The Plot to Assassinate Jefferson Davis?

On March 2, 1864, William Littlepage was searching the pockets of a dead Union officer just outside of Richmond, VA. But instead of a pocketwatch or other baubles, Littlepage discovered two mysterious documents. These papers, now known as the Dahlgren Papers, cast light on a plot designed to bring an end to the Confederate States of America. Were Union leaders planning to assassinate President Jefferson Davis?

The Dahlgren Affair?

By March 2, 1864, the Union had taken control of the Civil War and Confederate hopes of victory seemed increasingly dim. Ulysses S. Grant was just a week away from taking over the responsibilities of Commanding General of the United States Army. And President Lincoln, along with his top generals, had reached the conclusion that the only way to break the South was to wage total war.

It was with this backdrop that 13-year old Littlepage found himself searching the dead body of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who’d been killed earlier that day in a failed raid on Richmond, VA. After discovering the documents, Littlepage took them to his teacher, Edward Halbach. Halbach quickly examined the papers and realized he had a veritable bomb in front of him.

The papers described a plan to raid and torch Richmond, VA. The idea for the attack had originated from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was known as “Kill-Cavalry” due to his willingness to sacrifice his own troops as well as Confederate troops in order to achieve his goals. The plan was for Dahlgren’s cavalry to enter the city from the south. After stopping to free Union prisoners and meet up with Kilpatrick, the enlarged force would descend upon Richmond in order to “destroy and burn the hateful city.”

The Plot to Kill Jefferson Davis?

A second set of orders, which were probably intended for Captain John Mitchell (Dahlgren’s second-in-command), provided more detail on the plot.

“We will try and secure the bridge to the city, (one mile below Belle Isle,) and release the prisoners at the same time. If we do not succeed they must then dash down, and we will try and carry the bridge from each side. When necessary, the men must be filed through the woods and along the river bank. The bridges once secured, and the prisoners loose and over the river, the bridges will be secured and the city destroyed. The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.” ~ Dahlgren Papers, as published in the Richmond Sentinel (3/5/1864)

Although the Civil War was horrendous and bloody, it had been fought as a sort of “Gentleman’s Affair” up until that point. However, the Dahlgren Papers appeared to change that by targeting Jefferson Davis for assassination.

The papers were swiftly transported up the Confederacy’s chain of command. And by March 4, they’d reached President Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis agreed to release them to the press and by March 5, the Richmond Daily Dispatch was blaring the headline, “The Last Raid of the Infernals.”

Northerners were skeptical of the papers and declared them to be fraudulent. But the Confederacy was not swayed. Angered by the assassination plot, President Jefferson Davis decided to release Confederate prisoners into Northern cities. He hoped that this would create fear and chaos, thus buying valuable time for his fledgling nation.

Were the Dahlgren Papers Authentic?

On March 30, General Robert E. Lee sent a copy of the Dahlgren Papers to Northern General George Meade and expressed his desire to know if the orders had been authorized by the U.S. government. Meade asked Kilpatrick to investigate. Kilpatrick responded that he’d endorsed the Papers…or at least part of them. He claimed that the sections about burning Richmond and killing President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had been added after the fact. With that, the official investigation pretty much came to an end.

But privately, General Meade was suspicious. He thought that the Dahlgren Papers were authentic. And since Kilpatrick was Dahlgren’s superior officer, it stood to reason that Kilpatrick might’ve been the one to issue the order. Thus, as Stephen Sears said in his book Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, relying on Kilpatrick to handle the investigation was “equivalent to ordering the fox to investigate losses in the henhouse.”

What happened to the Dahlgren Papers?

In July 1864, Dahlgren’s father went public to declare the Dahlgren Papers “a bare-faced atrocious forgery.” He based this upon a photographic copy of the original orders, in which his son’s signature was misspelled as “Dalhgren.” Others pointed out that the orders had been written on both sides of thin paper. Thus, the misspelling might’ve been nothing more than ink leaking through the paper. Unfortunately, it was impossible to say for certain…

…because the Dahlgren Papers had vanished.

At the end of 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requested the Dahlgren Papers from Francis Lieber, who headed up the Confederate archives. In 1879, Lieber requested the papers back. But they had gone missing. In his article, “The Dahlgren Papers,” James Hall sums up current opinion on the fate of the papers.

“Perhaps it is an uncharitable thought, but the suspicion lingers that Stanton consigned them to the fireplace in his office.” ~ James Hall, “The Dahlgren Papers,” Civil War Times Illustrated (November 1983)

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

While the origin of the orders remains in question, there is a growing consensus, led by historians such as Sears, that they were probably authentic. And if this is the case, there is a decent chance that President Lincoln himself was aware of the assassination attempt on Jefferson Davis. Interestingly enough, this may have indadvertedly led to his own death.

