The wildly ambitious attack was never launched for a number of reasons, but conspirators who had infiltrated New York, motivated by vengeance, settled on a destructive alternative. Armed with incendiary devices, they fanned out across the city on one busy Friday night in November, setting fires in hotel rooms, theaters, and one of the most popular attractions in America, the huge museum operated by Phineas T. Barnum.
The plot to burn New York City created a panic as crowds rushed into the streets. But the blazes were immediately extinguished. And detectives were quickly on the trail of the Confederate operatives behind the mayhem.
New Yorkers had a great fear of fires, as much of lower Manhattan had been devastated in an colossal blaze less than three decades earlier. But thanks to ineptitude or good luck, the fiery attack on New York City proved to be just a peculiar episode during the violent years of the war.
Illustration: The Astor House hotel, one of the targets of an incendiary attack in 1864/Library of Congress
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