Nazi Soldiers…in America?

On February 15, 1944, Private Dale H. Maple picked up two passengers in Colorado, and headed for Mexico. He was promptly arrested and charged with treason. Why? Because the two passengers weren’t Americans…they were Nazi prisoners of war.

The 620th Engineer General Service Company: Nazi Sympathizers…in the U.S. Military?

After enlisting in February 1942, Maple was deliberately assigned to the infamous 620th Engineer General Service Company. In a real-life example of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” the 620th was made up of suspected Nazi sympathizers. By keeping them in one location and denying them access to weapons, the military hoped to maintain control over the sympathizers and make it difficult for them to hamper the war effort.

But Maple had his own ideas. And when the 620th was assigned guard duty at Camp Hale, a prison for Nazi POWs, he decided to take action. After buying a car, he picked up two Afrika Korps Sergeants from work detail and drove toward the Mexican border. The car broke down 17 miles short of the goal so the three men hoofed it the rest of the way.

The Trial of Dale H. Maple?

But after arriving in Mexico, they were quickly arrested and sent back to America. Maple was originally charged with treason. Later this was changed to “relieving, corresponding with or aiding the enemy.” He was found guilty and given a sentence of death by hanging. However, the Army Judge Advocate General intervened and convinced President Roosevelt to imprison Maple instead. Maple was released in 1951 and apparently passed away in the early 2000s. Here’s more on Maple and the 620th from Foreign Policy:

Yep. Gather round, little grasshoppers, and I will tell the strange tale.

I know it sounds like the reverse of a Quentin Taratino movie, but it is true: During World War II, the Army intentionally formed a unit chockablock with fascisti and their suspected sympathizers. What a sensible idea — much better than kicking them out into society and losing track of them.

This is all discussed in the new issue of Army Lawyer , where Fred “Three Sticks” Borch has a fascinating article about PFC Dale Maple, a brilliant young man who was born in San Diego in 1920 and who graduated from Harvard with honors but then, because he was bad, was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead…

(See more on Maple, the 620th, and Nazis in America at Foreign Policy)

The Drug War’s Strange Origins?

Today, the Drug War is a part of American life, just like the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, and any other number of “Wars on Concepts.” But how did the Drug War originate?

The Origin’s of America’s Drug War?

Few people realize the Drug War is a very new invention, launched in 1914 with the highly-questionable Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Here’s more on the dubious and racist origins of the Drug War from Jacob H. Huebert over at Lew Rockwell

Bigotry and xenophobia were another major factor leading to drug prohibition. Chinese immigrants were partly responsible for spreading opium use in America, so prohibitionists found a receptive audience among whites who feared the prospect of their daughters being lured into the Chinaman’s opium den. Early anti-opium laws in western states explicitly discriminated against Chinese immigrants.

Absurd fears about cocaine-crazed blacks fueled support for cocaine prohibition. Dr. Hamilton Wright, the leading anti-drug crusader during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration, told Congress that cocaine “is often the direct incentive to the crime of rape by the Negroes,” despite a lack of evidence for this or even for the proposition that blacks used cocaine more than whites. Still, Southern Senators especially bought into the widespread myth that black men on cocaine essentially became crazed zombies who were – yes, some people believed this – invulnerable to .32 caliber bullets.

Professional and industry groups, most notably the American Pharmacological Association, also helped enact drug prohibition. Big pharmaceutical companies did not like competition from patent medications, and pharmacists did not like it that people other than themselves could sell drugs. Regulation of drug distribution, even if it imposed costs on pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists to some extent, could be worthwhile to them if they could bear the costs while their smaller, less diversified competitors could not.

(See the rest on the Drug War and its strange origins at Lew Rockwell)

The Mysterious Disappearance of Glenn Miller

On December 15, 1944, a plane carrying jazz sensation Glenn Miller vanished while flying over the English Channel. The plane, its crew, and the passengers were never seen again.

What happened to Glenn Miller?

The disappearance of Glenn Miller is one of the great unsolved mysteries of history. For decades, researchers have questioned whether the plane even flew the intended route. Now, almost seven decades later, we may finally have an answer.

It turns out a 17-year old kid named Richard Anderton was living in Woodley at the time, just eight miles from Maidenhead, Berkshire. On December 15, 1944, he logged a Norseman plane flying in the sky. It was east of his position and on a southeastern heading. In other words, Anderton’s books indicate the plane carrying Glenn Miller was heading in the correct direction at the right time. If true, this would appear to eliminate other theories about where the plane might have flown.

