Ulric Dahlgren in the Gettysburg Campaign


A native of southeastern Pennsylvania, Eric J. Wittenberg is a Columbus, Ohio, attorney. He is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and is also an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He has written extensively on the role of the Federal cavalry in the Gettysburg Campaign, including four other articles that have appeared in this magazine. Wittenberg is the author of several books on Federal cavalry operations, including the 1998 book Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions and the recent release,  “We Have It Damn Hard Out Here”: The Civil War Letters of Sergeant Thomas W. Smith, Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. He became interested in Ulric Dahlgren’s role in the Gettysburg Campaign through his studies of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He is grateful to Ted Alexander, Dan Beattie, and especially Robert G. Huddleston for their assistance with this article.
By Eric J. Wittenberg


Twenty-one-year-old Ulric Dahlgren demonstrated great promise during the Gettysburg Campaign. His daring, fearless, and reckless headlong rushes would gain him immortality and a well-deserved niche in Gettysburg lore. Unfortunately, his extensive and significant contributions to the Federal victories that marked the Gettysburg Campaign have been all but ignored by history. This article attempts to right that wrong.

Born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1842, Ulric Dahlgren was the second son of Read Adm. John Dahlgren and his first wife Mary C. Bunker. His father was a famous naval officer, and was generally known as the “Father of Modern Naval Ordnance” as a consequence of his prominent service with upgrading and modernizing the Navy’s weaponry. By 1863, Admiral Dahlgren was chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance. After a normal childhood, Ulric Dahlgren, possessed of a keen mind, did well in school, and was in Philadelphia studying to become a lawyer when the Civil War broke out in 1861.[1] Athletic and inclined toward outdoor activity, the healthy, handsome six footer was “a graceful horseman” who “could withstand any amount of hard riding [with] wonderful endurance.”[2]

In early 1861, just after the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, young Ulric was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army t the tender age of 19. He was not assigned to any particular unit. During the early phases of the war, he served in various staff assignments in Washington, until the conflict entered a quiet phase in the fall of 1861. Dahlgren briefly returned to his law studies in Philadelphia until he was appointed to the staff of Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel in May 1862. In that capacity, he saw action in the Shenandoah Valley, at Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, and in the defenses of Washington during the fall 1862 Maryland Campaign.

In November 1862, in preparation for Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s planned assault on Fredericksburg, Sigel allowed Dahlgren to lead 60 cavalrymen in a daring ride into the town. In a three-day raid, the Yankee horse soldiers splashed across the Rappahannock river and scouted the Rebel lines—drawing fire, taking more than 30 prisoners, and losing several casualties in a brief skirmish in the streets of the town. Retracing his steps, Dahlgren led his small command safely back to the Federal lines where “he was received by all, from the general down, with that hearty welcome to which his skillful and daring conduct so well entitled him”3 Sigel later wrote that Dahlgren’s expedition was “one of the most brilliant and daring…since the breaking out of the war…. I esteem his soldierly and manly qualities very highly….”4

When Burnside finally launched his assault on Fredericksburg on December 11, Dahlgren was one of the first Yankees to cross the Rappahannock and enter the town. Given the task of clearing Rebel sharpshooters from nests near the river, Dahlgren fearlessly accomplished this feat and returned safely, serving on Burnside’s staff until early January 1863, when he rejoined General Sigel’s staff.5 In March, Sigel was relieved of command of his corps, and the young horse soldier then joined Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s staff, serving as an aide-de-camp through his unsuccessful spring campaign and carrying dispatches under fire in the great Battle of Chancellorsville.6 Late in May, he proposed a daring daylight raid into Richmond, a proposal wisely rejected by Hooker:


I respectfully submit the following plan for a cavalry expedition, and ask, if it should meet with your approval, permission to prepare and attempt it. The rebel cavalry are again feeling along our lines, probably to find a weak point to enter at, as is their custom. If they should attempt a raid, this would offer a fine chance for a small body of our cavalry to penetrate their country…and take the following course: Cross above on the Rappahannock and at Raccoon Ford, on the Rapidan River, or at points which appear best just before starting; thence somewhere between Louisa Court House; thence somewhere between Columbia and Goochland; thence over the James River to the arsenal at Bellona, which we would destroy; thence either burn the bridges in rear of Richmond over the James River, and dash through the city an on to White House, or any safe place near there, or, after burning the bridges, move to Petersburg, and thence to our forces near Suffolk…. The object of the expedition would be to destroy everything along the route, and especially on the south side of the James River, and attempt to enter Richmond and Petersburg.7


            Since most of the cavalry forces available to the Army of Northern Virginia were then gathering near Culpeper Court House for what would become the Gettysburg Campaign, Dahlgren’s proposed raid would have run right into Stuart’s assembled horse soldiers, leading to a most unhappy result. Rebuffed, Dahlgren paid his father a brief visit in Washington on May 26, and then set off on what was destined to become the greatest adventure of his life.8

Not long after its dramatic victory at Chancellorsville, the Army of Northern Virginia began advancing toward its date with destiny in Pennsylvania. The large concentration of Confederate cavalry forces in Culpeper County, Virginia, led to the dispatch of a large force of Northern horse soldiers to break it up. Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, would lead the expedition himself. On June 6, Dahlgren noted in his diary, “Pleasonton preparing for a move. I will join him in the morning.”9 The next morning, he wrote to the cavalry chief, “General Hooker directs me to remain here for your instructions until he knows the result of Colonel [Arnold] Duffie’s reconnaissance yesterday and until he can learn whether General [Julius] Stahel’s cavalry can assist.”10 He did so, serving as an acting aide-de-camp to Pleasonton.



The Battle of Brandy Station, June 8, 1863


            Two columns of Yankee troopers would attack the Confederate force, commanded by Maj. Gen, J. E. B. Stuart, then thought to be concentrated at Culpeper Court House. The northern prong, the Army of the Potomac’s First cavalry Division along with 1,500 select infantry, was commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford and was ordered to cross the Rappahannock River at Beverly’s Ford and advance to Culpeper. The southern column, commanded by Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg, consisting of the Second and Third Divisions of the Cavalry Corps and another 1,500 elite infantry, would cross at Kelly’s Ford and attack Stuart from the southern approach.

            This plan, while sound, was based on faulty intelligence. Rather than being concentrated at the town of Culpeper, the Confederate force lay just across the Rappahannock, and so Buford’s opening attack immediately encountered stiff resistance on the far side of the river. Surprised by the resolve of the grayclad horsemen and stunned by the death of one of his brigade commanders—Col. Benjamin F. Davis of the 8th New York Cavalry—Buford’s attack bogged down near the small wooden St. James church, where most of Stuart’s horse artillery battalion was concentrated.

            In response, Buford ordered five companies of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, also known as Rush’s Lancers, to charge across a wide field, about 800 yards across, under heavy artillery fire.11 The Lancers, joined by Dahlgren, who pitched into their midst, “made a dash of conspicuous gallantry” across the field and into the teeth of the Southern artillery.12 They “charged the enemy home, riding almost up to the mouths of [the] cannon,” nearly capturing two of the Confederate guns.13 One of the Rebel gunners admired, “Never rode troopers more gallantly…as under a fire of shell and shrapnel and finally of canister, the dashed up the very muzzles, then through and beyond our guns.”14 Maj. Gen. Henry C. Whelan of the 6th Pennsylvania reported, “The rebel cavalry, being much superior in number to us, closed in on [our] front and both flanks thus completely surrounding us.”15

            Charging across the open fields amidst the storm of shell and shot, Dahlgren rode boot-to-boot with Maj. Albert Morris, Jr., the commanding officer of the 6th Pennsylvania.16 He left this account of the charge:


We charged [Brig.] General [William H. F. “Rooney”] Lee’s brigade up to General Stuart’s headquarters,17 and within one hundred yards of the artillery…. This brigade was drawn up in mass in a beautiful field one-third of a mile across—and woods on each hand. On their side was a ridge, upon which was posted the artillery, and near a house where Stuart had his headquarters. We charged in column of companies. When we came out of our woods they rained shell into us, and as we approached nearer, driving them like sheep before us, they threw two rounds of grape and canister, killing as many of their men as ours; upon which they stopped firing and advanced their carbineers. All this time we were dashing through them, killing and being killed; some were trampled to death in trying to jump the ditches which intervened, and, falling in, were crushed by others who did not get over.

