Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick and Col. Ulric Dahlgren, CSA
Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton, CSA
Both sides had roughly brigade-sized forces in the campaign; Walkerton was a much smaller engagement.
Circumstances were too confused to keep accurate casualty numbers.
On February 28, Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick left his encampment at Stevensburg with 4,000 picked men to raid Richmond. Col. Ulric Dahlgren, son of Rear Adm. John Dahlgren, commanded an advance force of 500 men. While the main body under Kilpatrick rode along the Virginia Central Railroad tearing up track, Dahlgren rode south to the James River, hoping to cross over, penetrate Richmond’s defenses from the rear, and release Union prisoners at Belle Isle.
Kilpatrick reached the outskirts of Richmond on March 1 and skirmished before the city’s defenses, waiting for Dahlgren to slash through the Confederate flank and open the way for the main column. Dahlgren, however, was delayed, and Kilpatrick lost his nerve and didn’t punch through the thin line. Eventually he withdrew with Confederate cavalry in pursuit. Hampton attacked Kilpatrick near Old Church on the 2nd, but the Federals found refuge with elements of Butler’s command at New Kent Court House. In the meantime, Dahlgren’s men, unable to penetrate Richmond’s defenses, tried to escape pursuit by riding north of the city. Dahlgren’s command became divided, and on March 2 the 200 men who stayed with him were ambushed by a detachment of the 9th Virginia Cavalry and Home Guards near Walkerton, in King and Queen County. Dahlgren was killed and most of his men captured. The other 400 had headed east, and while about 40 were killed or captured in an ambush, the rest rejoined Kilpatrick.
Papers were found on Dahlgren’s body ordering him to burn Richmond and assassinate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. As could be expected, they caused a political furor. Southerners accused the North of initiating “a war of extermination.” Meade, Kilpatrick, and Lincoln all disavowed any knowledge of the Dahlgren Papers.
Kilpatrick’s reputation was badly damaged, although his immediate superior (Alfred Pleasanton) defended him a bit. There had been a real opportunity to break into Richmond, but Kilpatrick lost his nerve at the crucial moment. If there’s anything a cavalryman needed, it was boldness, and Kilpatrick showed he lacked it – so the military results were almost entirely negative for the North. Kilpatrick was kicked out of the Army of the Potomac, sent west where he served usefully.
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