Come with us, Mr. President…

The Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association articles that I’ve been going through the past few days have been giving up some interesting tidbits.  Here’s one from an 1889 article from former Confederate Cavalry commander Bradley T. Johnson concerning a little mission cooked up by him in 1864, with the approval of Wade Hampton (who commanded Lee’s cavalry after the death of Jeb Stuart at Yellow Tavern):

After the battle of Trevillian’s, June 12, 1864… General Hampton gave me permission to undertake an enterprise, which I had often discussed with him during the preceding sixty days… the day after that engagement Hampton gave his consent that I should start on my long projected expedition.
This was to pass along the base of the Blue Ridge, through Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Loudoun counties, cross the Potomac at Muddy Branch, at a ford well known to many of the command, who were constantly passing and repassing it on their way to and from Maryland, surprise the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, generally known to us as the California Battaltion, and then ride at speed to the Soldier’s Home, where Mr. Lincoln had his quarters, capture him and send him off with a trusty party back over the river to Richmond.

Johnson then continues by describing how the railroad and telegraph between Baltimore and Washington were to be severed, and that the command was to be split after kidnapping Lincoln – a small part was to take Abe to the Confederate capitol, with the larger part acting as a diversionary pursuit through Maryland, perhaps Pennsylvania, and possibly even into Canada.  Johnson concludes the description of his mission:

The object was to create such confusion among the telegraph and railroad and commanding officers that the small detachment having Mr. Lincoln in charge, would escape without attracting attention, while pursuit would be directly solely to us [Johnson and the larger force].  This was my plan, however, and I set out to execute it.

And set out to execute it he did.  Johnson reshod his command (the Maryland Line) and was readying for the mission when Gen. Jubal Early put a stop to it.  Early informed him that he was readying to march on Washington himself, a plan that ultimately failed.  Lincoln was, of course, the victim of an untold number of death threats and kidnapping plots and efforts, but I had never seen this particular one by Johnson (and approved by Hampton) before.  This plot is apparently different (and was hatched prior to) the larger raid planned later, since this one was to be carried out only by Johnson and about 250 men. One can only guess how high up the foodchain this particular plot may have gotten – to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or neither – but it’s interesting to think that it was presented and approved at least as high as the commander of the cavalry corps.


Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 3:57 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. JD,

    Given that it was just over 90 days after the failed Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some linkage between the two events. I wonder if there wasn’t some element of tit-for-tat involved there, and I also can’t help but wonder if the idea didn’t originate with the failed Dahlgren raid.

    If Dahlgren’s 500 men were insufficient to succeed in capturing Davis, I’m not sure how Johnson ever thought he could succeed in getting to Lincoln with only 250 men.


  2. Indeed, Eric – and as Johnson writes, he was proposing it to Hampton for a couple months prior, so that would put it right after the failed Dahlgren Raid. Perhaps Johnson was mulling it over for some time after, and then finally proposed it to Hampton.  Too bad Johnson never mentions Dahlgren – it’d be nice to see a connection in writing if there ever was one, but perhaps the writing’s on the wall.

    It’s a very interesting twist on those events – until I read it in this article, I hadn’t picked up on that version of such a plot before.


  3. J. D.,

    It is indeed, and I believe that it’s discussed in Come Retribution. You might want to have a look at that.


  4. Bradley T Johnson was a prolific writer and speaker after the war, unfortunately he didn’t write his memoirs. I’ve oftened wondered why this Princeton graduate and Lawyer didn’t put his war experiences in book form. He would be an interesting person to read about. Hampton gave him a sword for his actions against Dahlgren and Kilpatrick and commended him…..

    “I cannot close my report without expressing my appreciation of the conduct of Colonel Bradley T. Johnson and his gallant command. With a mere handful of men he met the enemy at Beaver Dam, and never lost sight of him until he had passed Tunstall’s Station, hanging on his rear, striking him constantly, and displaying throughout the very highest qualities of a soldier. He is admirably fitted for the cavalry service, and I trust that it will not be deemed an interference on my part to urge, as emphatically as I can, his promotion.

    Captain Lowndes, Lieutenant Hampton and Dr. Taylor, of my staff, accompanied me, and rendered me great assistance. I have the honor to be,

    Very respectfully yours,
    WADE HAMPTON, Major- General.”


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