Major Morris commanded the regiment, and I was riding very near him, when just as we were jumping a ditch, some canister came along, and I saw his horse fall over him, but could not tell if he was killed or not, for at the same instance my horse was shot in three places.18 He fell, and threw me, so that I could see nothing for a few moments. Just then the column turned to go back—finding that the enemy had surrounded us. I saw the rear passing me, and about to leave me behind, so I gave my horse a tremendous kick and got him on his legs again. Finding he could still move, I mounted and made after the rest—just escaping being taken.

I got a heavy blow over the arm from the back of a saber, which bruised me somewhat, and nearly unhorsed me…. After that, Buford made five successive charges against their line before he could break them, losing two hundred and fifty men.19


A trooper of the 6th Pennsylvania recorded:


Capt. Dalgrean one of Gen Hookers staff officers…says that he never seen men fight so well in his life. He says that when they charged and had their horse disabled they took to bushwhacking and fought with the infantry and their carbines. Major Morris led our men to the charge and when they were surrounded and Morris fell, it was Capt Dalgrean who rallied our men on their Collors, and charging the Enemey cut their way out again.20


            Later that morning, the Lancers made a second mounted charge into the midst of the grayclad horsemen, fighting on until Gregg’s command arrived on the field several hours later. All told, the fighting at Brandy station lasted for nearly fourteen hours, and was the greatest all cavalry battle of the war. At the end of the day, the battle-weary Federals withdrew across the Rappahannock, and Stuart was content to let them go. Dahlgren concluded:


So we fought fourteen hours, finally driving the enemy four or five miles off. Night coming on, and the enemy whipped, we crossed the river…. We are all delighted…. I have just had the balls extracted from my horse…. He was my best horse, and the bone in his foreleg is so shattered that I am afraid he must be killed.21


Dahlgren’s gallant service that day did not go unnoticed. A correspondent from The New York Times reported, “Captain Dahlgren, of General Hooker’s staff, a model of cool and dauntless bravery, charged with the regiment, and his horse was shot in two places. He describes the charge as one of the finest of the war.”22

When he penned his report of the great battle at Brandy Station, Pleasonton praised the gallant young officer:


Captain Dahlgren…aide de camp of Major-General Hooker, [was] frequently under the hottest fire, and [was] untiring in [his] generous assistance in conveying my orders.


Captain Dahlgren was among the first to cross the river and charged with the first troops; he afterwards charged with the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry when that regiment won the admiration of the entire command, and his horse was shot four times. His dashing bravery and cool intelligence are only equaled by his varied accomplishments.23


            Buford similarly lauded Dahlgren, writing, “To Captain Dahlgren, General Hooker’s staff, I tender my thanks…for volunteering his services in carrying messages to different parts of the field.24

            Despite these words of praise, there was no rest for the young officer, who swung into his saddle at ten o’clock that night to ride to army headquarters to report on the fighting. He arrived the next morning, and gave his report to Hooker, finally getting a chance to rest a bit.25 The respite lasted a day. On the 11th, he was back in the field again, doing more scouting. That evening, he reported his findings to Hooker:


Last night (1 0’c a.m.) the signal officer here saw fires southeast—about where [Brig. Gen. James J.] Archer’s brigade seems to have been—at the same time the enemy’s pickets were withdrawn, excepting about 10 or 12 men along a line about 3 miles opposite here. This morning the pickets were strengthened, but not as strong as at first. The officer of the day thinks they were altogether withdrawn farther down, but I don’t think he knows anything about it. He thought, also, that they were replaced near here by cripples, but he has not been down far; it is not yet reliable. The signal officer here has just discovered that 6 camps are missing where the fires were last night—they seem to be Archer’s from the general direction.

            The artillery has not yet moved, only the 6 regiments of infantry. The signal officer at 0’c P.M. reported no changes from the Fitzhugh House station.

            The pickets along the river seem to be nearer the water than usual, + also nearer together towards Fredericksburg + and with scarcely any supports. I will continue around the whole line, and go to the next station below, to see if there is anything moving.26


On June 13 he was ordered to carry dispatches from Hooker to the headquarters of Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, commander of the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps. He also carried orders for Dahlgren to serve as a guide for Reynolds’ advance northward.27 On June 16, Dahlgren rode into Washington with a letter for President Lincoln, but his errand was so pressing that he did not find time to pay his father a visit. Several days later, he led a reconnaissance to search for the Confederate infantry, then advancing down the Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester.

As the armies advanced, a series of cavalry fights occurred at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, as the two armies jockeyed for position—the grayclad cavalry successfully screening the Army of Northern Virginia’s advance from the active and probing feelers of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. Dahlgren missed these fights, however, having gone off to ride with the division of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel—an independent cavalry command assigned to the defenses of Washington who was primarily charged with the job of patrolling the banks of the Potomac River and eradicating the guerilla forces of the notorious raider, Maj. John S. Mosby.28

            On the 22nd, Dahlgren was sent to Warrenton to search for Rebel forces left behind during the advance, but found only a single brigade of cavalry there, proving that Lee’s army was advancing for an invasion of the north.  Admiral Dahlgren wrote of this period, “The brief and fragmentary memoranda of the young soldier evince his usual intentness on the work in hand; he is in the saddle constantly, and by following the scout of General Stahel’s cavalry, loses the opportunity of being in the combats about Aldie.29

            The Confederate army entered Pennsylvania during the last week of June; Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s division of the Confederate Second Corps terrorized the town of Gettysburg on June 26. Lee’s columns fanned out across south-central Pennsylvania, with elements of his command reaching the outskirts of Harrisburg and occupying York. Desperately searching for the Confederate army, Hooker asked to have the independent garrisons at Harpers Ferry and in the defenses of Washington assigned to his command. When this request was denied, Hooker asked to be relieved of command. The request was promptly granted by the Union high command. Hooker, however, did not forget the outstanding service of his gallant young aide. He later wrote to Admiral Dahlgren of his service during the early stages of the Gettysburg Campaign, “I cannot too highly commend the zeal, efficiency, and gallantry which have characterized the performance of his duties while a member of my staff.”30


Searching for the Confederate Army: The First Greencastle Raid


            The Army of the Potomac blindly groped for Lee’s army. Unable to find the bulk of the Rebel force, Alfred Pleasonton dispatched several scouting parties to try to locate the enemy. He carefully selected the leaders of these reconnaissances from his small staff of trusted staff officers. One force, made up of 40 Regulars from the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, was commanded by his assistant adjutant general, Lt. Col. Andrew J. Alexander.31 Another of Pleasonton’s staff officers, Capt. Frederick C. Newhall of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, led a second force.32

            In the meantime, Admiral Dahlgren had written to Hooker, seeking to have his son transferred to the Navy Department. Hooker replied that he would not object, but that, “justice to the merits and services of Captain Dahlgren requires me to state that I consent to his withdrawal from me at this time with very great reluctance.”33 Fortunately for young Ulric, receipt of this letter changed Admiral Dahlgren’s mind, and the request for transfer was rescinded. On June 30, Dahlgren wrote the Army of the Potomac’s new commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, with a proposition:


…to take some men and operate on the rebel rear. He, then anxious about the movements of the army, did not give the matter much attention. Then applied to General P[leasonton] who ordered a sergeant and fifteen men to report—only ten came. With these and four scouts under Sergeant [Milton] Cline, we started out.”34


            Dahlgren dressed his men in civilian clothing, and immediately set out for the rear of the Rebel army with his tiny force, arriving near the Maryland village of Funkstown. Two Pennsylvania infantrymen, who had been separated from their command during the march north, spotted Dahlgren’s approach. One of them was heard to comment, “I’ll bet five dollars they are Union men.”

