Saturday, January 16, 2010

Terrorism in the Civil War (New York City 1864)

The threat of terrorism is nothing new in American history. In 1864 the 814,000 people of New York City faced a terrorist threat by Confederate agents angered over the Union army’s ravaging of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The plot was formulated by Robert Martin, a Confederate officer who had once served under the famous Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan. Martin, with six others, planned to set fire to large hotels on Election Day, November 8, 1864, while Southern sympathizers would simultaneously begin an uprising similar to the Draft Riots of 1863 among the large teeming immigrant population living in poverty around the slum of Five Points. The Draft Riots of July 1863 shut the city down for three days as rioters burned, looted and killed. Union troops marched straight from the battlefield of Gettysburg to put down the riot. Some 118 people died.

Missing their target date by two weeks, the terrorists struck on November 25, 1864, planning to set New York ablaze with an incendiary mixture of sulfur, naphtha, and quicklime that bursts into flame when exposed to air. Over a dozen buildings were set on fire in a four hour period. The incendiary mixture did not perform as predicted and all of the fires were quickly extinguished.

New Yorkers were outraged by the attack. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper called it “The most diabolical attempt at arson and murder of which there is any record in the history of our country.” The New York Times called the plot “one of the most fiendish and inhuman acts known to modern times.”

None of the Southern agents were ever apprehended.

Link to: Secrets of American History

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