Category Archives: Irregular Operations

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid: Confederates Ponder Retaliation

March 5, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis held a cabinet meeting at Richmond to discuss what measures should be taken in response to the controversial Federal raid on Richmond.

Two days after Colonel Ulric Dahlgren was killed in the failed raid on Richmond, his father, Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, came to Washington to ask his personal friend President Abraham Lincoln for information about his son.

Lincoln was aware that Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal command had fled to Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federal army at Fort Monroe after the raid, but nobody at Washington knew of Dahlgren’s death yet. Lincoln wrote Butler, “Admiral Dahlgren is here, and of course is very anxious about this son. Please send me at once all you know or can learn of his fate.”

Meanwhile, the South seethed with rage upon learning that papers on Dahlgren’s body called for liberated Federal prisoners of war to burn Richmond and kill top Confederate government officials. General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, sent the photographic copies of these documents to Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, and asked if he or his superiors had any prior knowledge of this plot.

Meade assured Lee that neither he nor the Lincoln administration “had authorized, sanctioned, or approved the burning of the city of Richmond and the killing of Mr. Davis and Cabinet.” Meade also forwarded Kilpatrick’s statement on the matter, which asserted that nobody higher in rank than Dahlgren knew of the plot.

There was no evidence to disprove Meade’s claim. However, Lincoln’s approval of the raid (without necessarily approving the raid’s specific objectives) indicated his urgency to end the war by any means necessary. As news of the raid spread across the North, the northern press took a much different view than the South. The New York Times called the raid a “complete success, resulting in the destruction of millions of dollars of public property.” But the paper either did not know or willfully omitted Dahlgren’s controversial intentions.

Southerners branded Colonel Dahlgren a war criminal, and his body, which had been buried in a shallow grave in Richmond, was unearthed and put on display. A correspondent from the Richmond Examiner reported that the body was–

“Stripped, robbed of every valuable, the fingers cut off for the sake of the diamond rings that encircled them. When the body was found by those sent to take charge of it, it was lying in a field stark naked, with the exception of the stocking. Some humane persons had lifted the corpse from the pike and thrown it over into the field, to save it from the hogs. The artificial leg worn by Dahlgren (who lost his leg at Gettysburg) was removed, and is now at General Elzey’s headquarters. It is of most beautiful design and finish.

“Yesterday afternoon, the body was removed from the car that brought it to the York River railroad depot, and given to the spot of earth selected to receive it. Where that spot is no one but those concerned in its burial know or care to tell. It was a dog’s burial, without coffin, winding sheet or service. Friend and relative at the North need inquire no further; this is all they will know–he is buried a burial that befitted the mission upon which he came. He ‘swept through the city of Richmond’ on a pine bier, and ‘written his name’ on the scroll of infamy, instead of ‘on the hearts of his countrymen,’ never to be erased. He ‘asked the blessing of Almighty God’ and his mission of rapine, murder and blood, and the Almighty cursed him instead.”

Lieutenant Colonel John Atkinson led the burial party, with instructions from Davis not to reveal the burial site. Kilpatrick’s Federal troopers destroyed property, including a grain mill, in King and Queen County near Carlton’s Store, in retaliation for Dahlgren’s death.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Confederate press called for retribution, and Davis met with his cabinet on the 5th to discuss what the administration should do about it. Most members present favored executing the prisoners taken from Dahlgren’s command, but Davis was firmly opposed. According to Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin:

“A discussion ensued which became so heated as almost to create unfriendly feeling, by reason of the unshaken firmness of Mr. Davis, in maintaining that although these men merited a refusal to grant them quarter in the heat of battle, they had been received to mercy by their captors as prisoners of war, and such were sacred; and that we should be dishonored if harm should overtake them after their surrender, the acceptance of which constituted, in his judgment, a pledge that they should receive the treatment of prisoners of war.”

