"A Vast and Fiendish Plot": The Confederate Attack on New York City

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by Clint Johnson
     
 

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New York City, November 25, 1864. Confederate officers attempt to destroy the city with a series of lethal fires that will forever diminish it to a mere speck of an island.
What fueled these Southern patriots' rage? And what if they had succeeded?


This terrifying scenario almost became a reality following what the New York Herald declared "a vastSee more details below

Overview

New York City, November 25, 1864. Confederate officers attempt to destroy the city with a series of lethal fires that will forever diminish it to a mere speck of an island.
What fueled these Southern patriots' rage? And what if they had succeeded?


This terrifying scenario almost became a reality following what the New York Herald declared "a vast and fiendish plot." Infuriated by the Union's killing of their beloved General John Hunt Morgan and the burning of the Shenandoah Valley, eight Confederate officers swore revenge. Their method: Greek fire. Their target: Manhattan's commercial district. The daring mission could have changed the course of American history.

In the first book to bring to life this bold conspiracy in full detail, Civil War expert Clint Johnson reveals shocking facts about the treacherous alliances and rivalries that threatened nineteenth-century America. Here is the truth about this stunning event, the spirit that fueled it, and the near destruction of the world's most influential city.

"A fresh and intriguing addition to Civil War literature. . .. Johnson dispels myths and shows how Southerners sought to take revenge on a 'sister city' they felt betrayed them."
--Brion McClanahan, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers

"Insightful analysis of an amazing turn of events that nearly set New York City ablaze during the Civil War." -- David J. Eicher, author of The Longest Night

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of the Civil War's more alarming might-have-beens is reconstructed in this absorbing if padded history. Johnson (Civil War Blunders) recounts the attempt by Confederate secret agents to burn down Manhattan on the night of November 25, 1864, using what they called “Greek fire”—an incendiary concoction that ignited spontaneously on contact with air. The conspiracy went up in a puff of ineptitude—the fires, set in rooms at various hotels around the city, fizzled from lack of oxygen because the arsonists left the windows closed—but the author's meticulous study of Manhattan's 19th-century flammability shows how easily it could have launched a citywide inferno. Johnson makes the incident an index of the war's soaring intensity, setting it in the context of the Union Army's burnings of rebel cities and farms, the bumbling efforts of Confederate agents in Canada to foment insurrection in the North, and the pro-Southern sympathies of prominent New Yorkers who connived at the arson plot. The laxly edited narrative also shovels in extraneous material, including a flashback to Pickett's Charge, to make the story hotter still. Johnson's comprehensive account of this usually footnoted episode shows how close it came to becoming a major tragedy. Photos. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Civil War Times contributor Johnson (Pursuit: The Chase, Capture, Persecution, and Surprising Release of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, 2008, etc.) examines an overlooked episode of the Civil War. The author spends much of the narrative working up to the attack by members of the Confederate Secret Service in November 1864. Many of the raiders had a history with John Hunt Morgan's cavalry unit, a Kentucky-based band that had raided Indiana and Ohio with devastating effect in 1863. Morgan's death during a Union raid on his headquarters made many of his men vow revenge. Several of these men ended up in Canada as part of the Secret Service. New York was a center of commerce, specializing in the shipment of cotton and tobacco from Southern plantations to markets in Europe and New England, with hefty profits remaining in Yankee hands. Many New Yorkers also carried on the slave trade, even after it became illegal. As a result, many in the city's financial elite strongly favored the Southern cause, even after the war broke out. The vicious draft riots that erupted in 1863 were only the most violent expression of the city's sympathies. It was against this background that the Secret Service operatives planned an attack on New York, as a measure of revenge for Union burnings of Southern cities. Eight men were chosen to carry out the mission. Armed with an incendiary chemical called Greek fire, they planned to burn several hotels and the Hudson River docks. The attacks fizzled; most of the fires were discovered before they caused serious damage, and none spread beyond their initial sites. Johnson chronicles the raiders' escape, the public reaction and the subsequent fates of the participants.The author's Southern sympathies are on full display, especially in his emphasis on the New York merchants' complicity with the slave trade, but the historical material is largely novel and clearly presented. An interesting addendum to the Civil War library, but should be read with a couple of grains of salt.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780806533889
Publisher:
Kensington
Publication date:
03/01/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
0 MB

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