With the outbreak of the Civil War, a war between free states and slave states, it is to be expected that hostility amongst one another will intensify through a series of events. The KilpatrickDahlgren Raid provoked more rage when the true intentions of the Union were revealed via the Dahlgren Papers. Proposed by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick and approved by the President Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the raid’s purpose was to liberate approximately 12,000 Union prisoners held captive in Richmond and in a prison camp on Belle Island on the James River.
The raid was initiated on the evening of February. 28,1864 and ended on March. 3,1864. During the raid, complications emerged causing the operation to be a failure. In addition, the Union lost one of their beloved colonels, Ulric Dahlgren. The death of Dahlgren sparked a dispute after a young Confederate boy discovered documents on his body specifically describing orders to murder Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The papers became known as the Dahlgren Papers. Both sides went into a fury. The North accusing the South of forging the papers and the South exposing the North’s volatile motives.
50 years later, one can imagine that the validity of the Dahlgren Papers has been resolved, however, the answer remains unknown. Although, after personal meticulous analyzation, it can be confirmed that the Dahlgren Papers were not forged because based on a variety of accounts of this event all point to the fact that the Union did intend to follow through with their plan to assassinate President Jefferson Davis. Kilpatrick’s and Dahlgren’s reputations support the genuinity of the Dahlgren Papers. Kilpatrick was associated with the label of “Kill Cavalry” due to his carelessness of his men’s and rival’s lives.
The following sources and amongst others display similar statements about Kilpatrick’s negligent nature. Author Paul Aron of More Unsolved Mysteries of American History, writes, “[… ] known to his troops as “KillCavalry,” for he had few qualms about sacrificing Union as well as Confederate soldiers to achieve his objectives” (Aron 82). The article, Kilpatrick’s Bravado or Dahlgren’s Sacrifice, by Bummer reveals, “Kilpatrick, whose nickname was kill Cavalry, had a history of utter disregard for the lives of his troopers” (Bummer). Meanwhile, Ulric Dahlgren may not be acquired with a threatening nickname, he did have a vile temper.
It is said that Dahlgren hanged his African American guide due to the mere rainfall that delayed the raid. “[… ] so inflamed at what he believed to be the negro’s treachery, that he took a rein from his own bridle and had his men hang the negro to a tree on the river bank” (www. mdgorman. com). And Peter Luebke, author of Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid further emphasizes, “[… ] made it to the James River at Dover Mills but were unable to cross because of recent rains. Dahlgren, however, blamed the setback[… ] hanged the man using the reins of Dahlgren’s horse” (Luebke).
All accounts have similar wordings about that Kilpatrick’s ruthlessness and Dahlgren’s easily provoked temper. Without a doubt, Kilpatrick and Dahlgren are capable to murder Davis and his cabinet. Kilpatrick is an unreliable source when discussing the authenticity of the papers. General George Meade was asked by the Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general if the assassination of President Davis was authorized by the United States Government. Meade then turned the investigation over to Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick replied to Meade saying that he wholeheartedly agreed with Dahlgren’s written orders except for the mention of assassination. [… ] he wrote Meade, ‘save as far as it speaks of exhorting the prisoners to destroy and burn the hateful city and kill the traitor Davis and his cabinet. All of this is false” (Aron 84). Kilpatrick also interviewed survivors from Dahlgren’s troops from the night of the raid, all urging no notice about the terroristic orders.
In hindsight, whether or not if the orders were given to the troops, it does not necessarily mean the orders did not exist. In secrecy, Meade was suspicious of Kilpatrick’s considering he did take everything in his power to get the raid initiated by the president and the secretary of war. Indeed relying on Kilpatrick was, as historian Stephen Sears put it, ‘equivalent to ordering the fox to investigate losses in the henhouse. ‘ Kilpatrick, after all, was Dahlgren’s superior officer and may have given him the orders. If so, Kilpatrick had every reason to deny they were authentic” (Aron 85). Kilpatrick’s superiority status can affect the actions of Dahlgren and his soldiers. There is the underlying assumption that Kilpatrick did not state the truth about his interview with Dahlgren’s soldiers and whether he and Dahlgren privately conferred about the cruel plan.
The Union attempted to hide their mistake by ridding of the papers. In late November 1865, Stanton ordered Francis Lieber, the keeper of captured Confederate records, to furnish him with everything relating to the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid. On December 1 of that year, Lieber complied, handing over to Stanton a packet of papers and correspondence from the Confederate archives that included material found on Dahlgren’s body, including his instructions, the address to his men, and his pocket notebook” (www. historynet. com). “Fourteen years later, Lieber asked for them back, so that he could include them in a multivolume collection of war records he was putting together.
The War Department responded that they had no record of the papers” (Aron 86). It is highly suspicious as to what business Stanton had with the papers that he would not need to alert the War Department. In David Meyer’s, The Plot to Assassinate Jefferson Davis? , he quotes James O. Hall, a historian, who tediously examined the transaction of the papers between Lieber and Stanton. “Perhaps it is an uncharitable thought, but the suspicion lingers that Stanton consigned them to the fireplace in his office”(Meyer). Also on February 12, it is recorded that just Stanton, Lincoln and Kilpatrick had a meeting pertaining to the plan for the raid.
There is a large possibility that the terms of Davis’ assassination were decided here in privacy (www. historynet. com). The only logistical explanation as to why Stanton needed the papers was to burn the evidence because it would result to ruining his reputation and the Union’s reputation. Ultimately, the last person obtaining the Dahlgren Papers was Stanton and given his position and papers’ importance, they could not have been “misplaced” or “lost. ” Stanton purposefully abrogated the papers. In the occasion of choosing the truthful or correct side of a controversial issue, it will be troublesome and a challenge.
Deciding whether the Dahlgren Papers were forged was an arduous task at first but given Kilpatrick’s and Dahlgren’s notorieties, Kilpatrick’s questionable truth about the raid’s events, and loss of the paper under the Union’s control, it is conceivable to believe that the North had a part in the assassination orders of President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. After all, Kilpatrick was known to his troops as “Kill Cavalry” and Dahlgren did impulsively hang his African American guide using his horse’s reins. Their personalities make them perfect candidates to execute the orders.
And again, any word said by Kilpatrick about the events of the raid and his investigation with Dahlgren’s soldiers cannot be trusted. To reiterate, when Kilpatrick interviewed Dahlgren’s soldiers, Kilpatrick released the statement saying the soldiers claimed no acknowledgment about the orders. If Dahlgren’s men were aware of the assassination. Kilpatrick can easily override their sayings. Just as historian Stephen Sears said, “[… ] relying on Kilpatrick is equivalent to ordering the fox to investigate losses in the henhouse (Aron 85).
The last and final reasoning involved the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, who was the last person to come into contact with the Dahlgren Papers before it went “missing. ” The War Department was not notified when Stanton had possession of the papers and it is assumed Stanton had plans to rid of the papers to protect his reputation. To properly declare whether the Dahlgren Papers were forged or not is an arguable topic, but supplied with multiple credible sources it is obvious that they were in fact authentic.