The targeting of President Jefferson Davis was, in effect, a declaration of total war upon the South. The South, led by the mysterious Confederate Secret Service, responded in kind. As reported in Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, this shadowy organization set out to kidnap President Lincoln in order to sue for peace. But when that effort fell short and General Lee was forced to surrender in April 1865, the Confederate Secret Service enacted one final operation…the assassination of President Lincoln.

“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.” ~ Stephen Sears, The Dahlgren Papers Revisited

The Presidential Death Curse?

In 1811, General William Henry Harrison fought Tecumseh’s Confederacy to a draw at the Battle of Tippecanoe, thus putting an end to the Native American military movement. According to legend, Tecumseh responded by setting a curse upon Harrison and the office of the President of the United States. What was this mysterious Curse of Tecumseh?

The Curse of Tecumseh (aka The Curse of Tippecanoe or the Presidential Death Curse)?

The Curse of Tecumseh (also known as the Curse of Tippecanoe) is shrouded in mystery, its exact origin having been lost to time. Perhaps the most popular version of the story is that Tecumseh sent an oral message to General Harrison via released prisoners, stating that, “Harrison will not win this year to be the great chief. But he may win next year. If he does … he will not finish his term. He will die in office.” When informed that no President had ever died in office (the United States was only on its fourth President at the time), Tecumseh supposedly said:

“Harrison will die, I tell you. And when he dies you will remember the deaths of my people. You think that I have lost my powers: I who caused the sun to darken and red men to give up firewater. But I tell you Harrison will die. And after him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.” ~ Tecumseh, 1811

Another version of the legend is that the Curse of Tecumseh was actually uttered by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa. Tenskwatawa was known as the Shawnee Prophet, in part for correctly predicting a solar eclipse in 1806. That prophecy humiliated General Harrison, who’d staked his reputation with other Native American leaders on Tenskwatawa being a fraud. Supposedly, Tenskwatawa uttered the Curse of Tecumseh in 1836, just months before his passing.

There is also a third version of the story. In this telling, Tecumseh realized that he would die at the 1813 Battle of Thames. Before he left to meet his fate, he gave away his things and stated one final prophecy to his brother:

“Brother, be of good cheer. Before one winter shall pass, the chance will yet come to build our nation and drive the Americans from our land. If this should fail, then a curse shall be upon the great chief of the Americans, if they shall ever pick Harrison to lead them.

His days in power shall be cut short. And for every twenty winters following, the days in power of the great chief which they shall select shall be cut short. Our people shall not be the instrument to shorten their time. Either the Great Spirit shall shorten their days or their own people shall shoot them.

This is not all. Each contest to select their great chief shall be marked by sharp divisions within their nation. Within seven winters of each contest, there shall be a war among their people, either within their nation or with other nations, I know not which. Our people shall prosper only if they can avoid these wars.” ~ Tecumseh, 1813

The Curse of Tecumseh…120 Years Later

Three decades later, William Henry Harrison won the 1840 U.S. Presidential election. One month later, he was dead, a victim of pneumonia. The Curse of Tecumseh had begun. And for the next 120 years, every U.S. President elected at the end of a 20-year cycle (and during a year ending in “0”) died tragically while still in office.

  • 1840: William Henry Harrison, Pneumonia (1841)
  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln, Assassination (1865)
  • 1880: James Garfield, Assassination (1881)
  • 1900: William McKinley, Assassination (1901)
  • 1920: Warren Harding, Heart Attack, Stroke, Possible Assassination (1923)
  • 1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cerebral Hemorrhage (1945)
  • 1960: John F. Kennedy, Assassination (1963)

In the 1980 U.S. Presidential election, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. 69 days later, on March 31, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. shot and wounded him, puncturing his lung. But unlike his predecessors, Reagan survived the attempt and lived out two full terms in office. Twenty years later, George Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. In 2005, he survived an assassination attempt of his own when Vladimir Arutyunian’s hand grenades failed to detonate.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Curse of Tecumseh is a modern-day example of dating mining and numerology. For centuries, people have attempted to create models linking up number sequences with real world events. But while such models look promising when backtesting old data, they tend to fall apart when subjected to new information.

In 1980, the Library of Congress supposedly researched the Curse of Tecumseh story and concluded that “although the story has been well-known for years, there are no documented sources and no published mentions of it.” (On a side note, I was unable to find any confirmation of this study so take it with a grain of salt).

In the unlikely event that the Curse of Tecumseh was something tangible, it appears that it was lifted with President Reagan’s term of office. But some observers believe differently. They claim that the Curse of Tecumseh encompasses both death as well as mere assassination attempts. Thus, they think that future presidents could very well suffer from the curse, either with deaths or near-death experiences.

