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The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War
     

The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War

by Duane P. Schultz, Duane Schultz
 
March 5, 1864, was the day on which the Civil War changed to what the Richmond Examiner called "a war of extermination, of indiscriminate slaughter and plunder." It changed because of a few sheets of paper found on a muddy trail outside Richmond. Their legacy was a new and terrible style of warfare. In a daring but failed cavalry raid to free thousands of Union

Overview

March 5, 1864, was the day on which the Civil War changed to what the Richmond Examiner called "a war of extermination, of indiscriminate slaughter and plunder." It changed because of a few sheets of paper found on a muddy trail outside Richmond. Their legacy was a new and terrible style of warfare. In a daring but failed cavalry raid to free thousands of Union prisoners, the Union commander--twenty-one-year-old Ulric Dahlgren--was killed; on his body were found orders purportedly instructing his men to find and execute Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Confederate cabinet. There was an immediate outpouring of horrified, indignant rage throughout the South, and after the Union disclaimed any knowledge of the papers or the order they contained, Jefferson Davis authorized the use of terrorism against civilians in the North in the form of guerrilla raids, bank robberies, arson, and sabotage. This compelling narrative is the first full-length analysis of the link between Dahlgren's failed raid and the Confederate campaign of terror.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Schultz's (Quantrill's War; Wake Island) lively writing is perfectly suited to the exciting and controversial Yankee cavalry raid against Richmond, Va., in late winter 1864. The raid failed, Yankee colonel Ulric Dahlgren (son of Admiral John A. Dahlgren) was killed and the Confederacy published the contents of papers allegedly found on Dahlgren's body. Officially, the cavalry was to enter Richmond and rescue thousands of Union prisoners of war; the captured papers detailed an uglier objective--the assassination of Jefferson Davis and his cabinet, and the leveling of the city. Were the papers found on Dahlgren's body authentic or were they forged by a government desperate to bring more pressure on the North? To this day, historians debate the papers' authenticity. Schultz chronicles the raid, then examines the papers, their publication and ultimate fate. Along the way, readers are introduced to an astonishing array of characters--Judson "Kill Cavalry" Kilpatrick, the Federal raid commander; Thomas Hines, a Confederate agent who was given latitude to retaliate against Northern targets; Elizabeth Van Lew, the Richmond woman who ran a successful Union spy operation throughout the war; and numerous others whose lives were affected by these momentous events. Schultz also links the failed raid and the Confederate reaction, which included an attempt to burn New York City, failed attempts to liberate Confederate prisoners, a raid on St. Albans, Vt., and other acts of terror. The subject and Schultz's lucid prose make this a great addition to any Civil War library. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In his lively account of intrigue, espionage, and failed effort, Schultz (Quantrill's War, LJ 9/15/96) argues that Union attempts to liberate prisoners in Richmond in 1864 and to kidnap or kill prominent Confederates provided the moral and legal cover for Confederate raids on northern communities to disrupt the 1864 presidential election and move the battle to the North. By Schultz's reckoning, the events of 1864 brought civilians into the war and made terrorism policy. Schultz introduces a fascinating rogues' gallery of freebooters, officers, and spies, and he raises important questions about the "culture of war," especially the insistence on respecting older notions of honor even while modern war mobilized whole populations, and the need for victory led to ever more desperate measures. But his discoveries of "conspiracy" and stories of spying and raiding are not as new as he claims; others have shown convincingly that "total war" became both practice and policy before 1864. Schultz tells a good tale, even if proof of conspiracy remains elusive. For academic and large public libraries.--Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews
Schultz, the author of a series of well-received works of narrative history (Quantrill's War, 1996; Over the Earth I Come, 1992, etc.) concerned with America in the turbulent 19th century, adds another with this wonderfully vivid portrait of Confederate attempts to stir up rebellion in the North during the war's waning daysþefforts that even included a chilling but unsuccessful attempt at germ warfare. In 1864, during a daring raid by Union cavalry to free prisoners held in the Confederate capital of Richmond, a dashing young Union colonel is shot down. The Confederates publicize papers they claim to have found on his body indicating that he planned to track down and assassinate Jefferson Davis. using the papers (which, Schultz convincingly argues, were very likely forged by Confederate operatives) as an excuse, Davis orders a campaign unleashed on the North to foment rebellion among the increasingly vocal groups of CopperheadsþDemocrats violently opposed to the continuation of the war. Agents were sent North to enlist locals to attack Federal posts, assault prisons where Confederate soldiers were being held, sink ships, and spread chaos. Thanks to bad luck, Union spies, and a lack of resolve on the part of the Copperheads, the plans largely failed. Schultz handles all of this melodramatic material with vigor and clarity, a first-rate addition to the bulging shelves of Civil War Studies. (b&w photos, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393046625
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/28/1998
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
298
Product dimensions:
6.55(w) x 9.65(h) x 1.15(d)

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