            Dahlgren overheard the exchange, and inquired, “How can you tell Union men from rebels?” One of the Pennsylvanians responded, “We are Union soldiers and ought to know.” The men exchanged information about the lay of the land and the disposition of the Confederate forces nearby. Dahlgren then marched to the Pennsylvania town of Greencastle, arriving there late in the afternoon of July 1. He spent the rest of the day hovering around the town, looking for Confederates, who had occupied Greencastle in the days prior to the battle then raging at Gettysburg.35

            On July 2, discarding the civilian garb, Dahlgren entered the town and rode into the square. Soon, the entire town knew that Yankee troopers had arrived, even though there was a squad of grayclads nearby. The townsfolk, who had briefly seen Confederates on June 15 and had been occupied by Rebel infantry on their first advance across the Mason-Dixon Line on June 22, were thrilled to see friendly soldiers. One local commented, “If a band of angels had come down into the town they could not have been more unexpected or welcome. It required only a few minutes to apprise the people of their presence, when all Greencastle seemed to be in the street.” He continued, “Hats flew into the air and cheer followed cheer. Even the old and staid ministers forgot the proprieties and many wept for joy.”36

            Dahlgren quickly ordered the streets cleared of civilians and climbed to the top of a nearby church tower to survey the area. He and his men then swung into their saddles, drew sabres, and charged the oblivious Confederate troopers who were then riding into the outskirts of town. A local described the encounter, “[Dahlgren’s men] did not fire a shot, but some shots were fired by some rebel soldiers who were in the rear. Two bullets …struck the Carl house…and the marks are to be seen to this day.”37 Twenty-two rebel infantrymen and two couriers were captured, along with two bags of mail destined for the Army of Northern Virginia. Dahlgren also spotted a valise tied to the saddle of one of the nervous couriers. Seeing the man’s discomfiture, Dahlgren removed the satchel, and, to his surprise, found letters to Robert E. Lee from President Jefferson Davis and Adjt. Gen. Samuel Cooper.

            These letters, which were not sent in cipher or any other form of encryption, were in response to a proposal by Lee that during the invasion of the north, the coastal garrison forces be moved from North and South Carolina to reinforce Lee’s army by taking position in Culpeper County, near Brandy Station. This pick-up force would be commanded by Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, and would be charged with relieving the pressure being placed on the Confederate capitol from the east by Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. John A. Dix. Due to strong Federal pressure on all fronts, the requested forces could not be spared. Davis vehemently denied the request while Cooper suggested that Lee detach a portion of his force to guard his lines of communication with Richmond. Col. Edward Porter Alexander, sometime chief of artillery for the Army of Northern Virginia’s First Corps, leveled an appropriate criticism: “How careless it is to send valuable military information around without putting it in cipher.”38 Ironically, Robert E. Lee learned of these missing dispatches in an article that appeared in The New York Times on July 8, after his retreating army passed through Hagerstown, Maryland, on its way to the Potomac River crossings and the safety of Virginia. He wrote to Davis:


I see it stated in a letter from the special correspondent of the New York Times that a bearer of dispatches from Your Excellency to myself were captured at Hagerstown on the 2d July, and the dispatches are said to have a great bearing on “coming events.” I have thought proper to mention this, that you may know whether it is so.39


            Recognizing the importance of this information, Dahlgren detailed a number of his men to remain in Greencastle and barricade the Waynesboro Road on a hill east of town in order to prevent pursuit and recapture. The troopers piled hay wagons, hay ladders, and other impediments across the road.40 Leaving his men to guard the barricade, Dahlgren galloped nearly 30 miles to Gettysburg, arriving late in the evening of July 2. He recorded in his diary: “Captured dispatches in Greencastle. Reached the battle-field near Gettysburg at night. Hard fighting.”41 His father later commented, “A ride of thirty miles over mountain roads, through a country covered by the enemy, must have been no insignificant addition to a day’s work. No doubt, too, it was late in the night when he reached the battlefield, for the last assault of the rebels had been made about dark.”42

            There is much controversy over the effect that Dahlgren’s intelligence had on the outcome of the battle of Gettysburg. Most traditional accounts of the story claim that when Dahlgren arrived on the field Meade was holding a council of war with his corps commanders to decide whether to continue to hold the line at Gettysburg, or to fall back to a pre-selected position along Pipe Creek in northern Maryland. Under this version of events:


[Meade] had been consulting with his corps commanders, and had resolved to withdraw his army to Pipe Creek, the position that had been previously selected by General Warren, his chief of engineers, and in pursuance of that plan was then engaged in retiring his heaviest pieces of artillery from the front. A perusal of the dispatch captured and presented by Dahlgren wrought a sudden change in Meade’s plans and the artillery was quickly ordered back to the positions from which it had been withdrawn, and the Federal army made ready to recommence the battle on the following morning.43


            In fact, there is no evidence to support the contention that Meade ordered the artillery to leave the field at Gettysburg at any time prior to the council of war. A far more likely scenario is that the author of this account heard Brig. Gen. Henry J. Hunt, the Army of the Potomac’s chief of artillery, repositioning his guns for the coming day’s fighting and mistook those noises for the beginning of a full-scale retreat by the Army of the Potomac.

            Recently, Edwin C. Fishel revisited this issue in his outstanding study of Union intelligence gathering in the first three years of the Civil War, The Secret War for the Union:


This picture of the totality of the Confederacy’s military situation, this gem of strategic intelligence, was the most valuable information an official in Stanton’s position could hope to receive. Meade’s need, on the other hand, was for operational intelligence—information (such as the contents of S. O. 191) immediately usable in making decisions as a field commander. One item in Davis’s and Cooper’s 1200 that would have had operational value for Meade was the assurance that the enemy force he was engaged with was all he would have to reckon with in this campaign—a valuable updating and confirmation of [a] two week old report. That question was one of several Meade faced in deciding whether to remain at Gettysburg or move to Pipe Creek. That movement would take days, during which reinforcements from Richmond and below could reach Lee; the news that there was almost certainly no chance of such reinforcements erased one of the arguments against the Pipe Creek move. It is quite unlikely that the members of Meade’s council were aware of the intelligence in the captured letters, but even if they did know of it, that roomful of generals who had been in a toe-to-toe slugging match for two days would not have had the patience to debate the imponderables involved in a move to Pipe Creek. They knew by remaining at Gettysburg they could fight from a favorable position against an enemy force that was badly depleted—and get the business over with

            Another indication that the letters did not influence the council’s action and Meade’s decision is the fact that Dahlgren in his diary said nothing about the effect on events that his capture may have had. Still another is the probability that Dahlgren did not arrive at Gettysburg until some hours after Meade’s council had broken up.44


            Instead, Fishel gives the credit for Meade’s decision to stay at Gettysburg and fight it out to a detailed and extremely accurate analysis of the Army of Northern Virginia’s order of battle completed in the early evening of July 2. Fishel probably understates the importance of Dahlgren’s find—the intelligence provided allowed Meade to go into battle on July 3 knowing that there was no possibility of Lee receiving reinforcements. That knowledge undoubtedly gave Meade confidence as he planned for the third day’s fighting.

