Saturday, May 24, 2014

April 17, 1864 (Monday): Conclusion of the Dahlgren Affair

Ruins of Dover Steam Mill

General ROBERT E. LEE,
Commanding Army of Northern Virginia:
    GENERAL; I received on the 15th on the 15th instant, per flag of truce, your communication of the 1st instant, transmitting photographic copies of two documents alleged to have been found upon the body of Colonel U. Dahlgren, and inquiring "whether the signs and instructions of Colonel Dahlgren, as set forth in these papers, particularly those contained in the above extracts, were authorized by the United States Government or by his superior officers, and also whether they have the sanction and approval of these authorities. " In reply I have to state the neither the United States Government, myself, nor General Kilpatrick authorized, sanctioned, or approved the burning of the city of Richmond and the killing of Mr. Davis and cabinet, nor any other act not required by military necessity and in accordance with the usages of war.
    In confirmation of this statement I inclose a letter from General Kilpatrick, and have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

     GEO. G. MEADE,

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS, A. A. G.,
Army of the Potomac:
    GENERAL: In accordance with instructions from headquarters Army of the Potomac, I have carefully examined officers and men who accompanied Colonel Dahlgren on his late expedition.
All testify that he published no address whatever to his command, nor did he give any instructions, much less of character as set forth in the photographic copies of two papers alleged to have been found upon the person of Colonel Dahlgren and forwarded by General Robert E. Lee, commanding Army of Northern Virginia. Colonel Dahlgren, one hour before we separated at my headquarters, handed me an address that he intended to read to his command. That paper was indorsed in red ink, "Approved," over my official signature. The photographic papers referred to are true copies of the papers approved by me, save so far as they speak of "exhorting the prisoners to destroy and burn the hateful city and kill the traitor Davis and his cabinet," and in this, that they do not contain the indorsement referred to as having been placed by me on Colonel Dahlgren's papers. Colonel Dahlgren received no orders from me to pillage, burn, or kill, nor were any such instructions given me by my superiors.
     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Brigadier-General Volunteers.

Official Records, Series I., Vol.33, Part 1, Page 180.

This would close the Dahlgren affair.  The Confederate government chose to accept the Union explanation.  Perhaps this was, in part, because the Rebel government was itself engaged in a variety of activities outside the "normal usages of war."  Historians still debate whether Dahlgren had orders which extended beyond the original warrant of the raid.  It is curious Kilpatrick accepted that the papers accurately reflected what he endorsed with the exception of the exhortation to destroy the city and kill Davis.  Assuming the Confederate authorities had not altered the papers, there is still the possibility Dahlgren intended to exceed the authority given him by Kilpatrick. 

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