Here’s more from BBC News on the mysterious disappearance of Glenn Miller:

The most recent discovery started with a 17-year-old plane-spotter in 1944, who meticulously logged each plane he saw flying overhead while he worked at an airfield in Woodley, Reading.

The now deceased Richard Anderton had two small notebooks filled with details of the locations of passing aircraft, estimated altitude and directions of flight. On 15 December 1944, he logged a UC-64A-type aircraft passing on the horizon to his east and flying below the fog in a south-easterly direction.

It was not until his brother, 77-year-old Sylvan Anderton, brought the books into the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow TV programme 67 years later that the entry came to light…

(See BBC News for more on the mysterious disappearance of Glenn Miller)

100-Year Predictions…that Came True?

You’ve probably never heard the name John Elfreth Watkins, Jr before. But in 1900, he made a series of predictions…predictions of the future. Did any of them come true?

John Elfreth Watkins, Jr.: Predictions of the Future

Of course, some of Watkins’ predictions of the future were hilariously wrong (“A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling”). Still, Watkins correctly predicted things like digital color photography, television, prepared meals, and cell phones. Here’s some of Watkins’ correct predictions of the future from The Saturday Evening Post

…Yet each new year, a new batch of predictors offer us their forecasts for the future. Most are promptly forgotten. One who deserves to be remembered, though, is John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., a Post writer in the early 20th Century. Back in December 1900, he wrote his ideas about “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” for the Post’s sister publication, the Ladies’ Home Journal….

Where Watkins was correct…he was unusually far-sighted.

  • Americans will be taller by from one to two inches.
  • Photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors… [They will be transmitted] from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.
  • Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.
  • Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.
  • Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.
  • Refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals.
  • Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America… whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods which cannot be grown here.

Did Eisenhower Steal the Presidency?

According to popular legend, Dwight Eisenhower was a shoo-in for the Presidency in 1952. He won the Republican primary on the first ballot by a large margin. He then proceeded to crush Adlai Stevenson in the general election. But in truth, he came very close to losing the primary race and only prevailed thanks to some questionable tactics. Did Eisenhower steal the nomination and thus, the Presidency?

General Eisenhower versus “Mr. Republican”?

In the aftermath of World War II, General Eisenhower was immensely popular with Americans and both parties courted him as a Presidential candidate. Initially, “Ike” showed little interest. However, that changed when he met Robert Taft, aka “Mr. Republican.”

Taft was the leader of the Old Right wing of the Republican Party (a mantle now carried by Dr. Ron Paul). He believed in reducing the size of government and supported a policy of non-interventionism. But his opposition to the Cold War didn’t sit well with Eisenhower. At the same time, the Democrats looked particularly vulnerable thanks to public disgust with corruption in President Truman’s administration. Many people thought that the Republican nominee, regardless of who it was, would easily win the Presidency.

Although Eisenhower had yet to commit to the race, his name was put forth on the New Hampshire ballot by Thomas Dewey, Taft’s arch rival. He didn’t campaign. He hadn’t even expressed his opinion on political issues. And yet, he won convincingly. Shortly afterward, Eisenhower decided to throw his hat into the ring.

The Race for the Republican Nomination?

The campaign that followed was one of the most bitter and hotly contested races in history. Eisenhower enjoyed tremendous popularity and attracted tons of new voters to the party who were derisively referred to as “Republicans for a Day.” But Taft was popular as well. In addition, he faced a structural advantage. Back then, the majority of convention delegates were chosen by caucuses. And most of those caucuses were controlled by Taft supporters. As the Republican Convention neared, Taft had 530 delegates to Ike’s 427. Still, although Taft was in control, he was short of the 604 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Eisenhower’s team swiftly accused Taft of stealing delegates from Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia. Supposedly, Taft supporters had kept Eisenhower voters from participating in these caucuses. The voters proceeded to form their own pro-Eisenhower delegations, which resulted in conflicting delegations being sent to the Republican Convention. Taft’s team offered a compromise split of the delegates but Ike’s people refused, believing that they could use the issue to their advantage at the Convention.

The 1952 Republican Convention?