            Recent research documents that the council of war was over before Dahlgren arrived at Gettysburg. The Army of the Potomac’s Adjutant General, Seth Williams, sent a dispatch to Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps, on the morning of July 3, reporting the intelligence brought in by Dahlgren. This means that Howard would have had to depart the council of war prior to Dahlgren’s arrival. It is unlikely that Howard would have left the council of war early, so it becomes apparent that the council was over prior to the young captain’s arrival. Following is that dispatch:


Head-Quarters, Army of the Potomac

                                                                                                July 3, 1863


            General O.O. Howard

                        Cmdg 11th Corps




With respect to the report that Beauregard has a large force at Hagerstown, I am instructed by the Commanding General to say that a dispatch was yesterday captured showing that the proposition to concentrate a large army under Beauregard for the support of Lee’s army is regarded by President Davis as impracticable—an intimation will be given to General [Henry] Slocum that General [David M.] Gregg is probably wasting his ammunition.

                                                                        Your obt srvt

                                                                        S Williams



Head Quarters Army of the Potomac

P103/237 July 3, 1863

S. Williams Asst Adjt Genl

Recd HQ 11 Corps July 3, 186345


            Regardless of whether Dahlgren arrived in time to impact the results of the council of war, his feat was nevertheless a coup de main. His intelligence provided incontestable proof that Lee could expect no reinforcements and that the present Confederates were on their own in Pennsylvania. Unaware of the significance of his feat, the tired young officer got a richly deserved brief respite that night. More adventures awaited him the next day.


The Second Greencastle Raid

            Waking on the morning of July 3, Dahlgren again swung into his saddle and rode down the Emmitsburg Road towards Mechanicsville, Maryland,46 looking for the reserve brigade of Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, which had spent the first two days of the battle of Gettysburg guarding supply wagons. Dahlgren carried an order from Pleasonton, instructing Merritt to give the young captain some officers and one hundred handpicked troopers to go on a second raid toward Greencastle.47

            Merritt detailed one hundred horse soldiers from Companies D, F, K, and L of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Capt. Charles P. C. Treichel commanded the contingent, along with Lts. Albert P. Morrow, Edward Whiteford, Bernard H. Herkness, and Charles White. The small column set out towards Greencastle, reaching Waynesboro late on the afternoon of the 3rd. There, the column went into bivouac for the night.48

            At 2 a.m. the horse soldiers set out for Greencastle, which had been briefly occupied by Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden’s Northwestern Brigade of Confederate cavalry, which advanced through the town on its way to Gettysburg. Captain Newhall complained bitterly, “soon this fine detachment…bearing away to the left and crossing the Blue Ridge at Monterey Pass, was thrashing around in the enemy’s rear, on the wrong side of the mountains for safety or comfort, or for any reasonable hope of accomplishing with such a small party, anything to compensate for the risk they ran.”49

            The regimental historian for the Lancers recorded:


The small force moved…along the roads in the rear of Lee’s army over which his trains must pass. They were joined by a large number of civilians mounted and armed with shot-guns, while others carried axes to be used in the destruction of the wagons. On arriving near Greencastle they were informed that the enemy’s cavalry held possession of the town. Our little band, led by Captain Treichel, charged through the streets, surprising the enemy and taking 84 prisoners. Lieutenant Morrow received a slight would while leading a portion of the force in this charge, while his horse was killed under him.50

            The Pennsylvanians took seventeen Confederate infantrymen and another seven cavalrymen prisoners in this daring charge.51 They also captured a Rebel paymaster and the money he carried.52

            A Rebel staffer, McHenry Howard, recalled that when his small party of horse soldiers were about a mile from town, they “heard a shot and then met a mail carrier galloping down the road, who reported that he had been attacked while passing through the town.” When Howard and his comrades rode into Greencastle that day, the town “seemed sullenly quiet, doors and windows closed and nobody on the street.” When they reached the town square, they were met by the blazing carbines of the Pennsylvania horse soldiers. There, “about fifty of the Southern Cavalry came down South Carlisle Street, demanding to see the town authorities, but just before they reached the square, the Federal soldiers made a dash and drove them out in splendid style, capturing a considerable number. Though the shots whistled in close proximity to our ears, the citizens remained on the street to witness the result.” Howard later commented, “So much for my twenty hours in Maryland and Pennsylvania and so much for my only cavalry experience. I had fired but one shot…and this was one of the only two shots I fired during the war. I should add that in this little campaign, we had three men captured—at Greencastle—and one wounded, who got off.”53

            Dahlgren proudly noted in his diary, “Attacked Jenkins’ cavalry in Greencastle. Whiteford captured a paymaster.54 He elaborated later, Passed the 4th in Greencastle. The enemy’s communications entirely destroyed. Remained in the town all day, feeling proud of our work. Citizens very uneasy about our being there.”55 The Federals got an early start again the next morning. Confederate Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden faced a heavy task. Robert E. Lee assigned him to command the Army of Northern Virginia’s wagon train of wounded—a 17-mile-long traveling sea of misery which wound its way from Gettysburg through the Cashtown Gap south toward Greencastle, south to Hagerstown, and ultimately to the Potomac River ford at Williamsport. It was a daunting task at best, with torrential rains and roving parties of Federal cavalry only making the task all the more challenging. The 18th Virginia Cavalry, commanded by the general’s brother, Col. George Imboden, led the train’s advance.56

            Marching toward Greencastle, Dahlgren found Imboden’s column, happening upon a train of six hundred wagons, accompanied by the 18th Virginia cavalry and a regiment of infantry, supported by a battery of artillery. The bold Dahlgren pitched into the fray once again, after allowing the advance of the column to pass. Chaplain Samuel L. Gracey described the scene:


The command was moved near to the road and lay concealed until about 300 wagons had passed, when, the force being divided between Lieutenants Morrow and Herkness, they charged to the front and rear of the train at the same time. With the assistance of citizens they destroyed 130 wagons and run the horses off to the woods, captured two iron guns, and 200 prisoners. The strong infantry guard of the train soon appeared in overwhelming numbers, and a severe fight ensued, in which we lost nearly all the prisoners we had previously taken, and a number of our own men captured. Lieutenant Herkness received a severe saber cut and was taken prisoner.

            Our men fled to the woods and were scattered in small squads during the night. They rendezvoused at Waynesboro, Pa. On the following morning they succeeded in bringing to Waynesboro about thirty prisoners.57


Captain Newhall put a very different spin on these events:


Near Greencastle, after various adventures, they came upon a section of the enemy’s supply-train, amply guarded by infantry and able to take care of itself; but Dahlgren ordered a charge, to which the party responded with all their might, and in a moment they were in the midst of the wagons banging away and trying to capture the train; but the infantry and cavalry escort was entirely too strong for them and they were obliged to beat a retreat, and finally to scatter to avoid the enemy’s close pursuit. Lieutenant Herkness of our regiment was severely wounded and captured, with ten or more of the men, and the whole command was badly cut up, while before Treichel could get the remnant together again the country about him was swarming with rebels retreating now from their bitter defeat at Gettysburg.58


General Imboden left this account:


After the advance—the 18th Virginia Cavalry—had passed perhaps a mile beyond the town, the citizens to the number of thirty or forty attacked the train with axes, cutting the spokes out of ten or a dozen wheels and dropping the wagons in the streets. The moment I heard of it I sent back a detachment of cavalry to capture every citizen who had been engaged in this type of work, and treat them as prisoners of war. This stopped the trouble there, but the Union cavalry began to swarm down upon us from the fields and cross-roads, making their attacks in small bodies, and striking the column where there were few or no guards, and thus creating great confusion. I had a narrow escape from capture by one of these parties—of perhaps fifty men that I tried to drive off with canister from two of [Capt. J. H.] McClanahan’s guns that were close at hand. They would perhaps have been too much for me, had not Colonel Imboden, hearing the firing turned back with his regiment at a gallop, and by the suddenness of his movement surrounded and caught the entire party.59


            During the fracas, Dahlgren’s horse was shot out from under him, and “it was only by dispersing his men in different directions amid the deep forest, that he avoided close pursuit and contrived to reach the vicinity of Boonesboro [Maryland].”60 Despite these tribulations, Dahlgren triumphantly noted in his diary, “Attacked and destroyed one hundred seventy-six wagons. Captured two hundred prisoners, and three hundred horses, and one piece of artillery, which was retaken. Made our way near Boonesboro. Kilpatrick fighting near Smithburg.61

            The intense fight had taken its toll on Dahlgren’s little column. By the morning of July 6, only about 80 men remained with him. Dispersed about the Pennsylvania countryside, the young cavalryman’s command was “greatly scattered, being secreted by loyal citizens.” Lieutenant Whiteford, along with his squad of ten Lancers, hid in Hagerstown while Longstreet’s infantry corps passed through the town.62 Despite the disorganization, Dahlgren learned that some of Jenkins’ cavalry had demanded a ransom from the town of Waynesboro. Once again galloping off into action, he led his horse soldiers on another reckless head-long charge, surprising the Rebel troopers in the streets of the town, and scattering them. After a pursuit of nearly six miles, Dahlgren finally gave up the chase, choosing to attack another wagon train, destroying a large number of them, and taking more prisoners along the way.63

            On the morning of July 6, Dahlgren found Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s Third Cavalry Division advancing on Hagerstown. The dangerous and taxing raid was over. The regimental historian of the Lancers proudly observed:


On this expedition they destroyed over two hundred wagons, loaded with valuable supplies, that had been stolen from the farmers and merchants of Pennsylvania. At one time they held more than double their number of prisoners, many of whom escaped during their several engagements, although they succeeded in bringing in to General Buford’s headquarters between seventy and eighty of them.64


            The daring raid, while costly, was successful. Ulric Dahlgren’s career, however, was about to take an entirely different, and not altogether happy, turn.


The Battle of Hagerstown


            That morning was, as Admiral Dahlgren described it, “the last day of service that Ulric Dahlgren shall render to his country for a long time.”65 Dahlgren arrived as Kilpatrick was making dispositions to attack the two brigades of Confederate cavalry, the vanguard of which had arrived in Hagerstown’s public square.  Finding enemy pickets in force, Kilpatrick decided to recall his forces and avoid an uneven fight in the streets of the town. It was too late, however, for the gallant young cavalryman. Joined by the remnants of his raiding party, Dahlgren fell in with a squadron of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was already advancing to attack the Confederate positions.

            Dahlgren somehow managed to assume command of Company A of the 18th Pennsylvania. With the Pennsylvanians at his side, Ulric Dahlgren made another head-long dash down the main street of Hagerstown—Potomac Street—crashing into the pickets of the 9th Virginia Cavalry posted there and driving all resistance back toward the public square in the middle of town. Reinforced by most of Col. John Chambliss’ brigade of Confederate cavalry, the grayclad horse soldiers made a stand there, and the two forces went saber-to-saber, boot-to-boot, in brutal and bloody hand-to-hand combat. In this fighting, Captain Lindsay was killed and his small command took heavy casualties. Dahlgren spotted the Rebel trooper who had killed Lindsay and “immediately cut the man down with his saber.”66

            Having avenged Lindsay’s death, Dahlgren left the remnants of Company A in the alleys on both sides of the town square, and went in search of reinforcements, which he found in the form of Company D. Dahlgren called on twenty men of the regiment to dismount, leave their sabers on the saddle, and proceed on foot. He placed ten troopers on each sidewalk, while riding along in the middle of the street. Dahlgren rode even with the advance of the squads and told the Pennsylvanians not to fire until he gave the order. Advancing to within 300 yards of the town’s square, the Confederate horse soldiers opened fire on them, using the mounted captain as a convenient target. He rode on, oblivious to the danger and the bullets whizzing by his ear.

            In response, Dahlgren gave the order, “Now boys, give it to them!” The Yankees fired a volley from each sidewalk, driving the Southern cavalrymen from their position. The Rebels fell back to the Zion Reformed Church, where, supported by artillery, they made a stand. The Confederates, sheltering behind walls and tombstones, opened fire on the advancing Federals. The men of the 18th Pennsylvania incurred heavy losses, “in consequence of having to face, with sabers, in a narrow street, an enemy who was using pistols.”67 An unexpected and fierce flanking fire caused Dahlgren to wheel and face the new threat. Dahlgren sat his horse on the west side of the street, coolly directing his men to meet the flanking attack by the Rebels, when, “the rebels behind the church shot him.”68

            A newspaper correspondent traveling with Kilpatrick’s Division reported in the New York Times:


Meanwhile, showers of bullets came on the devoted party from every direction—from streets, alleys, and houses. Several of our men were killed, others were wounded and left behind, and it only remained to get out of town as quickly as possible. Captain Dahlgren was already wounded; the sensation was so slight, that he thought it was nothing more than a glancing ball, and little dreamed that his heavy boot and foot had been pierced. But he must now turn with the remnant of his party and ride for life. His good steed once more bears him from captivity or death, and then he falls from the saddle, exhausted by loss of blood. Friendly hands are near to receive the wounded soldier and bear him to an ambulance.69


            Maj. Luther Trowbridge of the 5th Michigan Cavalry watched the injured young captain ride up to Kilpatrick and report on his role in the fighting. After hearing the report, Kilpatrick gave the young officer further orders. Interrupting, Dahlgren responded, “General, I am hit,” and pointed out the wound in his leg. Trowbridge saw the wounded captain dismount his horse, and watched him lay down on the ground, where Dahlgren evidently passed out from the shock and loss of blood.70 Coming to, Dahlgren had the strength to pull out his diary and scribble in it, “Foot not very painful. Slept well.”71 However, he probably did not realize that his wounded foot was mangled.

            After the end pf the Gettysburg Campaign, Judson Kilpatrick praised Dahlgren lavishly in his report of the fighting at Hagerstown. He wrote, “I cannot pass over this engagement without mentioning a few among the many individual cases of gallantry that came under my own observation:…Captain…Dahlgren…wounded, leading a daring charge through the streets of Hagerstown.”72

            The next day, his ambulance reached shelter in the town of Boonesboro. There a surgeon removed several bone shards from a wound. The injured captain nevertheless maintained a positive attitude, writing in his diary, “Foot easy and comfortable. Slept well.”73 The next day, his journey continued on to Frederick. Dahlgren was still not in much pain, but he also had a realistic view of his condition, noting in his diary, “Foot easy—no fever; the foot had better come off.”74




            Sometime during the evening of July 9, a train delivered the wounded soldier to his parents in Washington, D.C. A few soldiers carried him, on a stretcher, to his father’s house. Admiral Dahlgren, who was absent—having arrived on July 4 at Port Royal, South Carolina, where he assumed command of the South Atlantic Blockading squadron on the 6th—was told, “Loss of blood and pain, and discomfort have made sad inroads already on his hardy frame; but the sight of old familiar faces recalls something of the past, and his eye once more beams with pleasure as it ranges over the objects that revive past memories.” The patient’s condition did not improve appreciably; rather, it worsened. Dahlgren’s condition deteriorated to the point that all traffic in front of the house was prohibited and a sentry placed at the front door to prevent anyone but medical personnel from entering.  Surgeon examined the wound carefully, and reported the news that all dreaded: the foot would have to be amputated. The same surgeon removed the mangled lower right leg, and after three days while the young man’s life hung in the balance, the long road to recovery began.