Secretary of War James A. Seddon asked Lee for advice since he had greater experience in dealing with prisoners. Seddon wrote in part, “My own inclinations are toward the execution of at least a portion of those captured at the time Colonel Dahlgren was killed. The question of what is best to be done is a grave and important one, and I desire to have the benefit of your views and any suggestions you may make.” Lee responded:

“I cannot recommend the execution of the prisoners that have fallen into our hands. Assuming that the address and special orders of Colonel Dahlgren correctly state his designs and intentions, they were not executed, and I believe, even in a legal point of view, acts in addition to intentions are necessary to constitute a crime. These papers can only be considered as evidence of his intentions. It does not appear how far his men were cognizant of them, or that his course was sanctioned by his Government. It is only known that his plans were frustrated by a merciful Providence, his forces scattered, and he killed. I do not think it, therefore, to visit upon the captives the guilt of his intentions. I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”

Davis ultimately agreed, and Dahlgren’s men were not executed.

On Sunday the 6th, a copy of the previous day’s Richmond Sentinel was delivered to Meade’s Army of the Potomac headquarters. From this, Meade received the first definitive news that Dahlgren was dead. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“The Richmond Sentinel of March 5 has been received, which announces the capturing at King and queen (county) of a part of Dahlgren’s party, reported 90 men, and that Colonel Dahlgren was killed in the skirmish. I fear the account is true.”

Meade wrote his wife, “You have doubtless seen that Kilpatrick’s raid was an utter failure. I did not expect much from it. Poor Dahlgren I am sorry for.” When Admiral Dahlgren learned of his son’s death, he lamented in his diary, “How busy is death–oh, how busy indeed!”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-81; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 407; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

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The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid Takes a Sinister Turn

March 2, 1864 – Confederates continued pursuing the Federal raiders led by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, uncovering controversial documentation in the process.

Two Federal forces had unsuccessfully tried to raid Richmond. The main force under Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick rode through Kent Court House on the way to joining Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals at Fort Monroe, on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Dahlgren’s 500-man detachment split in two, with Dahlgren leading about 100 men southeast to rejoin Kilpatrick.

Col Ulric Dahlgren | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Major General Fitzhugh Lee, commanding Confederate cavalry in the area, soon learned of Dahlgren’s presence. His Confederates fired on Dahlgren’s men as they crossed the Mattaponi River, but the Federals held them off long enough to get across. The Confederate pursuers used an alternate road to get in front of Dahlgren’s column as it approached Mantapike Hill, between King and Queen County and King William County.

The Confederates waited in ambush as the Federals approached on the night of the 2nd. Dahlgren saw them in the woods and yelled, “Surrender you damned rebels, or we will charge you!” The Confederates instead demanded Dahlgren’s surrender. Dahlgren drew his revolver but it misfired. The Confederates opened fire, and a Federal trooper recalled, “This stampeded us for about 100 yards, every horse in our column turning to the rear.” Another wrote:

“The next instant a heavy volley was poured in upon us. The flash of the pieces afforded us a momentary glimpse of their position stretching parallel with the road about 15 paces from us. Every tree was occupied, and the bushes poured forth a sheet of fire. A bullet grazing my leg and probably struck my horse somewhere in the neck, caused him to make a violent swing sideways.”

Dahlgren was shot five times and killed. The Federals left him behind as they rode off, and the Confederates eventually rounded up about 100 of his men. Most of the survivors from Dahlgren’s force met up with Kilpatrick that night, while some found refuge on the U.S.S. Morse, near Brick House Farm on the York River.

William Littlepage, a 13-year-old boy accompanying the Confederates, searched Dahlgren’s body and found a bundle of papers in his coat pocket. He turned them over to the troopers, who read them the next morning. The three documents included the speech that Dahlgren had planned to give to his men upon entering Richmond, a list of instructions, and a memorandum book.

The instructions included the Federals’ plan to break some 15,000 Federal prisoners of war out of Belle Island and Libby Prison. They also directed the men to disguise themselves in Confederate uniforms, gather “combustible material,” and burn Richmond. And if President Jefferson Davis was found, he must be “killed on the spot.” Dahlgren wrote, “The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff Davis and cabinet killed.”

