|Date & Place of Birth|| April 3, 1842|
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
|Parents|| John A. Dahlgren|
Mary C. Bunker Dahlgren
|Date & Place of Death|| March 2, 1864|
near Richmond, Virginia
|Place of Burial||Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Branch of Service||United States Army|
|Years of Service||1861-1864|
|Highest rank awarded||Colonel|
|Battles participated in|| Fredericksburg|
Ulric Dahlgren was an officer in the United States Army, serving with distinction in several major battles. He is particularly noteworthy for the controversial raid in 1864 which took his life, and left for the Rebels to recover a set of documents seemingly ordering him to assassinate the highest members of the Confederate government.
Ulric Dahlgren was born April 3, 1842 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the second son of John Adolf and Mary Dahlgren; the elder Dahlgren was an officer in the United States Navy, and would distinguish himself later on the the Civil War with his changes in ordinance and weapons.
His school days over by 1858, young Ulric - already taught on the subject by his father - entered into civil engineering and became employed (1859) to survey tracts of wild land in Mississippi. His father's wishes, however, was that he should study law, and in September, 1860 he joined a Philadelphia law-office; this was short-lived due to the events of the general election of Abraham Lincoln to the secession and subsequent shelling of Fort Sumter, instilling in him a strong desire to serve the Union. On July 24, 1861, he was attached to a naval expedition from the Washington Yard to assist in the defence of Alexandria, Virginia. As it became evident by September that active operations could not be expected before spring, Ulric again yielded to his father's wishes and resumed his law studies, with the promise that he would be recalled should events decide. In the meantime, he associated himself with several men who formed a light artillery company in Philadelphia.
On May 26, 1862, Dahlgren was sent to Harper's Ferry and placed in charge of a battery of Navy howitzers, and on the 29th was sent back to Washington to obtain needed supplies of ammunition. When he arrived at the War Department his father and President Lincoln were in the private office of Secretary Stanton. Ulric's report was so well made and created such an impression that, as he had finished and turned to leave, Stanton tendered him a commission in the Army with the rank of captain and additional aide-de-camp. He reached Harper's Ferry the next morning in time to take part in the final repulse of the rebels. Ulric Dahlgren at the time was just twenty years old.
Captain Dahlgren was attached to the staff of Brigadier General Franz Sigel, who spoke of him in the series of movements made at Harper's Ferry and later at Bull Run:
- "Captain Dahlgren's services generally, on the line of the Rappahannock, where he was continuously engaged in meeting the enemy's' batteries with our own, to facilitate thereby the march of our troops and trains alongside of the river, were most valuable."
- "At the battles of Bull Run and Groveton on the 29th and 30th of August he was, almost without interruption, engaged in planting or relieving our batteries under the most galling fire of the enemy."
Sigel desired to make Captain Dahlgren chief of artillery of his corps, and in a note addressed to the governor of Pennsylvania, endorsed by President Lincoln and Admirals Smith and Foote, spoke of his aide as a "young officer of merit and usefulness, who has already distinguished himself and reflected much credit on the service."
Captain Dahlgren next took sixty men on a daring entry into Fredericksburg just before the main battle took place, holding out in the city for three hours before withdrawing, taking over thirty prisoners and their horses with him. He was among those to cross the river in boats on December 11 to dislodge the sharp-shooters. The captain subsequently served on the staff of General Joseph Hooker and participated in the battles of Chancellorsville and Brandy Station, and was retained on the staff of General George G. Meade when that officer assumed command of the Army of the Potomac. While in this position, with ten men he entered Confederate-occupied Greencastle, Pennsylvania and captured important despatches, riding with them thirty miles to Gettysburg. Even though the battle was raging, he was given one hundred men to operate with, and on July 4, 1863 he attacked Jenkins's cavalry and captured Greencastle, destroying one hundred eighty-six wagons in a rebel supply train on the way back, and gaining two hundred prisoners, three hundred horses, and one piece of artillery in the process. But in his efforts to reach Hagerstown during the attack on the rebels he was wounded seriously-enough to have his foot amputated. On July 24 he received his commission as colonel.
Walkerton and controversy
Returning to the field on February 18, 1864, he was given a command of five hundred picked men to join an expedition led by Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick, ostensibly to release Union prisoners held at Richmond, Virginia. While Kilpatrick rode south, Dahlgren drove the enemy's pickets into their works around Richmond in the short engagement at Walkerton, but the country was soon aroused; could not make a planned junction with Kilpatrick, and in endeavoring to return to Union lines he was ambushed and killed on March 2.
The following morning a young member of the Richmond Home Guard searched Dahlgren's body for valuables, but found papers instead, which were promptly turned over to his commander, Captain Edward Halbach. They consisted of a pocket notebook and two folded papers, and when Halbach read them he discovered a bombshell. "We hope to release the prisoners from Belle Island first & having seen them fairly started we will cross the James River into Richmond, destroying the bridges after us & exhorting the released prisoners to destroy and burn the hateful City & do not allow the Rebel Leader Davis and his traitorous crew to escape." One of the papers, an address to troops written on cavalry corps stationary, was even more explicit:
- "The City it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed."
The "Dahlgren Affair," as it came to be known, consisted of accusations of assassination attempts by Confederates against the North, with both Kilpatrick and Meade calling the documents a forgery. Although investigated in detail and photographed, the papers disappeared several months after the war, with suspicion falling on Stanton.
Dahlgren's remains were secured at the close of the war, and, after lying in state in the City Hall of Washington and Independence Hall of Philadelphia, were buried with distinguished honors.
Some of the text is from Officers of the Volunteer Army and Navy who served in the Civil War (1893), a work in the public domain