Elon Farnsworth and the Dulin Brothers – Conclusion

Susan Caldwell lived in Warrenton, with her four children, while her husband worked in Richmond. Throughout their years of separation, Susan wrote to her husband regularly, and with a keen eye for the events transpiring around her. In a letter begun on April 17, Caldwell explained how word of the Yankee’s approach reached the Southern troopers in the town early on the morning of April 14. Several men from the 4th Virginia rode out to verify the report, but were soon racing back through town “in full gallop” with “the Yankees in hot pursuit after them.” The Federals were so close to the Confederates “you could scarcely distinguish them from each other,” Caldwell observed. “Several shots were exchanged,” she continued, and “one of their shots took effect in mortally wounding Mr [Dulan] a member of Hampton’s Legion.”

According to Mrs. Caldwell, Dulin was shot after “his horse became unmanageable and turned into the midst of the Yankees. He was shot by a Captain – after he fell.” Though not identifying the officer, Caldwell credits him with immediately summoning a doctor “to dress [Dulin’s] wounds.” Mrs. Caldwell’s account confirms that a young man named Dulin was mortally wounded on April 14, but she does not identity Farnsworth as the man who fired the fatal shot. William Dulin could have been shot by Captain Hanley. Other questions remain: Had Dulin continued to fight after he was unhorsed? Had the fatal shot been fired in the heat of battle and quickly regretted? Or, was the man who fired the shot seeking “to clear that section of country of every male inhabitant, either by shooting, hanging, banishment, or incarceration,” as Cavalry Corps commander George Stoneman had suggested one month earlier? Mrs. Caldwell also links Billy Dulin to the Hampton Legion, rather than the 4th Virginia, though no record of his service in either command has been found.

Mrs. Caldwell does identify Captain Farnsworth as the officer who shot and killed another man, apparently on the same day that Dulin was killed. As she relates the incident, Farnsworth was at a home in Warrenton, speaking with the residents, when a man rushed in and was fatally shot by Farnsworth. Mrs. Caldwell identifies the dead man as Richard Lee, reportedly a soldier in the 4th Virginia Cavalry, but, like William Dulin, his regimental affiliation is not clear. According to Caldwell, Lee was warned not to confront Farnsworth alone, but did so anyway. From her description, it appears that Lee, in a fit of anger, went looking for Farnsworth, burst into the home where the Union officer was and gave Farnsworth no choice but to defend himself. Mrs. Caldwell could not answer her own question as to whether Lee or Farnsworth fired the first shot. This shooting raises other questions: Was Lee incensed over events earlier in the day – to include the death of young Dulin? And, did Ulysses Brooks confuse and co-mingle this incident with the earlier skirmish?

The Dulin family was devastated by the conflict. William, the family patriarch, died just prior to the war, and his wife, Elizabeth, died during the conflict, after several of her sons gave their lives for the Southern cause. Billy rests in an unmarked grave in the family cemetery, and the full circumstances of his death rest with him.

James Dulin was sent to City Point for exchange on April 13, 1863. He may have been back with his regiment in time for the Gettysburg Campaign. Belying the claim that he would never surrender, James was captured a second time on September 22, 1863, in Madison County, Virginia. He was released prior to April 1, 1864 when records show he was again serving as a scout for the cavalry. James is believed to have survived the war, but his final resting place is unknown. The veracity of the claim that James swore an oath against Elon Farnsworth rests with him.

What does any of this tell us about Elon Farnsworth? We can be certain that he held the respect and confidence of his superiors; that he was in command of the troops who captured James Dulin in March 1863; that he was in command of a counter-guerrilla operation to Warrenton on April 14, 1863, which resulted in the death of a young man named Dulin, and, thanks to Susan Caldwell, we know that he fatally shot a man in Warrenton on the same day – a man named Richard Lee. Anything else remains conjecture.

There is nothing in the historical record to suggest that Farnsworth gave any thought to either William or James Dulin in the last minutes of his life on that bloody field south of Gettysburg. It should also be remembered that the story, as related by Ulysses Brooks, while heart-wrenching, is just one person’s view – a story from a man who claimed no firsthand knowledge of these events. Elon Farnsworth is buried in Rockton, Illinois, and his version of these events rest with him.


Sources used include:

Nancy Baird, Carol Jourdan and Joseph Scherer, Fauquier County Virginia Tombstone Inscriptions

R. Brooks, Butler and His Cavalry in the War of Secession 1861-1865

Newel Cheney, History of the Ninth Regiment, New York Volunteer Cavalry

Abner Hard, History of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry Regiment

Prioleau Henderson, Autobiography of Arab

Michael Welton, editor, ‘My Heart Is So Rebellious,’ The Caldwell Letters

The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, as well as The Official Records Supplement

The Harvey Baker Letters, Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont

James Dulin’s Compiled Service Record

Old Capitol Prison Records – with thanks to Horace Mewborn

Unpublished Reports from both Maj. Edmund Pope and Capt. Elon Farnsworth in the records of the National Archives

United States Census, 1860

4 thoughts on “Elon Farnsworth and the Dulin Brothers – Conclusion

  1. Farnsworth in a gun battle with a different Reb! The story is particularly interesting in light of the story in the Regimental history where Elon Farnsworth complains about the worthless Starr revolvers that the Regiment was first given by taking one to General Sumner (if my memory is correct) where he proceeds to scare the hell out of the General demonstrating their unfitness by trying to fire the revolver unsuccessfully in the General’s tent. The weapons were replaced and as this story shows with good ones.


  2. Bob, both of us law enforcement types know the definition of a “true bill,” and any grand jury assessing this matter would not return a true bill–meaning there is zero evidence Captain Farnsworth murdered William Dulin, as alleged by U.R. Brooks. It does appear, however, that Elon Farnsworth shot and killed an enemy trooper who rashly confronted an unusually capable 8th Illinois Cav officer.
    In other words, Richard’s poor tactical judgment cost him his life. And I hate to say it, but deservedly so. Mrs. Caldwell, as you know, had no reason to lie about all this..

    My ultimate conclusion: U.R. Brooks was not a very careful historian.


    • It can be hoped that another account or report of this skirmish is waiting to be found, and if found will resolve the question as to exactly what happened to young William Dulin


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s