Some historians alleged that the papers had been forged by Confederates, but a handwriting expert verified Dahlgren’s writing a century later. Several prisoners were captured in Confederate uniform carrying turpentine and other material needed to set fires. This made them saboteurs under Articles of War, subject to execution.

The discovery of these incriminating papers and the capture of Federals verifying their authenticity put a sinister twist on the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid. Fitz Lee delivered the papers to Davis at Richmond, who shared them with Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Davis tried downplaying the issue, showing the secretary the order to kill him and his cabinet and saying, “That means you, Mr. Benjamin.” Davis asked Fitz to file the papers away. But General Braxton Bragg, Davis’s military advisor, recommended to Secretary of War James A. Seddon:

“It has occurred to me that the papers just captured from the enemy are of such an extraordinary and diabolical character that some more formal method should be adopted of giving them to the public than simply sending them to the press. My own conviction is for an execution of the prisoners and a publication as justification; but in any event the publication should go forth with official sanction from the highest authority, calling the attention of our people and the civilized world to the fiendish and atrocious conduct of our enemies.”

Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas agreed with Bragg. But Seddon, along with Davis and General Robert E. Lee, were reluctant to take punitive action against the prisoners. Confederate Adjutant General Samuel Cooper had the documents photographed and sent to the Richmond newspapers; their publication sent waves of shock, panic, and outrage throughout the South. Editors alleged that the plot went all the way up the chain of command to President Abraham Lincoln himself. An article in the Richmond Inquirer declared:

“Should our army again go into the enemy’s country, will not these papers relieve them from their restraints of a chivalry that would be proper with a civilized army, but which only brings upon them the contempt of our savage foe? Decidedly, we think that these Dahlgren papers will destroy, during the rest of the war, all rosewater chivalry, and that the Confederate armies will make war afar and upon the rules selected by the enemy.”

The Richmond Whig asked:

“Are these (Dahlgren’s) men warriors? Are they soldiers, taken in the performance of duties recognized as legitimate by the loosest construction in the code of civilized warfare? Or are they assassins, barbarians, thugs who have forfeited (and expect to lose) their lives? Are they not barbarians redolent with more hellish purposes than were the Goth, the Hun or the Saracen?”

The Richmond Daily Examiner recommended:

“Our soldiers should in every instance where they capture officers engaged in raids characterized by such acts of incendiarism and wanton devastation and plunder, as this last raid has been, hang them immediately. If they are handed over as prisoners of war, they at once come under the laws of regular warfare and are subject to exchange… therefore we hope that our soldiers will take the law in their own hands… by hanging those they capture.”

Dahlgren’s body was brought to Richmond and buried in a shallow grave after being examined by Davis. An editor wrote:

“And they came and the Almighty blessed them not, and Dahlgren is dead and gone to answer for his crimes and several hundred of his partners in the plot concocted so deliberately are now our prisoners. They every one richly merit death…”

The controversy would continue.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20051; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 913, 915; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 405; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 6593; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid Ends

March 1, 1864 – A daring raid on Richmond led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren ended when the city proved more heavily defended than expected.

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As March began, Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry was conducting a mission to raid the Confederate capital, free Federal prisoners of war, and distribute President Abraham Lincoln’s amnesty proclamation. A detachment of 500 men under Dahlgren had split from Kilpatrick’s 3,000-man force to strike Richmond from the southwest. Kilpatrick continued moving to hit the city from the north. Kilpatrick and Dahlgren agreed to launch simultaneous attacks on Richmond at 8 p.m. on the 1st.

After a short rest, Kilpatrick’s Federals resumed their advance at 1 a.m. They crossed the South Anna River around daybreak, fending off small Confederate guard units along the way, and by 10 a.m. they had come to within five miles of Richmond.

Dahlgren’s troopers mobilized at dawn and rode toward the James River, slowed by Confederate guards and snow. They relied on a former slave to find a fordable point on the river, but when he failed, Dahlgren had him executed. With no way to cross the James, Dahlgren resolved to attack Richmond from the west instead.