            The miserable young man received many visitors during his convalescence. His father was told:


Friends crowd around him to offer soothing sympathy in every form. Among the first to sit by his bedside, with kindly words of heart-felt sympathy is Mr. Lincoln. As he looks upon the youth in whom he has ever evinced so much interest, now tortured with agony which no words can describe, tears unbidden come. Well for both it is, that the misty veil that hides the future is impenetrable to mortal eye!75


            Prominent congressmen also paid their respects, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton brought Dahlgren a reward for his brilliant service in the Gettysburg Campaign: a commission as a colonel of volunteers. The letter from Stanton accompanying the commission read:


Enclosed you have a commission for colonel, without having passed through the intermediate grade of major. Your gallant and meritorious service has, I think, entitled you to this distinction., although it is a departure from general usage which is only justified by distinguished merit such as yours. I hope you may speedily recover, and it will rejoice me to be the instrument of your further advancement in the service.76


            Years after the end of the war, Confederate artillerist E. P. Alexander wrote, “Dahlgren…is said to have told his friends that his promotion was for capturing a letter and delivering it to General Meade in time to prevent him from retreating from Gettysburg.”77

            Something had to be done with the severed limb. In the summer heat, it could not be transported back to Philadelphia for burial in the family plot. An old friend of Admiral Dahlgren came up with an unusual solution to the problem: the limb would be sealed in a new building being erected at the Washington Navy Yard. The severed limb was given a full military funeral, complete with honor guard and casket. A plaque was placed on the wall to mark it as the burial place: “Within this wall is deposited the leg of Col. Ulric Dahlgren, U.S.V. Wounded July 6, 1863, while skirmishing in the streets of Hagerstown, with the Rebels after the Battle of Gettysburg.”78

            The Confederate retreat continued while Dahlgren recuperated from his Hagerstown wound. In the early phases of the Gettysburg Campaign, Stanton dispatched Brig. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas, the adjutant general of the United States, to Harrisburg, so that a steady and professional hand joined Maj. Gen. Darius N. Couch in supervising the emergency troops gathered there. Late in the afternoon of July 4, Secretary of War Stanton relayed Dahlgren’s intelligence coup to Thomas:


We have sure information, by intercepted dispatches from Jeff. Davis and General Cooper, that on last Saturday Lee made an urgent appeal for re-enforcements from Beauregard, Bragg, and from Richmond, and they were refused, because Beauregard had sent all he dared part with to Joe Johnston, and so had Bragg; that the force in North Carolina and at Richmond was too small to defend Richmond and protect Lee’s communications, and that they could not spare a man. The story about Beauregard coming, no doubt, has been told by Lee to keep up the spirits of his men. Davis’ dispatch is the best view we have ever had of the rebels’ condition, and it is desperate. They feel the pressure at all points, and have nothing to spare in any quarter, so that Lee must fight his way through alone, if he can. Everything here will be employed to best advantage, and it is of the utmost importance to push forward from Harrisburg and harass the enemy.79


            Likewise, Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Heintzelman, commander of the troops assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C., was aware of the significance of the intelligence captured by Dahlgren. On July 3 he scribbled in his diary:


The news from General Meade is good…. We captured very important dispatches from Jefferson Davis to Lee and from General Cooper. The letters go into minute details of the situation. With the knowledge we have of our situation and this information of theirs, our prospects are decidedly flattering.80


            Thus, Dahlgren’s intelligence provided Washington with the necessary impetus to push the pursuit of Lee’s beaten army. Vicksburg was in the process of falling—the beleaguered garrison would surrender that day—the substantial Union garrison at Fort Monroe, at Hampton Roads, kept the rebels pinned down, and Federal forces under Maj. Gen. Quincy Gillmore were pressuring the Confederate defenders of Charleston. It was clear that no reinforcements could be spared to rescue Lee’s army, which was now pinned with its back against the flooded banks of the Potomac River and apparently ripe for the picking. Further, the Army of the Potomac’s high command knew that Lee’s army was outnumbered and desperately short of artillery ammunition.81 A mortified Lincoln commented, after learning of the July 13-14 escape of the Confederate army across the Potomac, “We had them in our grasp. We had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move.”82


            Bad weather and Meade seeming hesitation at pushing the issue with the Confederates further exasperated Abraham Lincoln. Stanton and Lincoln did everything in their power to urge Meade forward, to no avail. Recognizing the opportunity being squandered, Lincoln’s frustration finally bubbled over after the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia made its way to safety in Virginia on July 14. Fortunately, the letter was never sent, but it accurately reflects Lincoln’s state of mind in knowing the scope of the opportunity that had slipped through Meade’s fingers, all of which directly resulted from the intelligence provided by Ulric Dahlgren. Lincoln penned the following:


I have been oppressed nearly ever since the battles at Gettysburg, by what appeared to be evidences that yourself, General Couch, and Gen. [William F. “Baldy”] Smith were not seeking a collision with the enemy, but were trying to get across the river without another battle…. The case is…this. You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not, as it seemed to me, pressingly pursue him; but a flood in the river detained him, till, by slow degrees, you were again upon him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you, and a s many more raw ones within supporting distance, all in addition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it is not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without attacking him…. I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection, with our other late successes, have ended the war.83


            Knowing that Lee had no reinforcements available to him and that he would have to fight it out to the death along the banks of the flooded Potomac River, it is no wonder or surprise that Lincoln grew terribly frustrated with George Meade’s seeming unwillingness to pursue Lee’s army. Ulric Dahlgren’s intelligence provided Lincoln with the insight to know the state of the Confederate forces. Thus, while Dahlgren’s capture of the correspondence intended for Lee may not have played a role in the decision of the Army of the Potomac to stay and fight it out at Gettysburg, it had a crucial role in the pursuit and the opportunity to destroy Lee’s army which was lost along the banks of the Potomac River.

            By early 1864, Dahlgren had recovered sufficiently to resume active duty with a prosthetic leg. During the winter of 1863-4, Judson Kilpatrick cooked up a hare-brained scheme for a raid on Richmond intended to liberate the Yankee prisoners of war held on Belle Isle and in Libby Prison. Dahlgren was chosen to help lead the daring raid. When he heard of the scheme, the one-legged cavalryman proclaimed characteristically:


…there is a grand raid to be made, and I am to have a very important command. If successful, it will be the grandest thing on record; and if it fails, many of us will “go up.” I may be captured, or I may be “tumbled over;” but it is an undertaking that if I were not in, I should be ashamed to show my face again…. If we do not return, there is no better place “to give up the ghost.”84


            Dahlgren commanded a column of about five hundred men during Kilpatrick’s folly. This excursion was carried out on the last days of February and early March 1864, and is known to history as the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid. It was a wretched failure. None of its objectives were met and Dahlgren was killed in an ambush by a contingent of the 9th Virginia Cavalry and home guards. On his body were found some papers that allegedly demonstrated a plot for the assassination of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. One of the home guard cut off the young colonel’s ring finger, and Ulric Dahlgren was vilified. Maj. James H. Kidd, of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, who led a detachment of his regiment in the raid, quite correctly noted, “He deserved a better fate.”85 His body was taken home to Philadelphia in November of 1865, and he was laid to rest in the family plot in Laurel hill Cemetery. A colonel at 21, his promising young life was snuffed out before he turned 22.86

