Right around this time of year, 159 years ago, a rather extraordinary incident occurred here at Tuckahoe. Or did it?
Local legend tells of an encounter between Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren of the Union Army and Virginia Allen, the mistress of Tuckahoe at the time. Dahlgren and General Kilpatrick had devised a plan to attack the Confederate capital of Richmond and were maneuvering their men into position between February 28 and March 3, 1864. Dahlgren and his men were being guided by an African American man named Martin Robinson. The group attempted to cross the James River not too far from Tuckahoe but were unable to cross due to recent heavy rains. Enraged by this setback and thinking that Robinson deliberately misled the men, Dahlgren reportedly hanged Robinson from a tree with his own horse reins.
Tradition says that shortly after this violent event, Dahlgren made his way to Tuckahoe, approaching the main house along the driveway, Cedar Lane. Having received a warning of his approach, Virginia Allen stood ready and waiting to greet him, dressed in her finest with a pair of pistols strapped to each hip. Supposedly, Dahlgren recognized her from parties that the two attended together up north as the families had known each other and been on friendly terms. Virginia asked after his family and Dahlgren was invited inside the house to rest and relax while his men watered their horses outside. After a brief visit, Dahlgren left Tuckahoe leaving most if not all of the property untouched.
While this makes for a fascinating story, we must question whether it actually happened at all. We know for certain that Dahlgren was in the area as his troop movements have been recorded quite close to the property. But there has been no evidence or documentation found to prove that he actually came to Tuckahoe and had any such interaction with Virginia Allen. Perhaps such evidence does exist and has yet to be found. If it did happen, it could certainly be one explanation as to why we still have so many original buildings intact on the property. Or perhaps it was simply a story that was fabricated and embellished over the years for dramatic purposes. Our research, as ever, continues and perhaps one day we will be able to say for certain what happened here on that day in 1864.
*To learn more about the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid of 1864, check out the book Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce Venter.