Meanwhile, Richmond residents had been alerted to the Federal threat, and the 3,000 home guards defending the city were quickly reinforced by convalescing Confederate soldiers, government clerks, factory workers, and other able-bodied men. Kilpatrick, still confident he faced raw recruits, deployed skirmishers and unlimbered his guns. Colonel Walter Stevens, commanding the Richmond defenses, reported:

“Soon after my arrival, the enemy opened upon my position a rapid and tolerably accurate fire from five pieces of artillery, and his skirmishers advanced under cover of ditches and the neighboring houses to within 200 yards of our works and annoyed our artillerists…”

The defenders charged, knocking the skirmishers back to the main Federal line. Kilpatrick realized that the Confederates had been reinforced, and he also began considering the possibility that Dahlgren’s operation had failed. Kilpatrick reported, “Feeling confident that Dahlgren had failed to cross the river, and that an attempt to enter the city at that point would but end in a bloody failure, I reluctantly withdrew my command at dark.”

The sound of guns at 4 p.m. concerned Dahlgren because the attack was not supposed to start until 8. He became more concerned as the sound grew more distant because it indicated that Kilpatrick might be falling back. Nevertheless, Dahlgren waited until the scheduled time and then advanced toward the city. His Federals were met by reinforced defenders who easily held their ground. Dahlgren ordered a withdrawal, moving northeast around Richmond to try rejoining Kilpatrick.

Meanwhile, Kilpatrick’s Federals moved southeast around the capital. As they tried camping for the night, they were attacked by Major General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade. Unbeknownst to Kilpatrick, Hampton had been pursuing him for two days. Kilpatrick wrote, “The enemy charged and drove back the 7th Michigan, and considerable confusion ensued.” Hampton reported:

“The attack was made with great gallantry. The enemy, a brigade strong here, with two other brigades immediately in their rear, made a stout resistance for a short time, but the advance of my men was never checked and they were soon in possession of the entire camp, in which horses, arms, rations, and clothing were scattered about in confusion.”

Kilpatrick reported “a loss of 2 officers, upwards of 50 men, and 100 horses.” His troopers fell back to Tunstall’s Station, 25 miles east of Richmond. Kilpatrick planned to move down the Virginia Peninsula the next day and join Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s Federals stationed at Fort Monroe.

As Dahlgren tried catching up to them, his command separated, with Dahlgren and 100 of his men stopping for the night south of Dunkirk, about 25 miles from Richmond. This ended the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid, as they lacked both the numbers and the drive to accomplish their mission. The Federals lost 340 men and 583 horses in the operation, but the Confederates were not finished with them yet.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 380; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 910-13; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 404; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-36, 39-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 471; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid

February 28, 1864 – Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick led a Federal cavalry force on a mission to raid the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Kilpatrick, commanding a division of the cavalry corps within Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, had proposed leading a raid on Richmond in early February. The purpose would be to wreck lines of communication and supply between the capital and General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, to scatter the Confederate government, and to free Federal prisoners of war.

When word of this proposal reached President Abraham Lincoln, he wrote Meade, “Unless there be strong reasons to the contrary, please send Gen. Kilpatrick to us here, for two or three days.” Kilpatrick met privately with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton the next day and described his plan in detail. Stanton approved, adding that each horseman should distribute 100 copies of Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction to citizens in the Confederate capital.

Kilpatrick next met with Lincoln, who learned that the plan had been devised by Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, the 22-year-old son of Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren. Lincoln and John Dahlgren were good friends, and Kilpatrick hoped that Ulric’s “well-known gallantry, intelligence, and energy” would enhance publicity. Both Meade and Major General Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the army’s cavalry corps, opposed the plan. But Lincoln, hopeful that this daring gamble might break the frustrating stalemate in northern Virginia, approved.

Kilpatrick and Dahlgren spent much of the second half of February planning and preparing for the raid. During that time, a woman attending a ball held by the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps learned of the plan and informed Lee, whose army was camped around Orange Court House. Lee instructed his cavalrymen to be on high alert for any Federal attempt to threaten Richmond.

