immediately hurried back to camp, called in my pickets, sent them in the opposite direction, to watch the ferries on the Pamunkey, and stationed a courier on the road about half way to the upper ferries. The next morning (March 2d) I got information that they were crossing the Pamunkey river at Hanovertown ferry, about six miles below Hanover Courthouse, and twelve miles from Aylett's, on the Mattaponi river. I sent my baggage-wagon to a safe place and crossed the Mattaponi at Mantua ferry; had the boat concealed in the marsh, and the other boats higher up the river put out of the way. I next hastened to Dunkirk, in the upper part of King and Queen county, where was the only boat left on the river, and sent ahead to have that brought over to the side I was on.

Up to this time nobody in that section had a suspicion that there was an enemy nearer than the Rapidan river. I found two of Captain Magruder's company (Forty-second Battalion, Virginia Cavalry), at Mantau, and sent word to him to join me at Dunkirk as soon as he could.

Dr. Fleet's son and William Taliaferro, two lads, the latter a nephew of the Hon. William Boulware, formerly United States Minister to Naples, were riding along in King William, and came upon the enemy's column unexpectedly. When ordered to surrender, they attempted to escape, and young Taliaferro's horse was killed, and he captured, and Fleet was mortally wounded, but managed to keep his seat, and was carried by his horse some distance into the woods. He had his dog with him, which, after remaining with him all night, met his friends who were in search of him, and conducted them to the body. While I was waiting for the enemy at Dunkirk they found a flat-boat at Aylett's large enough to carry the men over and swam the horses, the river being narrow at that place. They thus got about twenty-five minutes' start of me. But I overtook them near Bruington Church, and attacked their rear-guard, killing one man. I am pretty certain that this man was killed by Dr. Richard Crouch, a member of my company. Crouch was dismounted and standing by my horse, when I called his attention to him, as his bullets were whistling disagreeably near to me. Although there was a rapid firing, I think the man dropped at the crack of Crouch's gun. One of my company got a fifty-dollar greenback out of his pocket, which afterwards proved to be a two-dollar bill, with "fifty" pasted on the figure two.

Just at that time I got information, which turned out to be false, that the enemy had sent a portion of his command by a road through the woods which came into the one I was on, two or three hundred yards in my rear. This detained me a short time, and when I overtook him again I saw that he had turned on the River road, where "Butler's Tavern" used to stand. I sent four men to follow him and annoy his rear, hoping by that means to prevent his finding out that I was getting in his front. After turning down the road towards Stevensville, I was again deceived into thinking that a part of the enemy's force had taken that road. After going a short distance I was hailed by a citizen about a hundred yards from the road, whom I understood to say: "They are just ahead of you." I ordered a trot and directly we heard two reports and a bullet struck just by my horse, splashing the mud on my foot. We charged, and had a very pretty chase for about a half a mile, when we ran into Captain Magruder, who had put his men in ambush on the brow of a hill and sent out pickets, having heard that the enemy had taken that road. He informed me that it was with difficulty that he could re-restrain his men from firing. Captain Magruder put his company (about thirty men) at my command, and I got him to send a courier to Major Waller, who was in command of the baggage-train and men with broken-down horses of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry (Colonel Beale had gone with his regiment to Ashland).

We moved on through Stevensville to the River road, intending to take position at an old mill-dam, but as I had some doubt about reaching that point before the enemy I put the men in position at Mantapike, the intersection of the Stevensville and River roads. In the mean time, we had fallen in with some citizens and Home Guards, who followed on, and continued with us until the enemy came up. It was now dark, and, after waiting some time for the enemy, I sent two of my men to make a reconnoissance, who soon returned and reported that the enemy had gone into camp a mile or so from us. When I put the men in line of battle in the edge of the woods, I ordered them to reserve their fire until the head of the column of the enemy should reach my left, where I had placed my first sergeant, Fleming Meredith, whose fire was to be a signal for the whole line. The enemy advanced about half-past eleven o'clock P. M. As the head of his column approached my line Colonel Dahlgren saw some of the men, and demanded their surrender. At the same time he attempted to fire his pistol, which snapped. This drew a volley upon himself, and he fell dead, pierced by five balls. When the volley was fired the enemy fell back in confusion and left the road, getting into a field, where we did not find them until morning. Captain Fox, Company E, Fifth Virginia Cavalry, being senior officer, had now taken command, and we fell back to a point which commanded a cross-road through Mantapike farm and waited until daybreak, when Captain Fox ordered me to take my company and find out the position of the enemy. I found them in a field, unsaddled and standing about in groups. We rode into the field, and they surrendered. The men had offered to surrender to an officer who had been captured by them in Louisa county, and was with them at the time. The enemy's officers had left and fled to the woods, but were afterwards captured by the Home Guards.

