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The Dahlgren Affair is still controversial today

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The famous Dahlgren Affair, controversial to this day, took place 150 years ago this week. Twenty-one year old Ulric Dahlgren, a Union Colonel, was killed in a raid to free Union prisoners from Confederate prisons in Richmond, VA.

The ill-fated raid was just the beginning of the episode. Papers found on Dahlgren’s body supposedly indicated that Dahlgren was ordered to kill Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other high ranking CSA officials.

Confederate officials had a field day, denouncing the papers and saying the war had turned into savagery, while at the same time Union officials disclaimed any knowledge of the orders. They said they were forgeries.

To make matters worse, somehow the original papers, purportedly passed to the Union and into the hands of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who is believed to have destroyed them.

Historians and scholars tend to believe the papers were authentic. Author and Abraham Lincoln researcher Edward Steers Jr., author of “Blood on the Moon”, believes the orders authentic. He traces the actions of John Wilkes Booth directly to the Dahlgren papers saying “Judson Kilpatrick, Ulric Dahlgren and their probable patron Edwin Stanton set out to engineer the death of the Confederacy’s president, the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of their effort may have included the death of their own president.”

To make the matter even just a little bit stranger, Dahlgren was wounded previously and wore a Yankee artificial limb. Officials of the Association for Maimed Soldiers (ARMS) tried to claim the dead soldier’s leg so they could compare it with prosthetics made in the South. After much negotiation, they settled on drawings of Dahlgren’s artificial limb.

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