Meanwhile, Kilpatrick assembled a force of about 3,500 troopers. The plan called for Brigadier General George A. Custer’s brigade to take a diversionary ride around the Confederate left toward Charlottesville. Kilpatrick and Dahlgren would then ride around the Confederate right; Dahlgren would lead 500 troopers across the James River to attack Richmond from the southwest, while Kilpatrick led the remaining Federals in an attack on the city from the north. Dahlgren wrote an address that he intended to read to his troopers before attacking Richmond:

“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…”

“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.”

Custer’s brigade, along with infantry from VI Corps, began the diversion from Brandy Station on the 27th. Lee, believing that this might be the raid he had been warned about, directed Major General Jeb Stuart, commanding the Confederate cavalry, to confront the enemy forces. Kilpatrick’s troopers crossed the Rapidan River at Ely’s Ford at 10 p.m. the next evening, capturing the small Confederate force guarding the crossing. Kilpatrick’s signal officer, Captain Joseph Gloskoski, reported:

“The first night of our march was beautiful. Myriads of stars twinkled in heaven, looking at us as if in wonder why should we break the laws of God and wander at night instead of seeking repose and sleep. The moon threw its silvery light upon Rapidan waters when we forded it, and it seemed as if the Almighty Judge was looking silently upon our doings. We moved as fast as our horses could walk, making halts of 15 minutes twice every 24 hours. Thus we reached Spotsylvania Court-House. There Colonel Dahlgren with his command took the direct road toward Frederick’s Hall, while we moved to Beaver Dam Station.”

The Federals did not know that troopers from Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry brigade had spotted their movement. Kilpatrick’s force arrived at Spotsylvania Court House near dawn on the 29th. As planned, Dahlgren detached his 500 men and veered slightly southwest toward Goochland Court House while the main force continued south toward Richmond along the Virginia Central Railroad. The weather turned cold, with rain turning into sleet and snow. Gloskoski recalled:

“Now it stormed in earnest. Sharp wind and sleet forced men to close their eyes. The night was so dark that even the river in front could not be seen and trees on the roadside could not be distinguished. So complete darkness I never saw. Men depended entirely on the instinct of their horses, and the whole command on a negro to guide them.”

But Kilpatrick continued forward, crossing the North Anna River around noon and arriving at the South Anna by nightfall. The Federals cut telegraph wires and destroyed property as they went. Dahlgren met little resistance, but Kilpatrick’s men were opposed by hostile citizens and guerrillas. Meanwhile, Hampton’s 300 Confederates hurried to pursue the Federals from the east but had not quite reached them by the end of the 29th. The drive toward Richmond continued into March, as the city defenders learned of the Federal approach and prepared defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20016-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 379; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10424; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 907-11; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 397, 403-04; Jaynes, Gregory, The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-35, 39-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 464, 469-70; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 202; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 417

Reconsidering the Confederate Partisan Ranger System

January 7, 1864 – Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Confederate partisan rangers operated in northern Virginia, while calls grew louder among Confederate officers to ban the partisan ranger system.

John S. Mosby | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Throughout the winter, Mosby’s rangers operated around Warrenton, an area nicknamed “Mosby’s Confederacy.” Mosby’s men technically belonged to the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia, but under the Partisan Ranger Act, they acted independently and lived among the citizenry. Unlike many rangers who disdained military regulations, Mosby’s troopers were respected as effective members of Major General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalry.

Mosby’s activities mainly included raiding Federal wagon trains and scouting. Federal cavalry stationed at Warrenton under Colonel John P. Taylor routinely rode throughout the countryside in search of Mosby’s elusive rangers. In early January, troopers from Colonel Henry Cole’s 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade entered Virginia via Harpers Ferry to hunt Mosby down. But when a detachment of 80 men left Rectortown, Mosby’s men pursued and attacked, killing four, wounding 10, and capturing 41.

Another Federal detachment attacked and scattered Mosby’s command, but a portion counterattacked, capturing 25 Federals and 50 horses. A separate detachment from Mosby under Lieutenant “Fighting Tom” Turner launched a surprise attack on Taylor’s Federals at Warrenton, taking another 20 prisoners. Mosby soon turned his attention back to Cole’s battalion.

