Ulric Dahlgren

Ulric Dahlgren

Anita Jackson-Wieck wrote:

Esteemed member Anita Jackson-Wieck As a result of an aside or two in posts over the last few weeks I picked up my copy of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac Trilogy, now more forty years old. What a joy it was to read and now to reread! It is like rediscovering an old and dear friend. The last four paragraphs of Glory Road, ending as Lincoln rises to speak at Gettysburg, quite took my breath away, as they first did when I was a boy, although I didn't quite understand why, back then. And am only beginning to, now.

Thanks to the works of men like Dr. Thomas Desjardin, I understand that some of Catton's details may not hold up, but the sweep and passion and essential truth certainly do. And the poetry... There are three CW works that always move me to tears and this is one. The other two - moments in Foote's Trilogy and the end of Alexander's "Fighting for the Confederacy."

But enough of that. Two items, one in response to an earlier post, the other an open-ended question:

1.) Catton speaks of the men standing at the rear of the Pennsylvania regiment on Cemetery Ridge as Pickett's and Pettigrew's men came up the last rise, holding hands in line to keep their comrades from turning and breaking. Bob Lawrence had queried about that.

2.) I'll just quote this from "A Stillness At Appomattox":

"While the fighting was beginning around Gettysburg, Dahlgren took a couple of troops of cavalry and went prowling far around in Lee's rear, and he captured a Confederate courier coming up from Richmond with dispatches. The capture was important, for the courier bore a letter from Jefferson Davis telling Lee that the government did not think it advisable to bring Beauregard and a new army up to the Rappahannock to add weight to Lee's invasion of the North. The letter was promptly sent to Meade, who was thus enabled to campaign in the secure knowledge that Lee was not to be reinforced."

I can think of questions galore here, and no doubt others can think of more. Had Lee gone north anticipating support? When did Davis reach this decision? Was it his alone? Would Meade have acted differently without this knowledge? Did Lee ever receive this message, via another courier? Were some of his decisions made, perhaps, in anticipation of support. I'd say this is the first I've heard of this but I can't, because I read this book for the first time long ago. It's the first time it registered on me, though. Did this alter the campaign in any way? If so, how and why? If not, why? And so on.

To save some, perhaps, the trouble, here is Catton's footnote: "Memoirs of Ulric Dahlgren,: by Rear Admiral John A. D. Dahlgren, pp. 1-66, 92-116; "The Rebel Raider: a Life of John Hunt Morgan", by Howard Swiggert, p 208.

This strikes me as a very interesting and potentially important subject. I'd be grateful for comments and insights on it.

David Wieck


After the battle, Capt. Ulric Dahlgren, a dashing young cavalryman who had captured Alfred Pleasonton's eye, was sent on a raid toward Greencastle, PA. He took with him 100 hand-picked members of Rush's Lancers (6th Pa. CAvalry), including Lt. Albert P. Morrow, who was wounded. The raid encountered Early's wagon train in Greencastle, and was quite dicey for a while. Dahlgren was wounded, and so was Morrow. The Lancers finally caught back up with Buford's Division near Boonsboro, MD.

The best sources on this are:

1. the regimental history of the Lancers (available through a publishing company which I will not name, lest I be accused of plugging my own interests) and

2. A fabulous book by W.P. Conrad and Ted Alexander titled When War Passed This Way, published in 1982 by the public library in Greencastle. It details Greencastle and Franklin County's role in the war, and is filled with lots of good stuff.

I hope that this helps.

Eric Wittenberg

Esteemed member Susan and Eric Wittenberg

As I promised last night, I grabbed my copy of "When War Passed This Way". To set the stage a bit, Capt. Ulric Dahlgren was patrolling the area near Greencastle, PA on the morning of July 1, 1863. ALong the way, he picked up a couple of local veterans of the 126th Pa. Infantry, who were acting as guides. One was named James C. Moorehead. The small Federal column was dressed in civilian clothing since they were behind enemy lines.

Rumors had been heard the John S. Mosby and his men were in the area, which is one of the reasons why Dahlgren was there.

The following passage appears at pages 173-5:

Soon Moorehead returned to tell [Dahlgren] he had spotted a squad of Southerners on the Williamsport Road headed toward Greencastle. He estimated the Rebels to be at least half a mile from the town. Dhalgren immiediately ordered all residents off the streets and placed his men in position on Diamond [Street]. He then rode back to the Reformed Church on Baltimore Street, climbed into its bell tower, and scanned the countryside with his spy glass to determine whether Confederates were on any side roads. There was none. The Union leader saw only the enemy detachment Moorehead had reported and he was confident he could surprise and capture them.

The captain gathered his little force into the southeast corner of the [town square] and waited. As the Southerners passed the Joshua Yous store, located about seventy-five feet from where the Federals were waiting, Dahlgren ordered his men to round the corner. With drawn sabers and horses at full speed they charged into the oncoming Rebels who were overcome within minutes.

An eyewitness, Abraham Mupert, 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."

Twenty-two foot soldiers and two mounted couriers were made prisoners. Two bags, containing mail, were taken to the side of the street, cut open, and the contents scattered on the sidewalk near Prather's store on the southwest corner of the [town square] near the Union Hotel. They contained letters, but nothing of military value. When the captain noticed a valice tied to a courier's saddle, and the courier's extreme nervousness, he removed it and to his surprise, found a dispatch from Richmond to General Lee.

Immediately, Dahlgren and his men, along with the prisoners, left Greencastle and started toward Waynesboro. He directed several of his squad to barricade the road on the hill east of town near John Ruthrauff's house. Across the highway they piled a wagon, hay ladders, and bales of straw and hay to serve as a temporary hindrance to pursuers if any came. The detachment remained until they were certain no rebels were following. Eventually, they left to join the main body near Shady Grove....

...Captain Dahlgren arrived at MEade's headquarters near midnight. The Confederate dispatch proved to be a reply to one General Lee had sent to Richmond on June 23. At that time the Southern commander had suggested to President Davis that General Beauregard move his army of 30,000 men to Culpeper Court House, a strategy he thought could trick Union leaders into believing that an attack on Washington was imminent. At the time Jospeh Hooker's army was still in Virginia. It is apparent that Lee hoped such a move would force Hooker to defend Washington and give him greater freedom to carry the invasion into Pennsylvania. With the Union forces concentrating on Beauregard the Army of Northern Virginia might then accomplish its mission.

Dahlgren had brought a vital piece of information. The captured dispatch, now in General Meade's hands, was dated June 29. Over the signature of Samuel Cooper, the ADjutant General of the Confederate States Army, Lee was informed, on behalf of President Davis, that Richmond was threatened by a Federal force of approximately 30,000 men assembled on the Peninsula. The message ended--"...we must look chiefly to the protection of the capital; in doing this we may be obliged to hazard something at other points. You can easily estimate our strength here and I would suggest for your consideration, whether in this state of things you might not be able to spare a portion of your force to protect your line of communication against attempted raids by the enemy." Instead of helping him, Cooper was asking Lee to help relieve the threat Richmond faced.

Meade now knew that Lee could expect no reinforcments. This was undoubtedly an important piece of intelligence and for years there were many who believed that Dahlgren's captured message turned the tide at Gettysburg....

I hope that this answers your question, David. Like I said last night, this is

a terrific book. Eric Wittenberg