Kill Jeff Davis
The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
384 Pages | 6 x 9 | 15 b&w illus., 7 maps
In this detailed and deeply researched account of the most famous cavalry raid of the Civil War, author Bruce M. Venter describes an expedition that was carefully planned but poorly executed. A host of factors foiled the raid: bad weather, poor logistics, inadequate command and control, ignorance of the terrain, the failures of supporting forces, and the leaders’ personal and professional shortcomings. Venter delves into the background and consequences of the debacle, beginning with the political maneuvering orchestrated by commanding brigadier general Judson Kilpatrick to persuade President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to approve the raid. Venter’s examination of the relationship between Kilpatrick and Brigadier General George A. Custer illuminates the reasons why the flamboyant Custer was excluded from the Richmond raid.
In a lively narrative describing the multiple problems that beset the raiders, Kill Jeff Davis uncovers new details about the African American guide whom Dahlgren ordered hanged; the defenders of the Confederate capital, who were not just the “old men and young boys” of popular lore; and General Benjamin F. Butler’s expedition to capture Davis, as well as Custer’s diversionary raid on Charlottesville.
Venter’s thoughtful reinterpretations and well-reasoned observations put to rest many myths and misperceptions. He tells, at last, the full story of this hotly contested moment in Civil War history.
“Using every scrap of evidence that he has uncovered, including many previously overlooked by historians, Bruce Venter has painstakingly reconstructed the ill-fated Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid to free Union POWs in Richmond. Venter convincingly attributes the failure of the raid mainly to Dahlgren’s mistakes and also finds the young colonel responsible for the notorious orders to assassinate Jefferson Davis and his cabinet.”—James M. McPherson, author of The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters
“Kill Jeff Davis is a fascinating historical study centred on a rollicking good story, some questionable heroes, and a number of intriguing controversies. It is very readable, and contributes valuable insights not just into the purpose and outcomes of the Raid but into the way the war was fought outside the great set piece battles.” – Tony Chew, American Civil War Round Table (UK)