King and Queen Historical Society Endowment Donors Retrace Dahlgren’s Civil War Raid on Richmond. (April 2008)

Donors to the King and Queen Historical Society Endowment Fund and their guests ventured on Saturday, April 19th, to retrace Union Col. Ulric Dahlgren’s 1864 raid on Richmond. The raid is significant to King and Queen County history because the raid failed and Dahlgren escaped to King and Queen County where he was killed near King and Queen Court House. Ten days later, in retaliation, Union forces burned all the buildings at King and Queen Court House, except the building that is now the Courthouse Tavern Museum. The Endowment Fund was established to support the operations of the Museum.

The group of 38 left the King and Queen Courthouse Tavern Museum promptly at 9 am, lead by Hobson Goddin of Richmond, a noted Dahlgren scholar, accomplished speaker, and member of the Civil War roundtable. The group headed across country, to Route 1 and then followed the tracks of the Virginia Central Railroad at Beaver Dam in western Hanover County, where Goddin began his lectures.

The Story behind the Raid
Gen. Judson Kilpatrick and Col. Ulrich Dahlgren were camped in the Culpeper, Virginia, area during the winter of 1863–64. There had been a recent escape from Libby Prison in Richmond of Union officers, and they had described bad conditions there. Enlisted Union captives were held at Belle Isle in the James at Richmond. Kilpatrick and Dahlgren devised a plan, evidently approved by President Lincoln, to attempt a raid on Richmond early in the spring of 1864. The plan called for Kilpatrick, with the main force of approximately 3,500 men to make a frontal assault from the north on Richmond, while Dahlgren, with about 450 men, would come in from the West, cross the James River, and attack Richmond from the south. The stated objectives were to distribute leaflets on amnesty, destroy Confederate lines of communication, and free prisoners held in Libby Prison and on Belle Isle. According to documents found on Dahlgren, they also planned to attack and kill leaders of the Confederate government and burn Richmond. They left Culpeper on February 28, 1864.

Beaver Dam and Frederick’s Hall
After capturing Confederate pickets at Ely’s Ford, they moved to SpotsylvaniaCourthouse, where Kilpatrick headed east toward the Virginia Central’s rail yard at Beaver Dam Station, arriving on the afternoon of February 29th, while Dahlgren headed toward the Virginia Central’s depot at Frederick’s Hall. Kilpatrick destroyed railroad yards, tracks, and telegraph lines in the vicinity of Beaver Dam, but ran into a terrible winter rain storm. Kilpatrick was to follow the Virginia Central to the Brook turnpike and then approach Richmond directly from the north.

Dahlgren also reached Frederick’s Hall in Louisa County on February 29th. A train with Robert E. Lee aboard had passed that station several hours before. Nearby Dahlgren found a Confederate court-martial in progress and captured some 30 men. From Beaver Dam station, the King and Queen group followed Dahlgren’s route toward the James River. In Dahlgren’s time the roads were often little more than farm paths. The King and Queen group got the full experience because the roads, although paved, were narrow and winding and sometimes still difficult to follow!

Goddin explained that the plan called for a joint attack on Richmond by Kilpatrick and Dahlgren on March 1, but Dahlgren arrived near Goochland Courthouse, west of Richmond and north of the River, around 10 am on that day. Dahlgren sent Capt. Mitchell and about 100 men toward Richmond, north of the River, destroying property while Dahlgren planned to cross the James and meet Mitchell in Richmond when Dahlgren came up from the South. Mitchell was successful, but Dahlgren’s local black guide, whom Dahlgren had employed to guide him, could not find a usable ford across the James because of the storm, and Dahlgren hanged him.

The King and Queen group’s first stop in Goochland was the home and store where James Pleasants lived. A stone marker has been placed there in Pleasants’ memory. Nineteen-year-old James Pleasants was home on furlough when he captured some 13 of Dahlgren’s troops single-handedly near Hebron Church.

Dover, Eastwood, and Sabot Hill
While his troops foraged in Goochland, Dahlgren went to Dover Plantation, owned by James Morson, and to Eastwood, owned by Plumber Hobson, son-in-law of Confederate Gen. Henry Wise, burning outbuildings at both, but not the houses. Neither of the original houses, however, remain. The group then stopped at the brick ruins of Mr. Morson’s steam mill that was burned by Dahlgen and never replaced. Dahlgren then went to Sabot Hill, home of Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon. Goddin recounted the Goochland legend that tells the story of Dahlgren coming to the home and meeting Seddon’s wife, Sallie, who claimed Dahlgren’s father as an old beau. She served him blackberry wine, which delayed his attack on Richmond even more.

