March 17, 1864 (2)

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Telegram Sent on: March 17, 1864.
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Executive Mansion

Washington, DC March 17, 1864

Major General Butler,

Fort Monroe, Va

If you obtain the remains of

Col. Dahlgren, please notify me instantly, so that

I can let his [affection?] know.


No. 3. FM

20 ChgExmano

Read 12.40PM

Sent 4:50 PM


Historical analysis

This analysis makes use of a heuristic for historical thinking know as SCIM-C developed by David Hicks, Peter Doolittle and Tom Ewing. For more about this historical thinking heuristic please see

Summary of the telegram

In this telegram, President Lincoln asked for information about the remains of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren who had recently been killed in action.

The Context for this telegram

Colonel Dahlgren was in command of a 500 troop Union force that part of a controversial raid on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The raid was reported by Union officers as an effort to free captured Union troops. Confederate leaders claimed that Dahlgren's force was on a mission to assassinate Confederate president Jefferson Davis.[1] Dalhgren died in the attack on February 18, 1864.

Dalhgren's body was not recovered and returned to his home in Pennsylvania until May of 1865. Dalhgren laid in state at City Hall in Washington and Independence Hall of Philadelphia prior to his funeral.

On March 7, 1864 President Lincoln emailed Butler requesting information about Dahlgren and his operation.[2] Bulter replied to Lincoln's March 17th telegram that he would send information about Dahlgren as soon as possible.[3]

Inferences about the telegram

We might first ask why President Lincoln would concern himself with the return of Colonel Dahlgren's body. There were thousands of soldiers whose remains were never located, but Dahlgren was not just a regular war fatality. Dahlgren's raid was top secret and very controversial. The Confederate troops who killed Dahlgren and held his body produced a document which allegedly included orders to assassinate Jefferson Davis. Lincoln may have wanted Dahlgren's body to prevent the issue from becoming political or possibily to honor Dahlgren for his sacrifice in such an important mission.

Another possibility is that Dalhgren's father, Rear Admiral John Dahlgren asked Lincoln for help. Dahlgren was very unhappy that his son had been assigned to the controversial raid.


  1. See Wikipedia article on this incident known as the Dahlgren Affair at
  2. This telegram is available in The Collected works of Abraham Lincoln, page 226 online at
  3. This telegram is available in The Collected works of Abraham Lincoln, page 226 online at