            Thus, Ulric Dahlgren’s brief but brilliant career flamed out. An officer “who had established a reputation for extraordinary dash and daring,”87 he performed exceptionally well in the Gettysburg Campaign. His service, marked by almost unbelievable courage, flair, and recklessness, brought spectacular results. The intelligence Dahlgren captured on July 2 did not arrive in time to give George Meade the impetus to stand and fight at Gettysburg. His feat, however, provided undisputed evidence that the rebel army in Pennsylvania was on its own, outnumbered and short of artillery ammunition, and that Lee could expect to receive no reinforcements. That this intelligence was not exploited by the army’s high command is obviously not his fault. Nevertheless, his accomplishments in the Gettysburg Campaign are noteworthy for their courage, even though they have been largely forgotten by history. In 1872, Admiral Dahlgren lamented, “Remembered among those the nation mourns, will be the name of Ulric Dahlgren.”88 Unfortunately, his prediction was not accurate. Few, if any, officers showed a higher degree of fearlessness, dash, and recklessness in the face of danger, and few died a more needless death.

            One cannot help but wonder what great things Dahlgren might have achieved if his young life had not been squandered by the vainglory and boundless ambition of Judson Kilpatrick. If his past performance was an indication of the potential of his future service, Ulric Dahlgren might have been one of the greatest cavalrymen in American history. His early career demonstrates that he possessed many of the same qualities that set George A. Custer and Elon J. Farnsworth apart from the other rising young officers serving with the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. Extraordinary dash and courage marked Dahlgren’s short life, and he showed a great deal of talent in his brief career. Indeed, it is quite possible that he might have become another Custer or Farnsworth.89 The question of what he might have accomplished will, unfortunately, remain forever unanswered.

[1] Read Adm. John Dahlgren, Memoir of Ulric Dahlgren (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1872), pp. 1-27.

[2] Ibid. p. 69.

3 Ibid. p. 99.

4 Ibid. p. 112.

5 United States War department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 volumes in 128 parts (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series 1, vol. 21, p. 971. (Hereinafter referred to as OR, all references are to series I unless otherwise noted.

6 Ibid. vol. 25, part 2, p. 167.

7 Ibid., pp. 517-8. The unsuccessful Stoneman Raid during the Chancellorsville Campaign covered much of this same ground. Much of the same terrain would be covered again during the equally unsuccessful Kilpatrick/Dahlgren Raid in February of 1864. Dahlgren seemed fixated upon leading a cavalry raid into the city of Richmond, an obsession that would cost his life a few months later.

8 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 142.

9 Ibid., p. 125.

10 OR, vol. 27, part 3, p. 25. Dahlgren refers to Col. Alfred Duffieَ, commanding the Third Division of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps, and to Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel, commanding the cavalry division assigned to the defenses of Washington. In the reorganization of the Cavalry Corps that occurred after the fighting in the Loudoun Valley during the second half of June, Duffieَ was reduced to colonel of the 1st Rhode Island Cavalry, and Stahel was relieved of command. His division would become the Third Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, under the command of Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick.

11 The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was formed in Philadelphia in 1861. Its first commanding officer was Col. Richard H. Rush, grandson of one of the founding fathers of the United States. In November 1861, pursuant to a request by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the regiment was armed with eight-foot-long wooden lances tipped with eleven-inch steel blades. Hence, for most of its career in the Army of the Potomac, this regiment was also known as Rush’s Lancers, although the regiment turned in their lances subsequent to McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Two companies of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Companies E and I, were nowhere near the fighting at Brandy station that day. This squadron served as headquarters escort to Hooker, as the commanding officer of the Army of the Potomac. Admiral Dahlgren described them as “a splendid body of Lancer cavalry.”

12 Richard L. T. Beale, History of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry in the War Between the States (Richmond: B. F. Johnson Publishing, 1899) p. 85.

13 Brig. Gen. John Buford to Lt. Col. A. J. Alexander, June 13, 1863, Box 15, Folder A, Joseph Hooker Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

14 Fairfax Downey, Clash of Cavalry: The Battle of Brandy Station (New York: David McKay Co., 1959), p. 103.

15 Maj. Henry C. Whelan to Lt. James F. McQueston, June 11, 1863, Box 15, Folder A, Joseph Hooker Papers, Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

16 Robert Morris Jr. was the great-grandson of Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution. Members of the Morris family had a long history of service in the mounted arm. One of his ancestors, Capt. Samuel Morris, a fighting Quaker, was the first commander of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, an elite unit formed to serve as George Washington’s bodyguard. Robert Morris Jr. was a sergeant in the First City Troop, as it was also known, at the outbreak of the Civil War, and was one of the members of the unit who deployed in the early days of the Civil War. Colonel Rush himself later recruited him into the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The Morris family remains prominent in modern-day Philadelphia and 21 members of the Morris family have served in the First City Troop.

17 Dahlgren is wrong about which brigade the 6th Pennsylvania charged. The force that the 6th Pennsylvania clashed with was the cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. William Edmonson “Grumble” Jones, stationed at St. James Church. The brigade of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton joined Joes’ men for the latter phases of this action.

18 Morris was captured when his horse fell on top of him trying to jump over a ditch. He died a sad, lonely death of disease as a prisoner of war in Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison.

19 Dahlgren, Memoir, pp. 147-8.

20 Sgt. Thomas W. Smith to Joseph Smith, June 15, 1863, Thomas W. Smith Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

21 Dahlgren, Memoir, pp. 149.

22 New York Times, June 11, 1863.

23 OR, vol. 27, part 1, p. 1046.

24 Buford to Alexander, June 13, 1863, Hooker Papers.

25 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 151.

26 RG 393 part 1 (US Army Continental Command, 1821-1920), Army of the Potomac, 1861-1865, entry 3976, Letters Received, 1863, box 8 (A-E), The National Archives, Washington, D.C.

27 OR, vol. 27, part 3, p. 86.

28 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 154.

29 Ibid., p. 155.

30 Ibid.

31 This episode has been largely lost to history. On June 29, Alexander took his small force and crossed into Pennsylvania. The column failed to find the Confederates, but followed the sounds of combat emanating from the battle raging at Hanover on June 30, arriving to pitch into the decisive charge at Hanover. After the Federal victory that day, Alexander led his small command to the main Federal position at Gettysburg, arriving on Cemetery Hill late on the afternoon of July 1. For a time, Alexander’s column was out of contact with the Army of the Potomac, causing great consternation among the high command.  This prompted John Buford to write to Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, “Nothing has been learned of Col. Alexander’s Command and I have pushed the pickets, or rather the rear guard of the Rebs 6 miles towards Cashtown.” The only known narrative of this expedition is found in James H. Wilson, The Life and Services of Brevet Brigadier General Andrew Jonathan Alexander, United States Army (New York: privately published, 1887), pp. 36-39.

32 Frederick C. Newhall, Dedication of the Monument of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, October 14, 1888 (Philadelphia: privately published, 1889), pp. 14-15. Newhall recorded, “I had been sent by Pleasonton with a small party towards York, far off there in the north-east, to see if any of Lee’s army was thereabouts, and it was the afternoon of the second day…” when Newhall and his small force arrived on the main battlefield at Gettysburg and Newhall rejoined Pleasonton’s staff.

33 Joseph Hooker to Admiral John Dahlgren, July 20, 1863, Letters Sent and Received, Army of the Potomac, Book 3, pp. 487-488, The National Archives.