In July 1952, the Convention opened. Taft had every reason to be optimistic. Besides his lead in delegates, the committees were largely controlled by his team. But Ike’s people were prepared. They quickly proposed the “Fair Play” rule, which would forbid contested delegates from participating in roll call votes. Taft’s team badly mishandled the parliamentary issue and as a result, lost the fight. This vote remains controversial today as many people believe that third-place candidate Earl Warren’s decision to support “Fair Play” was influenced by Eisenhower offering him a position on the Supreme Court.

With Taft’s delegates forced to sit on the sidelines, Eisenhower had the numerical advantage for the remainder of the roll call votes. This led to a series of votes in which Taft’s contested delegates were rejected and Eisenhower’s were approved. Still, Taft thought he had a chance. Even with the newfound delegates, Eisenhower seemed likely to garner just 560 votes, well short of 604. But during the first roll call vote, Ike took 595 votes to just 500 for Taft thanks to the support from several uncommitted delegations. Recognizing a patronage opportunity, Minnesota party leaders quickly switched their 20 votes to Eisenhower and the battle was over. Others followed suit and Eisenhower ended up winning on the first ballot by a vote of 845 to 280 (with an additional 77 delegates supporting Earl Warren).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, did Eisenhower steal the primary election and thus, the Presidency? He didn’t do anything illegal. Still, his victory can be attributed largely to parliamentary trickery that kept Taft’s delegates from having a voice at the Convention. It’s possible that Eisenhower deserved those delegates in the first place although Taft vigorously denied any wrongdoing. It should also be noted that Taft won the popular vote handily, with 2.8 million votes to just 2.1 million votes for Ike. Still, he wasn’t the clear favorite since this represented just 35.8% of all votes.

The various Republican factions were clearly divided over their choices in 1952. But after the Convention, they joined forces and thus propelled Eisenhower to the Presidency in a landslide. As for Taft, he fell sick soon after the Convention and passed away in 1953. His death, coupled with Ike’s victory, marked the end of the Old Right wing of the Republican Party and the subsequent rise of the Conservative movement.

The Largest Mass Execution in American History?

On August 17, 1862, four Sioux Indians attacked and killed five white settlers while on a hunting expedition in Minnesota. A series of attacks known as the Dakota War followed until the U.S. Army quelled the unrest. In the aftermath, President Abraham Lincoln approved the largest mass execution in U.S. history, a record that still stands today. But why did the Sioux launch the Dakota War in the first place?

The Dakota War?

The origins of the Dakota War can be traced back to 1851 when the U.S. government forced the Sioux Indians to sign the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and the Treaty of Mendota. These agreements required the Sioux to give up large parcels of land and move onto an Indian reservation near the Minnesota River. In exchange, the Sioux were given $1.4 million of money and goods. This amounted to about $0.03 per acre and the U.S. government profited handsomely by selling the land to white settlers for $1.25 per acre. In fact, it profited even more than you might expect since most of the promised compensation was never paid, was stolen by the corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs, or was otherwise “lost.”

As the 1850s rolled on, the U.S. government continuously violated the two treaties and failed to make payments to the Sioux. The Sioux fell into a state of permanent debt with local traders and thus, the few payments that were made often went directly to the traders. At the same time, crop failure made the Sioux increasingly dependent on the payments. Hungry and angry about the very real possibility that they were being cheated by the Bureau and the traders, the Sioux demanded that the payments be made directly to them. But the Bureau of Indian Affairs agent refused to provide food or supplies under that condition.

Two days later, a Sioux hunting party attacked and killed five white settlers while on a hunting expedition. That night, the Sioux council effectively declared the Dakota War on the settlers. A series of attacks followed. After a few setbacks to U.S. forces, President Lincoln sent General John Pope to lead the counterattack.

“It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them. They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.” ~ General John Pope

The Dakota War Ends…& Trials Begin

By December, the short-lived Dakota War was over. At least 500 U.S. soldiers and white settlers perished in the Dakota War. Sioux casualties are estimated about 70 to 100. In the aftermath, General Pope subjected hundreds of men, women, and children to five-minute military trials. 303 Indians were found guilty of rape and/or murder and sentenced to death. However, they were not given the opportunity to defend themselves and in any case, were condemned for participation in the Dakota War rather than for specific crimes.