Mosby led about 100 rangers to Loudon Heights, overlooking Harpers Ferry, where Cole and about 200 Federals were camped on the night of the 9th. Mosby later reported, “The camp was buried in profound sleep, there was not a sentinel awake.” However, the Federals quickly awoke and attacked Mosby’s force. Mosby ordered a charge, but the Federals inflicted numerous casualties. One of Mosby’s rangers later recalled:

“The dead and dying lay around. From the tents came forth moans of pain and shrieks of agony. Some of the combatants stood almost in reach of one another, firing into each other’s face, crying out: ‘Surrender!’ ‘No, I won’t! You surrender!’”

The Confederates ultimately drove the Federals off. Mosby reported, “Confusion and delaying having ensued from the derangement of my plans, consequent on the alarm given to the enemy, rendered it hazardous to continue in my position, as re-enforcements were near the enemy.” With the infantry at Harpers Ferry mobilizing, Mosby ordered a withdrawal.

The rangers sustained just 12 casualties (eight killed, three wounded, and one captured) while inflicting 26 (four killed, 16 wounded, and six taken prisoner). However, the Confederates were not used to either taking casualties or retreating. As such, an officer later wrote, “A sad and sullen silence pervaded our ranks and found expression in every countenance. All that we could have gained would not compensate for the loss we sustained.”

While the “Gray Ghost” and his rangers would live to fight another day, Confederate officials debated how they should be organized. More and more officers in the Confederate armies were complaining about the partisan rangers. The rangers did not have to strictly adhere to army regulations, they could live among the people, and they could enjoy the bounties they captured. Perhaps most importantly, they encouraged soldiers to desert the army in favor of this more adventurous (and less regulatory) branch of service.

General Robert E. Lee, who originally supported the partisan ranger system, urged the War Department to disband these units in 1863 due to their lack of discipline, their harassment of civilians, and their tendency to draw troops from the regular armies. Secretary of War James A. Seddon responded in November 1863 by banning all partisan ranger outfits except those commanded by John H. McNeill in West Virginia and Mosby in northern Virginia.

In December 1863, Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser, a cavalry brigade commander under Jeb Stuart, reported that 60 of his men deserted while serving in the Shenandoah Valley. Rosser stated that the men had once belonged to a partisan unit that was forced to join the regular cavalry, and they left because they had grown tired of army regulations. Rosser also had problems working with McNeill, who often refused to follow his orders.

This month, Rosser wrote to Lee describing the partisans as “a nuisance and an evil to the service”:

“Without discipline, order, or organization, they roam broadcast over the country, a band of thieves, stealing, pillaging, plundering, and doing every manner of mischief and crime. They are a terror to the citizens and an injury to the cause. They never fight; can’t be made to fight. Their leaders are generally brave, but few of the men are good soldiers, and have engaged in this business for the sake of gain. The effect upon the service is bad, and I think, if possible, it should be corrected.”

Rosser cited three reasons why all partisan units should be disbanded:

  • Instead of roaming the countryside, their “bayonet or saber should be counted on the field of battle when the life or death of our country is the issue.”
  • They caused “great dissatisfaction in the ranks” because they “are allowed so much latitude, so many privileges. They sleep in houses and turn out in the cold only when it is announced by their chief that they are to go upon a plundering expedition.”
  • They encouraged desertion:

“It is almost impossible for one to manage the different companies of my brigade that are from Loudoun, Fauquier, Fairfax, &c., the region occupied by Mosby. They see these men living at their ease and enjoying the comforts of home, allowed to possess all that they capture, and their duties mere pastime pleasures compared with their own arduous ones; and it is a natural consequence in the nature of man that he should become dissatisfied under these circumstances. Patriotism fails in the long and tedious war like this to sustain the ponderous burdens which bear heavily and cruelly upon the heart and soul of man.”

To remedy the “melancholy” spreading among his men, Rosser urged his superiors to place “all men on the same footing.” If partisan activity was needed for the war effort, “then require the commanding officer to keep them in an organized condition, to rendezvous within our lines, and move upon the enemy when opportunity is offered.” While Rosser singled Mosby out as a “gallant officer,” he argued that Mosby’s service had little impact on the war.

