Few Georgetown students realize that there is a conspiracy theory on campus surrounding ColonelUlric Dahlgren and his alleged mission, known as the “Dahlgren Affair,” to assassinate the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, during the Civil War.

If Dahlgren’s name sounds familiar, it should, since Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart bears Ulric’sfamily’s name. According to Fr. Emmet Curran, S.J., before the chapel’s construction in the 1890s, the Trinity Church on 36th street served as the center for student worship, but an opportunity soon arose for the university to have its own on-campus place of worship.

The Dahlgren family was one of rich military tradition. Ulric‘s father, John A. Dahlgren not only invented a revolutionary new gun, called the Dahlgren gun, but he also served as an admiral in theU.S. Navy.

On the eve of the Civil War, Ulric joined the Union army. He quickly established himself as a brave and valiant soldier, losing one of his legs below the knee in a cavalry skirmish after the Battle of Gettysburg.

After quickly rising through the ranks, becoming a colonel, he quickly volunteered to be part of a daring operation, a 4,000-man cavalry raid to liberate the Union inmates at Libby Prison and Belle Isle, but in Richmond, Va.

“To reconnoiter the area, Dahlgren posed as a Union deserter and spent a month in the Richmond environs at the beginning of 1864,” Fr. Curran said.

Then, in late February, Dahlgren led a 500-man detachment of General Kilpatrick’s cavalry force to liberate the prisons.

The raid was ultimately unsuccessful and Dahlgren and most of his men died in the attempt. Dahlgren’s body was quickly recovered by the Confederacy and according to an article in the Virgina Magazine of History and Biography, published in April 1964, Dahlgren’s orders to burn Richmond and kill Jefferson Davis, known as the “Dahlgren Papers,” had been found and read by the Confederates.

These papers, allegedly discovered on the colonel’s corpse, have been voraciously questioned since their discovery with speculation of forgery.

If these papers are in fact authentic, they may serve to cast the relationship between the North and South in an entirely new light.

“Duane Schultz, in his The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War, makes a pretty convincing case that the papers were forged by Confederates to provide the justification for their own campaign of terror and assassination in the north, ” Fr. Curran said.

Fr. Curran continued, “Eric J. Wittenberg, in his Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, concludes that the papers were authentic, that Dahlgren was the instrument for the carrying out of a plan concocted by Secretary of State Edmund Stanton.”

Regardless of the validity of the assissination plot, Georgetown University decided to name the newly constructed Dahlgren Chapel after the Dalhgren family, since the then-recent Georgetown graduate, John Vinton Dahlgren, experienced the death of his young son and asked the university for permission to lay his body in college grounds. Although the chapel was not named after Ulric Dahlgren, the family’s name on the historic worshipping site will forever keep alive the story of the Dahlgren Papers in the Dahlgren Affair.

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