Tuckahoe Plantation
As Dahlgren proceeded toward Richmond, he may have stopped at Tuckahoe Plantation. The King and Queen group did stop, had a delightful box lunch catered by Scott’s Store in Walkerton on the lawn at Tuckahoe overlooking the James, and then enjoyed a guided tour of the Tuckahoe mansion.

Three Chopt Road to Cary Street Road
From Goochland the King and Queen group followed Dahlgren as he proceeded along Three Chopt Road to join Kilpatrick. He got as far as the Westham Plank Road, now Cary Street Road, where he met an assembled group of local militia and young boys. They repelled Dahlgren’s men and by 8 pm the battle was over. Some of the Union soldiers were kept in a temporary hospital at the brick house at Green farm, which the King and Queen group could see from Three Copt Road. Dahlgren headed back to join Mitchell and Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick at the Gates of Richmond
Dahlgren and Mitchell attempt to rejoin Kilpatrick The King and Queen group generally followed the path of Dahlgren’s retreat as Dahlgren tried to catch up to Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick arrived at the outer forts of Richmond at what is now Brook Road and Laburnam Avenue on the morning of March 1 and was prepared to attack. Goddin discussed these movements and the monument established near that intersection commemorating Kilpatrick’s advance. Kilpatrick met stiff resistance. In the afternoon, not hearing from Dahlgren, Kilpatrick decided to withdraw. He later planned to attack Richmond from the area of the Mechanicsville turnpike, but the arrival of Confederate General Wade Hampton and his troops surprised Kilpatrick, and Kilpatrick withdrew toward New Kent County. Mitchell’s group, part of Dahlgren’s forces, became separated from Dahlgren in the dark and eventually linked back up with Kilpatrick while Kilpatrick retreated. However, Dahlgren with some 150 men did not find Kilpatrick and headed to the Pamunkey River, which he reached about 8 am on March 2. His group rigged a tow-rope and crossed the Pamunkey and headed to the Mattaponi.

Dahlgren’s men reached the Mattaponi at Aylett. They were headed to Union lines in Gloucester County. When they attempted to cross the Mattaponi into King and Queen County, they were met with fire from the local guard. A cavalry unit formed by Lt. James Pollard, home to refit his unit’s horses, along with local guards and a Confederate unit that had been pursuing Dahlgren, harassed Dahlgren’s troops, so they turned to the River Road rather than going straight to Stevensville. The Confederate troops took a shorter route through Stevensville to attack Dahlgren’s men as they marched along the River Road.

Dahlgren’s Corner
About midnight on March 2, as Dahlgren approached the intersection of River and Stevensville Roads (with two of the Confederate officers captured at Frederick Hall still with him). Dahlgren troops were ambushed by Pollard’s men and Dahlgren was killed. Some of the Union troops surrendered. Others ran, but most were captured the next day. A state highway sign marks the spot.

The Aftermath
Back at the Museum Goddin explained that the death of Dahlgren was not the end of the Dahlgren story. Three significant things happened.

Papers on Dahlgren’s body showed his intent to capture and kill Confederate leaders in Richmond as part of his raid, which at the time was outside the bounds of war.

Dahlgren’s body was taken to Richmond and reburied. His body was later stolen from the Richmond grave and carried back to Union lines. His wooden leg, which he had as a result of a battle wound the year before, was taken to Richmond, displayed in a store window, then taken to Charlottesville for study, and ended up being used by one of the men in Mosby’s Confederate Corp.

In retaliation for the killing of Dahlgren, his father, an admiral in the Union Navy, encouraged an attack on the King and Queen Courthouse by Gen. Kilpatrick by land and boats up the Mattaponi. On March 10, 1864, all of the buildings, except the building that is now the Courthouse Tavern Museum, were burned.

At the conclusion of the Goddin talk, the assembled group made a toast with blackberry wine to Mrs. Seddon, Mr. Goddin and to Mr. and Mrs. Temple Ryland who celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on that day.