Monday, October 17, 2016

The Confederate Dirty War by Jane Singer

In The Confederate Dirty War, author Jane Singer reveals the history of Confederate efforts to terrorize, demoralize, and defeat the North by "unconventional means." The methods described in Singer's narrative include arson, chemical and biological warfare, and land and water mines. Singer describes how "bands of mobile operatives" and "a variety of nefarious characters" planned to carry out attacks on Northern soldiers and civilians.

Judah Benjamin
Singer begins her history by describing the conditions that led Confederate authorities to employ these "dirty" measures. She attributes the reaction to two Union actions: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren's ill-fated raid to kill "the Rebel leader Davis and his traitorous crew." In response, Confederate President Jeff Davis empowered his Secretary of State Judah Benjamin with one million dollars to fund efforts to destroy the North. 

Francis Lieber

The author explains the background of the Lieber Code of April 24, 1863, also known as Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field. President Abraham Lincoln signed General Order No. 100, or the Lieber Instructions, to provide instructions for how Union soldiers should conduct themselves in wartime. Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seldon called the code "a confused , unsorted, and undiscriminating compilation" that allowed military commanders to act justly or barbarously.

The opening chapters provide an excellent foundation to examine the various actions of the Confederacy. In chapter three, we learn about the Sons of Liberty's effort to release Confederate prisoners, create civil unrest, sabotage military and civilian targets, and assassinate public figures. Singer details the role that Felix G. Stidger played in exposing these plots and capturing the leaders. 

Singer explains the failed plot to burn New York City on November 25, 1864 using Greek Fire. The "Rebel incendiaries" set fires in numerous hotels and would have been more successful if they had opened windows to provide oxygen for their arson. 
Dr. Luke P. Blackburn
The author describes the role of Confederate spy rings headquartered in Canada in organizing chemical and biological attacks on Northern cities. We learn about Dr. Luke P. Blackburn plan to send clothing infected with small pox and yellow fever to Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington. The formula for Greek fire was supposedly improved Richard S. McCulloh. Although President Davis approved McCulloh's weapon, it was never used.


Next to the assassination of President Lincoln, the boldest plot may have been the planned bombing of the White House. Thomas F. Harney and accomplices planned to detonate a bomb when Lincoln and his cabinet met on April 10, 1865. The bomb was to have planted under the joist of the first floor which would caused the first and second floors to collapse and the ultimate demolition of the building. 

Singer concludes her narrative by revealing what happened to the Confederate conspirators after the war. 

This is a well-written documentation of the nefarious plots and the men that planned them. 

Jane Singer is an independent Civil War scholar. Her articles have been featured in the Washington Post Magazine and the Washington Times. Her research has been cited in the Chicago Sun Times. She is a consulting historian with Engel Brothers Media in New York City. She lives in Venice, California.

The Confederate Dirty War is published by McFarland Publishers. Please see The Confederate Dirty War for more information and to purchase book.

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