Elon Farnsworth and the Dulin Brothers

Part 1 of 4

But for his meteoric rise from captain to brigadier on June 28, 1863, and his death five days later in a controversial attack at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Elon Farnsworth may well have remained one of the many thousands of young men who served during the Civil War in relative anonymity. And while his promotion and death continue to drive historians to mine the historical record in search of Elon Farnsworth – the man and the soldier – he remains largely unknown.

One incident, often cited by historians attempting to flesh out Farnsworth’s personality, suggests a man who fought the war to the hilt, a man with little room for compromise, and an officer seemingly at odds with Southerners who professed to place great stock in the high-minded values of medieval chivalry. The incident is related twice by Ulysses Brooks, in his book Butler and His Cavalry in the War of Secession 1861-1865. Brooks tells a story of good versus evil, and Elon Farnsworth is the villain.

The heroes are the Dulin brothers, from Fauquier County, Virginia. Three of them, John, Lemuel and Edward, served with the 49th Virginia Infantry. James Dulin joined the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry, and William, just fifteen years of age according to Brooks, entered the service with “the famous black horse company of cavalry,” presumably referring to Company H, 4th Virginia Cavalry. Melvin, the last of the six boys died of consumption without having entered the service.

Both John and Lemuel died during the war. Lemuel was killed on July 21, 1861, at Bull Run, and John died of typhoid fever three months later near Manassas. Edward was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864, and, according to Brooks, left on the field where he was captured. Brooks tells us that Edward died in a Union prison camp, though the regimental roster does not confirm that he died in confinement. William and James, however, are the focus of the story.

According to Brooks, “William was shot down in cold blood on the corner of Main and Culpeper streets in Warrenton by a Captain Farnsworth, of a company in the Eighth Illinois Cavalry.  Several of the members of the Black Horse Cavalry were surprised in Warrenton and,” as Brooks explained, “they made a dash to escape capture…. William Dulin’s horse fell with him and while in a semi-conscious condition from the fall he was immediately shot and mortally wounded while he lay prostrate upon the street by Captain Farnsworth.” William’s outraged comrades “swore vengeance against” Farnsworth, and “had his name engraved upon their cartridge boxes.” When James, who was not present during the skirmish, heard about “the foul murder of his brother…he took a solemn oath that he would never again, under any circumstances, either give or ask quarter, and that he would take a hundred lives to pay for the life of his murdered brother.” Toward the conclusion of his story, Brooks tells his readers, “The South owes the name of Dulin a monument which should be placed at the corner of Main and Culpeper streets,” where Farnsworth reportedly killed William Dulin.

Brooks then links William’s death, as well as the oath purportedly taken by James, to Farnsworth’s death on July 3, 1863. Farnsworth, according to Brooks, feared to make the charge, ordered by Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, because he “dreaded to meet Hampton’s Brigade,” and the vengeful James Dulin. Then, relying upon the persistent rumors that the wounded Farnsworth shot himself rather than be taken prisoner, Brooks asks, “Did he think if he surrendered that he would suffer young Dulin’s fate? We know not.” Was Farnsworth’s suicide “remorse or cowardice? We know not.” Brooks concludes his first version of the story by asking, “How it must torture a high-strung man to commit such a horrible deed as did Farnsworth after killing this beardless youth Dulin.”

The account is both heart-rending and dramatic, but is the story true? Brooks gives no time frame or other specifics to help confirm the story. In the 1860 Virginia Census William Dulin is listed as twelve years of age, and thus he could have been fifteen in 1863. The roster for the 4th Virginia Cavalry, however, does not include William Dulin. Still, several unpublished Union reports, as well as a contemporary letter from a resident of Warrenton, are helpful in reconstructing some of the events behind this story. Elon Farnsworth and James Dulin did meet each other in March 1863, just weeks before a young man named Dulin was killed in Warrenton, possibly by Elon Farnsworth.

5 thoughts on “Elon Farnsworth and the Dulin Brothers

  1. Good story, better research. The usual from O’Neill. Trying to separate fact from legend is a thankless business, but somebody’s gotta do it.


  2. Bob, that story of Captain Elon Farnsworth killing William Dulin, “in cold blood,” has always struck me as “uncorroborated, probably not true.” It seems to me that if U.R. Brooks chose to savage the character and legacy of a good officer–who could not defend himself–then the least he could have done was to present hard facts to support his inflammatory “conclusions.”

    Not guilty!


  3. Great story Bob. As a student of the 8th Illinois Cavalry and as someone who’s ancestor ended the war as an officer in the 8th Illinois and who in 1863 was a Sgt. in Elon’s Company K, I would like to offer a couple of thoughts. First, I agree with the thought that Farnsworth was not one to compromise on fighting the war to the hilt. The regimental history supports this. Second, in the confusion of a cavalry ‘riot’ I would imagine such a shooting could appear cold blooded. I look forward to reading the rest of these installments. Who knows, maybe George Hupp was there?


    • Bill,
      Thank you for your comments. I think Farnsworth was well respected by his superiors and promoted on merit rather than just political connections. Gen. Stoneman turned to him repeatedly, as this story should help point out. I wish I could help with more information on your ancestor.


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