34 Dahlgren, Memoir, pp. 159-160. The author has been unable to identify the make-up of this force, but the Sergeant Cline referred to is Sgt. Milton Cline of the 3rd Indiana Cavalry. It is likely that the four scouts came from the Bureau of Military Information, the Army of the Potomac’s intelligence branch. These men were elite scouts known for their daring. The remaining troopers are unidentified, but one historian has speculated that they included Capt. John McEntee, and his scouts, Henry W. Dodd, Benjamin F. McCord, Ed Hopkins, and Anson Carney. Edwin M. Fishel, The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1996) p. 421.

35 W. P. Conrad and Ted Alexander, When War Passed This Way (Greencastle, Pennsylvania: Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library, 1982) p. 172.

36 Jacob Hoke, The Great Invasion of 1863(New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1867), p. 180.

37 Conrad and Alexander, When War Passed This Way, p. 173.

38 Edward P. Alexander, Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of Edward Porter Alexander, Gary W. Gallagher, ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989) p. 247. Porter Alexander was an appropriate person to make such an observation. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil war, the young officer had served in the U. S. Army’s Signal Corps, where he was responsible for precisely the sort of security measures that he commented on in this matter.

39 OR, vol. 27, part 2, p. 300; Fishel, The Secret War, p. 685, n. 33.

40 Hoke, The Great Invasion, p. 181.

41 Ulric Dahlgren, diary for 1863, entry for July 2, 1863, John A. Dahlgren Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

42 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 162.

43 Co. Edward A. Palfrey, ”Some of the Secret History of Gettysburg,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VIII, pp. 521-526.

44 Fishel, Secret War, p. 532. Fishel refers to Special Orders No. 191, the operational orders for the Army of Northern Virginia in Maryland before the Battle of Antietam. Some Indiana infantrymen found a copy of the order, intended for Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill, wrapped around three cigars.  The intelligence contained in this order gave Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, then commanding the Army of the Potomac, a picture of the disposition of Lee’s army in the days before the Battle of Antietam, and prompted McClellan to boast, “Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I am willing to go home.” The intelligence found by Dahlgren was of the same level of strategic importance, even if it was not as significant tactically.

45 RG 393 part II (US Army Continental Command, 1821-1920), entry 5319: 11th Army Corps Letter Received, January 1863-1864 (Unarranged) box 1, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.

46 This is modern-day Thurmont, Maryland.

47 Newhall, Dedication, p. 18.

48 Ulric Dahlgren diary, entry for July 3, 1863.

49 Newhall, Dedication, pp. 18-19.

50 Samuel L. Gracey, Annals of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co. 1868) p. 189. Albert P. Morrow was a fine soldier. At the war’s outbreak, he was a sergeant. By the war’s end, he was a lieutenant colonel commanding the regiment. In the interim, his daring-do in leading this charge caught the attention of John Buford, who appointed the young lieutenant to his staff not long after the conclusion of the Gettysburg Campaign. After Buford’s death in December 1863, Morrow returned to active duty in the field with the Lancers. With the war’s end, he accepted a commission in the newly formed 7th U.S. Cavalry. Morrow stayed in the Regular Army until 1895, when he retired as a colonel. “Record of Albert P. Morrow,” Sydney L. Wright Family Papers, Collection #2096, William redwood Wright Section, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Morrow’s fellow staff officer, Capt. Myles W. Keogh, observed of Morrow, “…he was considered quite a handsome fellow and was a very gallant soldier—as we would say in the Green Isle—‘The Devil among women,’” Myles W. Keogh to Thomas Keogh, December 24, 1865, Keogh Papers, National Library, Dublin, Ireland.

51 Hoke, The Great Invasion, p. 182.

52 Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, 10 vols. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: State Printer, 1869-1871), 4:748.

53 Conrad and Alexander, When War Passed This Way, pp. 178-179.

54 Ulric Dahlgren diary, entry for July 4, 1863.

55 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 165.

56 John D. Imboden, “The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg,” included in Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel, eds. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, 4 vols. (New York: Century Publishing Co. 1884-1904), 3:423.

57 Gracey, Annals, p. 190.

58 Newhall, Dedication, p. 19.

59 Imboden, “The Confederate Retreat,” 3:425.

60 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 167.

61 Ulric Dahlgren diary, entry for July 5, 1863. On the morning of July 4, Kilpatrick’s Third Division pulled out of Gettysburg and began its pursuit of the Confederates. That night, Kilpatrick engaged a small force of Rebel cavalry in Monterey Pass in a midnight fight marked by torrential rains and vivid flashes of lightning. Brushing aside the grayclad cavalry, the Federal troopers ransacked the Confederate wagon train and began marching towards Hagerstown. At Smithsburg, just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Kilpatrick ran into the main body of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry. A sharp but short fight took place at Smithsburg, with Maj. Gen. J.E. B. Stuart in personal command of the Rebel cavalry. The engagement broke off, and Kilpatrick continued his advance toward Boonesboro before continuing on to Hagerstown the next day.

62 Gracey, Annals, pp. 190-191.

63 Ibid., p. 190.

64 Ibid., p. 191.

65 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 168.

66 Ibid., p. 169.

67 Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 4:1044.

68 Samuel St. Clair, “The Fight at Hagerstown,” included in History of the Eighteenth regiment of Cavalry Pennsylvania Volunteers 1862-1865 (New York: Regimental Publication Committee, 1909) pp. 94-95.

69 Dahlgren, Memoir, pp. 169-170.

70 Luther Trowbridge to J. Allen Bigelow, undated, copy in files, Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

71 Ulric Dahlgren diary, entry for July 6, 1863.

72 OR, vol. 27, part 1, p. 995.

73 Ulric Dahlgren diary, entry for July 7, 1863.

74 Ibid., entry for July 8, 1863.

75 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 174-176.

76 Edwin M. Stanton to Ulric Dahlgren, July 24, 1863, included in Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 255.

77 Alexander, Fighting, p. 247.

78 Conrad and Alexander, When War Passed, p. 181.

79 Edwin M. Stanton to Lorenzo Thomas, July 4, 1863, RG94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Military command Correspondence Relating to “Official Records”/Miscellaneous Commands, Letters, Telegrams, and Reports, May 1863-Jan. 1864, entry 730, box 163, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.

80 Samuel P. Heintzelman diary, entry for July 4, 1863, Samuel P. Heinzelman Papers, manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

81 For an interesting and balanced study of the question of whether Meade did all he could have in pursuing Lee, see A. Wilson Greene, “From Gettysburg to Falling Waters,” included in Gary W. Gallagher, ed. The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, 1994) pp. 161-202.

82 Edwin P. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968) p. 572.

83 Abraham Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Roy P. Basler, ed., 8 vols. And index (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955), 6:327-8.

84 Ulric Dahlgren to Adm. John Dahlgren, Feb. 26, 1864, included in Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 211.

85 James H. Kidd, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman in Custer’s Michigan Brigade (Ionia, Michigan: Sentinel Printing Co., 1908.) p. 243.

86 As a tribute to their fallen young hero, Sarah Madaleine Dahlgren, the admiral’s second wife, built a handsome chapel on the National Road atop South Mountain, near the Antietam battlefield. Obviously, young Ulric’s death hit the admiral and his second wife very hard.

87 Kidd, Personal Recollections, p. 239.

88 Dahlgren, Memoir, p. 289.

89 Dahlgren met a similar end to Farnsworth, who died leading a heroic and futile charge at Gettysburg on July 3, after the repulse of Pickett’s Charge. Both men were brave, heroic, and died needless deaths as a result of the ambitions of Judson Kilpatrick. For more information on Farnsworth’s Charge and death, see Eric J. Wittenberg, Gettysburg’s Forgotten Military Actions (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Thomas Publications, 1998).