The Raid (March 1, 1864)

Judson Kilpatrick, the controversial cavalry commander (Library of Congress).

Judson Kilpatrick, the controversial cavalry commander (Library of Congress).

Here’s Theodore Lyman’s behind-the-scenes look at the start of the Kilpatrick/Dahlgren raid  on Richmond. Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick’s VI Corps and Custer’s brigade of cavalry were designed to divert Confederate attention from the raid. After Lyman’s letter I include the report that Meade prepared for Henry Halleck (still the commander-in-chief of the Union armies, but not for long) on March 1 about the raid’s progress to that point. General Andrew Humphreys is Meade’s chief of staff.

. . . For some days General Humphreys has been a mass of mystery, with his mouth pursed up, and doing much writing by himself, all to the great amusement of the bystanders, who had heard, even in Washington, that some expedition or raid was on the tapis, and even pointed out various details thereof. However, their ideas, after all, were vague; but they should not have known anything. Que voulez-vous? A secret expedition with us is got up like a picnic, with everybody blabbing and yelping. One is driven to think that not even the prospect of immediate execution will stop Americans from streaming on in their loose, talking, devil-may-care ways. Kilpatrick is sent for by the President; oh, ah! everybody knows it at once: he is a cavalry officer; it must be a raid. All Willard’s chatters of it. Everybody devotes his entire energies to pumping the President and Kill-cavalry! Some confidential friend finds out a part, tells another confidential friend, swearing him to secrecy, etc., etc. So there was Eleusinian Humphreys writing mysteriously, and speaking to nobody, while the whole camp was sending expeditions to the four corners of the compass! On Saturday, at early morn, Uncle John Sedgwick suddenly picked up his little traps and marched with his Corps through Culpeper and out towards Madison Court House, away on our right flank. The next, the quiet Sabbath, was broken by the whole of Birney’s division, of the 3d Corps, marching also through Culpeper, with the bands playing and much parade. We could only phancy the feeling of J. Reb contemplating this threatening of his left flank from his signal station on Clark’s Mountain. Then the flaxen Custer, at the head of cavalry, passed through, and wended his way in the same direction. All this, you see, was on our right. That night Kilpatrick, at the head of a large body of cavalry, crossed at Ely’s Ford, on our extreme left, and drew a straight bead on Richmond! At two oclock that night he was at Spotsylvania C. H., and this is our last news of him. He sent back word that he would attack Richmond at seven this morning. The idea is to liberate the prisoners, catch all the rebel M. C.’s that are lying round loose, and make tracks to our nearest lines. I conceive the chances are pretty hazardous, although the plan was matured with much detail and the start was all that could be asked. . . .

Theodore Lyman’s letter is from Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, pp 76-8. Edited by George R. Agassiz. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1922. Available via Google Books.

 Meade’s report is from the Official Records, ser. 1, Vol. 33, p. 169:

Meade March 1

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