March 17, 1864 (2)
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Image of the March 17 1864 telegram
Next telegram March 18, 1864
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
Sent 4:50 PM
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 http://www.historicalinquiry.com
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.<ref>See Wikipedia article on this incident known as the Dahlgren Affair at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahlgren_Affair</ref> 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.<ref> This telegram is available in The Collected works of Abraham Lincoln, page 226 online at http://books.google.com/books?id=05Yl-8VpqoMC&lpg=PA222&vq=dahlgren&pg=PA226#v=snippet&q=dahlgren&f=false</ref> Bulter replied to Lincoln's March 17th telegram that he would send information about Dahlgren as soon as possible.<ref>This telegram is available in The Collected works of Abraham Lincoln, page 226 online at http://books.google.com/books?id=05Yl-8VpqoMC&lpg=PA222&vq=dahlgren&pg=PA251#v=snippet&q=dahlgren&f=false</ref>
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.