BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The South Almost Won

The South had become particularly concerned when Lincoln appointed Grant the Commander and Chief of the Union Army that he and his second in command; William Tecumseh Sherman was going to engage in a scorched earth policy. They believed that his plan would ultimately prove successful and that if something was not done by the South to head it off or come up with an alternative plan that would bring them victory, all would be lost. The Southern intelligence people went to work on creating a strategy that not only would divert Grant but could well win the war as well. They would send commandoes into New York, dressed as ordinary businessmen. These southern forces would set fire to New York’s hotels and other prominent buildings as a diversion while another group would take control of key buildings in and around the city such as the jail where they would free the prisoners, the police department, the Federal Buildings and probably the most import, Fort Lafayette where captured Southern Troops were housed.

Primarily the fires would set off by something called “Greek Fire” a liquid that looked like water but one that would cause an incendiary reaction within five-minutes of being placed next to anything flammable. Thus, the commandos could not only commit their espionage but would still have time to escape. The timing of the plot would be set to occur soon after all of the disguised soldiers had entered New York City and were in place. They would be tipped off as to when to attack by an article that would be placed in Richmond Whig, a prominent southern newspaper. Naturally the article would be in could and it would be surrounded by a planted story that would be exciting enough  to be picked up by the New York Daily News, what at the time sympathized with the South.

However, in spite of the well-laid plans, the north got wind of what was going on and started making arrangements to grab the offenders in the act. News was sent to them through this ingenious newspaper channel and part of the plan was discarded. Instead of taking over the official building and releasing prisoners, the plotters would set fire to literally every hotel in New York and cause a panic. This at least would be a major public relations victory for the South. As it turned out the underground operatives were successful in starting numerous fires and with the use of their “Greek Water” many were able to escape. However, the north hardly mentioned the fact in their releases and the New York Papers remained mum on the subject and the hoped for psychological victory did not occur.

The commander of the espionage army, Robert Kennedy escaped as well, but he was well known among Union Forces and a $25,000 reward was posted for his capture. This was a prodigious amount of money for those times and he was soon brought to trial where he was hung when he refused to give the court the names of his co-conspirators. Many historians were of the mind that if the original plan had not been discovered by the northern intelligence people, it would have been successful and this crushing victory would have won them the Civil War. Interestingly enough, the only way that the south could communicate with their secret forces in the north was by newspaper because all other routes had been successful blocked.

This to story some degree reminds us of the fears expressed by U.S. intelligence people when the bin Laden tapes first appeared. They became almost paranoid over the fact that by airing them on television, it would be sending secret messages to al Qaeda members to engage in destructive activities. 

 

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