Charles Gustavus Ulric Dahlgren


Charles Gustavus Ulric Dahlgren was born on August 13, 1811, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Bernard Ulric Dahlgren, was the first Swedish consul to the United States; his mother, Margaret Rowan, was of a prominent Pennsylvania family. His brother was Admiral John Dahlgren, USN, and his stepdaughter Sarah Dorsey was a prominent nineteenth-century novelist. Originally on course for a career in the navy like his brother, after brief service Dahlgren entered the banking business as private secretary to Nicholas Biddle, president of the Bank of the United States. Dahlgren was soon sent to establish a branch of that bank in New Orleans. After a brief period there he left to work as a cashier of the bank's Natchez, Mississippi, branch. Though his first marriage (to the widow Mary Routh Ellis, daughter of Job Routh) Dahlgren came into extensive plantation holdings in Mississippi and Louisiana, and over two hundred slaves. By 1860 Dahlgren had accumulated a huge fortune through his cotton planting and the ownership of a substantial plantation supply firm in Natchez. A big, burly man and "a tempestuous son of a tempestuous family," Dahlgren also accumulated a "fantastic record of successful duels and dead rivals" both in the navy and thereafter, along with a large collection of dueling scars.

On July 8, 1861, Dahlgren was made a brigadier general of Mississippi state troops and placed in charge of the southwest Mississippi area. His 3rd Brigade (3rd and 7th Mississippi Infantry regiments), stationed at Pass Christian, helped guard the Mississippi coast against Union invasion. Although the invasion never came, local leaders vehemently denounced Dahlgren's leadership. When he ordered the brigade to evacuate Pass Christian because of lack of supplies a local newspaper said the retreat evinced "great timidity and an entire ignorance of the geography of the country." The historian of the 3rd Mississippi considered Dahlgren "indecisive and quite unimaginative as a field commander.... Dahlgren would continually wire either the governor or the military board for direction on nearly every decision that he would make, regardless of how minute."' Like other Mississippi state generals, Dahlgren fought not against the Union troops but against Confederate government efforts to muster his state volunteers into Confederate service. By November, 1861, the Confederate army had taken over the defense of the coast, and the troops of the brigade were sent elsewhere. When President Davis placed Major General Mansfield Lovell over him, Dahlgren angrily resigned his post. In January, 1862, the governor appointed him state commissioner to oversee the construction of gunboats. Later in 1862 he commanded the post of Fayette, Mississippi (though without troops, the locals failing to turn out to defend their homes); his zeal and patriotism in evacuating supplies in the face of Yankee advances was commended by General P. G. T. Beauregard, Confederate commander in Mississippi. After 1862 Dahlgren saw no more active duty. He spent the remainder of the war drawing up strategic plans for the southern armies and submitting them to President Davis. When the president, inundated with other plans sent by amateur strategists, failed to adopt his plans, Dahlgren published them in the local newspapers, implicitly criticizing the plans Davis had adopted. This habit could not have endeared Dahlgren to the president, or helped his chances for a Confederate army commission.

When the war ended, Dahlgren (his fortune swept away, his plantations confiscated) settled briefly in New Orleans. In 1870, owing to ill health, he spent several months in Nashville, the home of his second wife, then removed his family to Winchester, Virginia. In 1876 he moved again, to Brooklyn, New York, and worked in New York City as a public accountant and lawyer. He died in Brooklyn on December 18, 1888. Dahlgren is buried in the Natchez City Cemetery.

Heitman and SHSP list Dahlgren as a general on the strength of his command of the state troops, some of whom served in the Army of the West in 1861. His general's appointment derived from the state of Mississippi.

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Reference:  More Generals in Gray.  Bruce S. Allardice.  A companion volume to Generals in Gray.  Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.