So, has the Curse of Tecumseh been extinguished? Or will more lives feel its wrath?

Only time will tell.

The Strange Case of President Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor is not exactly a household name.  He served as President of the United States for just sixteen months, from March 4, 1849 to July 9, 1850.  He is best known for his service as a former general in the Mexican-American War as well as his rather long nickname (“Old Rough and Ready”).  So, why does he matter today?  Because 161 years after he died, rumors persist that his death was no accident.  In fact, many believe that President Zachary Taylor was assassinated.

The Odd Death of Zachary Taylor

On July 4, 1850, President Taylor became overheated.  To alleviate his symptoms, he drank a pitcher of milk and ate both a bowl of cherries and several pickles.  Five days later, he died.  Almost immediately, rumors spread that he’d been poisoned.  However, for more than a century, historians blamed various ailments for his passing, including cholera, typhoid fever, and food poisoning.  Then, in the late 1980s, an author by the name of Professor Clara Rising decided to challenge established history.

The (Flawed) Exhumation?

Professor Rising theorized that unknown persons assassinated President Taylor via poison, specifically arsenic.  She convinced his distant relatives to exhume the body.  On June 17, 1991, his lead coffin was removed from the ground.  Soon after, Dr. George Nichols and Dr. William Maples discovered that Taylor’s remains were in remarkably good shape.  They proceeded to gather tissue samples.  Initial tests showed relatively high arsenic levels.  However, they were proclaimed too low to indicate a deliberate poisoning.

But the rumors didn’t end.  In 1999, Michael Parenti revisited the arsenic theory in his book History as Mystery and reported numerous flaws in the autopsy.  He also provided a convincing mass of circumstantial evidence that pointed to a poisoning.  For example, Zachary Taylor’s hair showed a suspicious amount of antimony, which is poisonous.  Also, the amount of arsenic revealed in a sectional analysis of his hair was similar to that of other poison victims.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Why would anyone assassinate Zachary Taylor?

One possible motive for assassination was the issue of slavery.  Although he owned slaves, President Taylor was considered a moderate on the issue.  As such, he didn’t support the Compromise of 1850, which required the return of runaway slaves.  Henry Clay, the bill’s author, attacked Taylor within the Senate.  Threats of secession rang out across the nation.  In response, Zachary Taylor threatened military action against the “traitors”.  Civil war seemed like a near certainty.  But President Taylor’s death paved the way for a temporary peace.  Also, it enabled Millard Fillmore, a known supporter of the Compromise, to take office.  Fillmore later passed a revised version of the Act.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

President Taylor doesn’t seem all that important today.  However, if it weren’t for that fateful July 4, the name Zachary Taylor might have been etched indelibly into Civil War history, rather than that of Abraham Lincoln.  Evidence for an assassination is credible.  Also, numerous pro-slavery advocates, including many powerful ones, had strong motives to kill President Taylor.  Historical detectives need to revisit this case.  When they do, it’s quite possible that they’ll find that the first assassination in American history wasn’t of Abraham Lincoln but rather, of a little-known military hero named Zachary Taylor.

Who Killed JFK?

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Authorities blamed the JFK assassination on a man named Lee Harvey Oswald. However, legions of conspiracy theorists, as well as the vast majority of the American public, remain unconvinced. Now, newly-announced tape recordings from President Kennedy’s wife have added a new wrinkle to the case. Who did Jackie Onassis blame for her husband’s death?

The JFK Assassination?

John F. Kennedy was the thirty-fifth President of the United States. His term was marked with chaos and controversy, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the deepening of American involvement in Vietnam. These days, he’s a mythic figure in American politics, one who engenders cult-like fascination, thanks in no small part to his untimely death.

The story of the JFK assassination is a long one and indeed, thousands of books and tens of thousands of articles have already told the tale. So, I’ll stick to the basics of the official version. In 1963, President Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade in Dealey Plaza. Thirty minutes later, doctors pronounced him dead.

The police were provided with a suspect’s description. A short while later, Officer J.D. Tippit spotted Lee Harvey Oswald three miles from the crime scene. Since Oswald matched the description, Tippit attempted to engage him. But Oswald killed Tippit instead and fled to a movie theater where he was eventually arrested. Despite claims of being a patsy, he was formally charged that evening. But he never made it to trial. Two days after his arrest, he was shot and killed by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

The Lone Gunman Theory

President Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, established the Warren Commission to investigate the JFK assassination. Ten months later, the Commission famously concluded that Oswald acted alone, driven by insanity and a love for Marxism.