We captured about one hundred men and officers, and some forty negroes. Some of the men had silver pitchers, goblets, cups, etc., strapped to their saddles. I sent the silver to the War Department in Richmond, and it was returned to the owners. The number of horses captured greatly exceeded the number of men, and a good many were reclaimed by their owners. Just after we had fallen back William Littlepage, a boy about thirteen years old, who had followed on from Stevensville, with his teacher, a Mr. Hallbach, took from the body of Colonel Dahlgren the book and papers which contained the famous address and orders which excited such indignation among the Confederates. Mr. Hallbach gave me the papers, and, through Colonel Beale, they reached the War Office, at Richmond. The next day I was surprised to get an order from General Fitzhugh Lee to bring the body of Colonel Dahlgren to Richmond "for the purpose of identification." Colonel Dahlgren had been buried without a coffin, and as soon as a coffin was made his body was taken up, and put into it, looking as natural as if he had been dead only an hour. I went with the corpse to Richmond, and arrived there on Sunday evening (the 6th), reporting to General Elzey. I have since heard from an authentic source, that Colonel I. W. Atkinson, provost marshal, had Colonel Dahlgren's body buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Afterwards the body was taken up, carried to Miss Van Lew's house, where a funeral service was held, then taken to the country, buried again, and since the war returned to his friends.

The papers and memorandum-book found on Colonel Dahlgren's body contained an accurate copy of the last field return of our cavalry made to General Stuart, with the location of every regiment. This last was furnished by the Bureau of Information at Washington. The rest were credited to no one. The following is a copy of the papers. The address to the officers and men of the command was 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—an undertaking which, if successful, will write your names on the hearts of your countrymen in letters that can never be erased and which 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. Do not allow any personal gain to lead you off, which would only bring you to an ignominous 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."

The following special orders were written on a similar sheet of paper, on detached slips:

"Guides, pioneers (with oakum, turpentine and torpedoes), signal officer, quartermaster, commissary, picket, 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. If the communication can be kept up without giving 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 crossings of the river, so that should we be repulsed on the south side, we will know where to recross at the nearest point.

"All 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 Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed. Pioneers will go along with the 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. 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 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 in the city. Torpedoes will be used only 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. 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 up on any cars. Men will stop at Bellona Arsenal and totally destroy it and anything else, except hospitals; then follow on and rejoin the command at Richmond with all haste, and, if cut off, cross the river and rejoin us. As General Custer may follow me, be careful and not give a false alarm."

The following is a copy of a paper written in lead-pencil, which was, I suppose, a private memorandum which Colonel Dahlgren made for his own use:

"Saturday — Leave camp at dark (6 P. M.), cross Ely's Ford at 10 P. M. Twenty miles, cross North Anna at 4 A. M., Sunday; feed. Three miles, Frederick's Hall Station, 6 A. M.; destroy artillery, 8 A. M. Twenty miles, near James river, 2 P. M., Sunday; feed and water one and a half hours. Thirty miles to Richmond, march toward Kilpatrick for one hour, and then soon as dark cross the river, reaching Richmond early in the morning (Monday). One squadron remains on north side and one squadron to cut the railroad bridge at Falling Creek, and join at Richmond, eighty-three miles. General Kilpatrick, cross at 1 A. M., Sunday, ten miles. Pass river at 5 A. M. (resistance). Childsburg, fourteen miles, 8 A. M. Resistance at North Anna, three miles, railroad bridges at South Anna, twenty-six miles, 2 P. M.; destroy bridges, pass the South Anna and feed until after dark, then signal each other. After dark move down to Richmond, and be in front of the city at daybreak.

"Return—In Richmond during the day; feed and water men outside. Be over the Pamunkey at daybreak; feed and water and then cross the Rappahannock at night (Tuesday night), when they must be on the lookout. Spies should be sent on Friday morning early and be ready to cut."

This is a correct copy of the papers found on Colonel Dahlgren's body, delivered to me and sent to Richmond.

James Pollard,
Late Captain Company H, Ninth Virginia Cavalry.

Richmond, Va.