President Lincoln Approves the Largest Mass Execution in History

General Pope and Minnesota’s representatives urged President Lincoln to approve the execution. However, Lincoln was still in the midst of the Civil War and was concerned that an execution of that size, based on no evidence and a heavily biased military tribunal, might anger European nations who would then throw their support to the Confederate States of America. So, he pared down the list to 39 names. In order to appease disgruntled settlers and Minnesota operatives, he promised to eventually kill or remove all Indians from Minnesota and offered $2 million in federal funds compensation.

On December 26, 1862, 38 Sioux Indians were hanged, marking the largest one-day execution in American history (one Sioux was granted a reprieve). Within the course of a year, Lincoln made good on his promise, driving the remaining Sioux out of Minnesota and into Nebraska and South Dakota.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Thanks to the politically-motivated Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln might just be the biggest sacred cow in all of U.S. history. Even this mass execution is viewed favorably by many Lincoln scholars, as they point out that he spared the lives of over 260 Sioux Indians. But the fact remains that he ordered the execution of 38 individuals, despite knowing that their individual guilt in the Dakota War could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unfortunately, their deaths didn’t bring an end to the violence. After the Civil War ended, General Sherman waged war against the Plains Indians, designed to bring about “the final solution of the Indian problem.” By 1890, his dream had become a reality – all of the Plains Indians had either been killed or placed on a reservation.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Wild West Coverage

Thomas Edison…Kills an Elephant?

One of our favorite topics here at Guerrilla Explorer is what we like to call “Dark History,” or the ugly bits of the past that get papered over by modern scholars eager to tell hero’s tales. Case in point…the man who killed Topsy the elephant via electrocution…none other than Thomas Edison himself.

Thomas Edison: Inventer or Patent Abuser?

According to the history books, Edison, aka The Wizard of Menlo Park, was a prolific inventor responsible for creating many wonderful things, including the light bulb. Except Edison didn’t create the light bulb. He just took Sir Joseph Swan’s working design and made a few small modifications. Then he patented it in America and proceeded to publicize himself as the true inventor. Indeed, Edison’s abuse of the patent system is reason he’s credited as the 4th most prolific inventor in history.

The Electrocution of Topsy the Elephant?

But today we’re focusing on something else, namely the War of Currents. The War of Currents was a long-pitched ferocious battle to determine the future of electric power distribution in the United States. It pitted Edison’s direct current (DC) against the alternating current (AC) promoted by George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. By January 4, 1903, Edison had essentially lost the war. But he refused to give up. Instead, he resorted to fear-mongering and attempted to show the dangers of AC. How? By electrocuting an elephant named Topsy.

Of course, standards were different back then. Still, the death of Topsy showed the lengths the desperate Edison was willing to go to win the War of Currents. It was a brutal demonstration.

Here’s more on Edison’s electrocution of Topsy from Wired:

Edison’s aggressive campaign to discredit the new current took the macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC (a killing process he referred to snidely as getting “Westinghoused”). Stray dogs and cats were the most easily obtained, but he also zapped a few cattle and horses.

Edison got his big chance, though, when the Luna Park Zoo at Coney Island decided that Topsy, a cranky female elephant who had squashed three handlers in three years (including one idiot who tried feeding her a lighted cigarette), had to go.

Park officials originally considered hanging Topsy but the SPCA objected on humanitarian grounds, so someone suggesting having the pachyderm “ride the lightning,” a practice that had been used in the American penal system since 1890 to dispatch the condemned. Edison was happy to oblige…

(See Wired.com for more on Edison’s electrocution of Topsy)

President Obama’s War on Civil Rights

For civil libertarians, it appears that “Hope and Change” means more of the same. Last week, President Obama announced his intention to sign into law a bill that “would deny suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention.”

President Obama’s War on Civil Rights?

Human Rights Watch summed it up pretty well when it stated that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.” Not surprisingly, the only presidential candidate who’s voiced disagreement is Ron Paul, who recently pointed out that the bill is “literally legalizing martial law.” Here’s Glenn Greenwald for more on this sinister development:

In one of the least surprising developments imaginable, President Obama – after spending months threatening to veto the Levin/McCain detention bill – yesterday announced that he would instead sign it into law (this is the same individual, of course, who unequivocally vowed when seeking the Democratic nomination to support a filibuster of “any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom[s],” only to turn around – once he had the nomination secure — and not only vote against such a filibuster, but to vote in favor of the underlying bill itself, so this is perfectly consistent with his past conduct). As a result, the final version of the Levin/McCain bill will be enshrined as law this week as part of the the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I wrote about the primary provisions and implications of this bill last week, and won’t repeat those points here.