But the mystery was just beginning. The Lone Gunman Theory quickly came under attack and holes began to pile up. Then, in 1975, Good Night America showed Abraham Zapruder’s film of the assassination. It appeared to depict Kennedy being shot in the front rather than from the rear where Oswald had been positioned. Further bombshells followed, including the fact that Special Agent James Hosty of the FBI had been in contact with Oswald prior to the JFK assassination. Even more suspiciously, the FBI attempted to cover up this information.

Who was behind the JFK Assassination?

Despite the passing of nearly five decades, President Kennedy’s assassination continues to captivate the public. Conspiracy theorists have pointed to numerous suspects, including the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the KGB, Fidel Castro, Anti-Castro Cubans, and the Mafia. It seems that practically everyone had a motive to kill the President.

New theories appear frequently, along with supporting circumstantial evidence. The latest theory arrives from Jackie Onassis herself, who at that time was President Kennedy’s wife. And her testimony promises to reignite even more interest in the case, especially since it comes from beyond the grave.

Jackie Onassis’ Theory?

You see, a historian named Arthur Schlesinger recorded an interview with Jackie back in 1964. She agreed to the interview although she stipulated that it was not to be made public until fifty years after her death. Since Jackie died in 1994, that meant a release date of 2044. However, her wishes have been subverted. Supposedly, her daughter Caroline agreed to release the tapes in exchange for ABC dropping a drama series about the Kennedy family. That’s a conspiracy in its own right, especially since there was never any word that ABC planned to show the miniseries in the first place.

Anyways, according to early reports, Jackie believed Lyndon Baines Johnson along with a group of southern businessmen were behind the assassination. While its not evidence, this revelation is nonetheless quite significant. Conspiracy proponents are often depicted as being on the fringes of society. As far as I know, Jackie is the first member of the so-called establishment to declare her belief in a prevailing conspiracy.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, where do we go from here? About 98% of all documents surrounding the assassination have been released to the public. The remaining documents will be released in 2017. It seems unlikely that these documents will add much to the debate. It will be up to independent researchers to continue investigating the case. If a conspiracy did exist, let’s hope they are able to uncover the necessary evidence. After all, America deserves to know who perpetrated it…

And why.

Was Alexander the Great Poisoned?

In June 323 BC, Alexander the Great died in Babylon after a two-week battle against an unknown ailment. Since then, historians have blamed his mysterious death on any number of things…excessive drinking, malaria, and typhoid fever to name just a few. However, new research points to something far more sinister…poison.

The Mysterious Death of Alexander the Great?

Alexander the Great was a king of Macedon. Considered a mighty warrior, he built one of the largest empires in history. In late May 323 BC, he grew ill after a night and a day drinking with Medius of Larissa at the Babylonian palace of Nebuchadnezzar II (located in modern-day Iraq). He took to bed for the next two weeks, complaining of a high fever, liver pain, and joint pain. After falling into a coma, he never awakened. Alexander the Great died on either June 11 or June 12, at the young age of thirty-two.

Rumors of an assassination soon began and his close friends suspected a poison procured from the legendary River Styx. Supposedly, the waters of the River were so corrosive that they dissolved any drinking vessel, short of one made from a horse’s hoof. Intriguingly, while their contemporaries doubted the poison rumors, they never doubted the existence of the River Styx. Regardless, the problem with the poison theory has always been the fact that Alexander suffered for about twelve days before dying. A long-acting poison of that nature seems doubtful in those ancient times.

Was Alexander the Great Poisoned?

In August 2010, Adrienne Mayor and Antoinette Hayes, both from Stanford University, proposed a new theory that breathed life into the possibility of an assassination. Similar to the ancient rumors, they speculate that Alexander might have died from ingesting a vial of water from the River Styx.

While the River Styx is popularly known as the mythological gateway to the underworld, Mayor and Hayes believe that it is based on a real-life river, namely the Mavroneri Stream, or Black Water. The Mavroneri has a strange history and the local people were once known to avoid it, claiming that its waters caused damage to metal and clay vessels.

Mayor and Hayes further speculate that the river once held a highly lethal bacterium known as calicheamicin. Calicheamicin, which was only discovered by modern science in the last few decades, grows on limestone deposits, some of which are found in the Mavroneri. While scientists have not yet looked for calicheamicin in the Mavroneri, there may be an expedition to do so as soon as October 2011. However, we do know that drinking water containing the bacteria would result in “an agonizing death over several days, a course of events compatable with those described in the ancient sources recounting the death of Alexander.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The true cause of Alexander’s death may never be known. However, Mayor and Hayes have gotten closer to unraveling it than anyone else in recent memory. If evidence of calicheamicin is discovered in the Mavroneri, it will provide additional support to the assassination theory. But the mystery won’t end there. If Mayor and Hayes are correct, than we have a whole new set of questions to consider such as: Who killed Alexander the Great?

And why?