Lee consulted with Stuart, who agreed with everything that Rosser wrote. Stuart contended that Mosby’s partisans were “the only efficient band of rangers I know of,” but he often used just “one-fourth of his nominal strength” while his other three-fourths were living comfortably among civilians. Stuart concluded, “Such organizations, as a rule, are detrimental to the best interests of the army at large.”

Based on this, Lee wrote, “I recommend that the law authorizing these partisan corps be abolished. The evils resulting from their organization more than counterbalance the good they accomplish.” A bill was immediately introduced in the Confederate Congress to repeal the Partisan Ranger Act.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 561; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (Series 1, Volume 33), p. 12-16, 457, 1081-83; Ramage, James A., Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby (University Press of Kentucky, 2009); Wert, Jeffry D., Mosby’s Rangers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991); Williamson, James Joseph, Mosby’s Rangers: A Record of the Operations of the Forty-Third Battalion (1909)

Poor Ebenezer Scrooge!

And now we take a break from following the Civil War to present an article about a book written by a Civil War-era author. Thanks to A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has become the quintessential Christmas villain. But at the risk of spoiling an all-time classic, I argue that Scrooge is the only true victim in the story!

Alastair Sim from A Christmas Carol (1951)

In Charles Dickens’s classic tale, Scrooge is the one who’s constantly harassed by people and spirits seeking to either change him or extort money from him. But why? Because he’s mean? Because he’s miserly? Because he’s selfish? If they don’t like Scrooge as he is, they are free to avoid him. But instead, the story boils down to a simple premise: spread your wealth around and we’ll stop harassing you. It sounds like they’re more interested in his money than in truly reforming him. In fact, it sounds like blackmail to me!

Scrooge Benefits the Community

As Jacob Marley says, “Mankind should have been my business.” But Marley didn’t realize that it was. Marley and Scrooge would have gone bankrupt if their business wasn’t benefiting mankind in some way. After Marley dies, customers aren’t being forced to patronize Scrooge’s business. And if enough people grew tired of Scrooge’s nasty disposition, they’d stop doing business with him, which would force him to change his ways. The free market can fix things just as easily as blackmail.

The people of the community should thank their lucky stars that there’s a man like Scrooge who is willing to use his wealth to offer loans so they can help their families. Maybe they should aspire to be as wealthy as Scrooge, and then they could go into the loan business and offer lower rates that would undercut Scrooge and force him to lower his. Everyone would benefit from such a competitive market.

Perhaps the story would have been better if Scrooge was a struggling businessman rather than a successful one. That way he could learn that in order to turn his business around, he must stop being so mean and selfish. An improved business would provide better goods and services, which would attract more customers, generate more profit, and enable Scrooge to create more jobs. Wouldn’t that be more sensible than terrorizing an old man with ghosts?

The Sloth of Bob Cratchett

Dickens portrays Bob Cratchett as a pathetic soul who can’t provide for his family on the pittance that Scrooge pays him. But was Scrooge responsible for the Cratchetts having so many children without having the means to support them? If the Cratchetts are struggling to support their family, then why aren’t they busying themselves with finding more ways to generate income?

Cratchett shows no ambition to look for more work. He’d rather earn his meager salary and wait for charity rather than work harder to cover the shortfall. He isn’t even good at waiting for charity, after all, why didn’t he contact the businessmen who were trying to extort charity from Scrooge and explain why they should help him and his sick child?

Moreover, Cratchett isn’t even a good employee. If he was, then he should be able to market himself either to Scrooge’s competitors to see if they’d pay him a better salary or to Scrooge himself to see if he’d be willing to train him to improve his skill set. Cratchett’s lack of ambition and his mediocre performance indicates that he has minimal value in the workforce, which means that he’s probably being paid exactly what he’s worth!

