Civil War Book Review: A Vast and Fiendish Plot: The Confederate Attack on New York City

A Vast and Fiendish Plot
by Clint Johnson

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Citadel; 1 edition (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806531312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806531311

The Civil War has any number of small areas that lack studies.  There are many reasons for this the major one being that people tend not to buy books about these items.  For this reason, any book on these areas requires the serious student of the war to consider it.  This book falls into this category.  The failed attempt to burn New York City rated very little ink during the war of after it.  However, this area can be an absorbing look at the war behind the lines.

The publisher’s marketing is not a complete picture of this book.  First, Clint Johnson is a competent author writing a readable enjoyable book that is informative without being stuffy.   Second, this book covers much more than the plot to burn New York.

When cotton was king, New York was the king’s banker.  The city handled the international cotton trade acting as broker, banker and shipper.  Southern cotton arrived on the cities’ docks to be loaded onto transatlantic vessels.  Luxuries from Europe were loaded onto costal vessels for shipment to the South.  The city grew rich on cotton and was active in the slave trade long after it was legal to do so.  The first thing we look at is the history of the cities’ relationship with the South.  While background, this section of the book gives the reader a valuable understanding of politics during the war years.

The second major item is the Confederate Secret Service in Canada a mixture of wistful thinking, outright mismanagement and sheer stupidity.  The author walks us through a series of operations, some downright silly to some that worked.  The Saint Albans raid and bank robberies are a substantial part of this story.  This is a history that we see in bit and pieces, presented in a reasonable detail here.

Next, we have a look at Manhattan during the war years.  This is a loving recreation of a city and a time.  The author’s prose paints a picture of a bustling metropolis where wealth and poverty coexist.  The infamous Draft Riot is covered to the extent needed to help us understand the environment the arsonists are operating in.

Lat we have the plot itself.  The author uses all of the above to give us a complete picture of the environment and history of the plot.  With this foundation, we understand the failure and the bumbling.  This is a combination of the keystone cops and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight that could have turned deadly.

This is a readable enjoyable book with an attractive price that is worth reading.


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