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A Vast and Fiendish Plot : The Confederate Attack on New York City
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
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.
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February 22, 2010
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