The ACLU said last night that the bill contains “harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world” and added: “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage his legacy.” Human Rights Watch said that Obama’s decision “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad” and that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”

(See Obama to sign indefinite detention bill into law for the rest)

Guest Post: Did Jesse James fake his own Death?

This morning, we have a special treat for you…a guest post on the mysterious death of Jesse James written by esteemed author and friend Sean McLachlan. Sean is a travel blogger for Gadling.com as well as the author of several works on Civil War history. His newest book, A Fine Likeness, is a Civil War horror novel.

When the news broke on April 3, 1882 that Jesse James had been shot from behind by fellow gang member Robert Ford, many people didn’t believe it. There had been false reports that Jesse had been killed before and it took some time for the public to accept that America’s greatest outlaw was really dead.

Did Jesse James Fake his Death?

Or was he? Decades after his supposed death, several men came forward claiming to be Jesse James.

One was an odd fellow named John James, who in 1931 appeared in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, telling everyone he was Jesse James. He had been away a long time, he said, and now wanted to return to his home state to visit family and friends. In fact he did his best to avoid Jesse’s family and friends. Instead he talked with everyone else, especially reporters, and showed a good knowledge of the outlaw’s exploits. He claimed the body at the James farm was actually that of Charlie Bigelow, who looked like Jesse and had been killed to fake Jesse’s death.

It wasn’t long before the real James family got wind of the news and Stella James, wife of Jesse James Jr., the outlaw’s only son, publically grilled “Jesse”. She asked for details about the Pinkerton bombing of the James farm in 1875, which left Jesse’s half-brother Archie dead and his mother’s arm mutilated. John James couldn’t remember Archie’s middle name or which arm his mother had lost. To put the final nail in the coffin, Stella produced one of Jesse’s boots. Jesse James had unusually small feet and wore a size 6 1/2 boot. John James couldn’t get it on and was laughed out of town. He didn’t give up, though. Instead he went to that land of showbiz and opportunity, California, to give speeches and radio interviews.

It wasn’t to last. John James was old and declining. He was eventually consigned to a mental hospital, where he died in 1947.

J. Frank Dalton: Jesse James…or Not?

The other main imposter was J. Frank Dalton, first promoted by Ray Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories and famous for the Deros Hoax. Dalton repeated the Charlie Bigelow story and told an epic tale of how he had all sorts of adventures after his supposed death, including being an air force pilot in WWI at the age of 69. Dalton went on the road in 1948 with a cast of other bogus Wild West survivals including Billy the Kid and Cole Younger. His tales were disproved time and again, but that didn’t stop him. He eventually found a home in Meramec Caverns, Missouri, where as Jesse James he celebrated his 103rd birthday on September 5, 1950. The Meramec Cavern gift shop still sells Dalton’s fake biography.

Like John James, Dalton’s was a sad tale. Little is known for certain about his real life, although several people claim to have known him as a carnival barker and oil worker in Texas in the early twentieth century. Dalton was a longtime student of the James legend and even wrote two pamphlets on the subject, which tellingly state that Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford. This was before the Information Age, however, and the embarrassing inconsistency wasn’t discovered until much later. Dalton claimed to be a veteran of Quantrill’s Confederate guerrilla band and applied for a pension. Since he had no proof of this claim, his application was rejected. After a few years in the limelight, he was ditched by his promoter and died in poverty in Texas in 1951. His gravestone reads, “Jesse Woodson James, Sept. 5, 1847-Aug. 15 1951, supposedly killed in 1882.”

Civil War Horror’s Analysis

Besides these two, several others claimed to be Jesse, and at least three who claimed to be Frank James, one of whom peddled his tale in 1914 while the real Frank James was still very much alive. The Washington Post got duped by that story and had to print a shamefaced retraction.

Jesse James was a legend, and like all legends they cannot die. Many other famous people—Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Hitler—have all spawned tales of their survival. It seems we can’t let go of these larger-than-life figures.

(Sean McLachlan’s Civil War novel A Fine Likeness includes Jesse James as a minor character. Sean is also the author of The Last Ride of the James-Younger Gang, Jesse James and the Northfield Raid 1876, to be released by Osprey Publishing in 2012.)

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Wild West Coverage

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