Actually, Scrooge is doing Cratchett a favor by paying him a lower salary. If word got out that Cratchett’s salary was raised, ambitious applicants with better skills than Cratchett would petition Scrooge to hire them. Cratchett wouldn’t be able to compete with those who were better qualified, and he’d end up unemployed. So Scrooge is helping Cratchett simply by keeping him on and paying him the going salary rather than replacing him with someone who could do a better job!

Three Misguided Spirits

The worst villains of Dickens’s story are the spirits that torture Scrooge, who only asks to be left alone! If these spirits have the power to transcend time and space, then they should have the power to help Tiny Tim without involving Scrooge. Why is it Scrooge’s responsibility to care for the poor child when his parents don’t even have enough ambition to do it? How sadistic are these spirits to attack Scrooge while doing nothing for Tiny Tim?

Perhaps the story would have been better had the spirits visited Bob Cratchett instead:

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past could show Cratchett examples of how he became so passive, lazy, and incompetent
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present could show Cratchett the current consequences of his bad behavior
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future could show Cratchett what will happen if he doesn’t man up!

An Economics Lesson for Dickens

The only character in A Christmas Carol who produces anything of value is Scrooge, and Dickens rewards him by making him the villain. According to Dickens, Scrooge has sinned by earning money and then daring to keep it for himself. Instead of celebrating Scrooge as a successful businessman who provides goods and services that help the community, Scrooge is harassed and terrorized into giving even more to the community, including giving lazy Bob Cratchett a raise! Cratchett is portrayed as the innocent victim, even though he could market his skills elsewhere, learn new skills, or find supplemental employment if he truly wanted to provide for his family.

Dickens appeals to sympathies rather than common sense economic principles. Just because Cratchett would rather sit and hope for help than make himself more marketable doesn’t make Scrooge responsible for his misery. And just because Scrooge is wealthy doesn’t mean he earned it by exploiting the poor. Scrooge is certainly mean, selfish, and miserly, but he has the right to retain his private property without being terrorized. A Christmas Carol may be an inspirational tale of a man who finds redemption, but the only true victim of Dickens’s tale is Ebenezer Scrooge.

The Missouri Relocation

August 25, 1863 – Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, commanding the Federal District of the Border between Missouri and Kansas, issued repressive orders that threatened to escalate the bitter partisan war in the region even further.

Brig Gen Thomas Ewing | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Following the sack of Lawrence, William C. Quantrill’s Confederate partisans rode back to sanctuary in Missouri. Brigadier General James H. Lane’s Kansas Jayhawkers briefly pursued them but could not track them down. Lane retaliated by murdering over 100 people in western Missouri suspected of helping Quantrill and destroying the property of any alleged Quantrill sympathizers.

Lane also demanded that Ewing, headquartered at Kansas City, exact harsh revenge on anyone not clearly professing Unionist sympathies. Lane drew up a vindictive military order and, as a U.S. senator with strong political connections, threatened to end Ewing’s career if he did not issue and enforce it.

Under General Orders No. 11, Federal troops were to depopulate the four Missouri counties on the Kansas border south of the Missouri River: Jackson, Cass, and Bates, plus part of Vernon County. All people, regardless of age, race, gender, or loyalty, were required to leave their homes within 15 days. Those who proved themselves loyal to the Union could reside in military camps under protection. Those who could not had to leave without protection. Anyone resisting the order would be executed.

Ewing directed the 15th Kansas Cavalry, led by hated Jayhawker Colonel Charles R. Dennison, to enforce the order. Jennison displaced an estimated 20,000 people, many of whom were harassed and robbed by Jayhawkers as they clogged roads hauling wagons filled with all their worldly possessions. Once the counties were emptied, Federals looted and burned all remaining homes, barns, and crops.

Ewing’s order, at Lane’s insistence, was one of the most brutal ever enforced in U.S. history. Predictably, it did little to stop Confederate partisan activity in the area; if anything, it made the raiders even more determined to resist Federal authority. The order also ruined western Missouri’s economy and caused deep resentment for generations. For years, the desolate region was known as the “Burnt District.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 319; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 302-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 705; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 343; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 427; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 786; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 249-50; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 153-54; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363