The Plot, The New York Times, November 27, 1864
This long newspaper account details the discovery of the November, 1864 Confederate plot to burn down New York City's prominent public places and praises the police and fire personnel whose actions minimized the plot's impact. It also includes a blow-by-blow description of how the fires were discovered and successfully extinguished at each location targeted by the conspirators.
FULL AND MINUTE PARTICULARS
HOW THE PLAN WAS CONCEIVED
HOW ITS EXECUTION FAILED
Names of the Hotels and Buildings Fired.
The Astor, St. Nicholas, Fifth-avenue, Lafarge, St. James,
Metropolitan, Howard, United States, Love-Joy's, Tammany, Belmont, Hanford,
Attempts to Fire Shipping in the Harbor.
Important Arrests by the Police Yesterday.
STRINGENT ORDERS FROM GENERAL DIX.
The diabolical plot to burn
the City of New-York, published yesterday morning, proves to be far
more extensive than was at first supposed. It has already proved to
the entire satisfaction of the authorities, that the affair was planned
by the rebels and has been in preparation for a long time past, the
men selected to perform the work were sent to this City at various times
and under various pretexts, and arriving here they formed themselves
into a regularly organized band, had their various officers, including
a treasurer, whom they could always find, and who was always ready to
supply them with the money necessary to carry out their infernal work,
and they proceeded deliberately to mature their plans for one of the
most fiendish and inhuman acts known in modern times.
The plan was excellently well
conceived, and evidently prepared with great care, and had it been executed
with one-half the ability with which it was drawn up, no human power
could have saved this city from utter destruction. It was evidently
the intention of the conspirators to fire the city, at a given moment,
at a great many different points, each as far remote from the other
as possible, except through Broadway, and this thoroughfare they wished
to see in a complete blaze, from one end to the other. To do this, they
commenced at the St. James Hotel, corner of Broadway and Twenty-Fifth-street,
next the Fifth-avenue Hotel, extending from Twenty-third to Twenty-fourth-street,
then (missing the New-York Hotel, which it seems was not included in
their list) The Lafarge House and Winter Garden Theatre, just below
Amity-street; next followed the St. Nicholas, Metropolitan, Howard,
Belmont, and others. In all thirteen of our principle hotels. About
the same time several hay barges along the river were set on fire, and
attempts were made to fire Barnum's Museum and other public buildings.
Had all these hotels, hay barges, theatres, &c., been set on fire at
the same moment, and each fire well kindled, the Fire Department would
not have been strong enough to extinguish them all, and during the confusion
the fire would probably have gained so great a headway that before assistance
could have been obtained, the best portion of the city would have been
laid in ashes. But fortunately, thanks to the Police, Fire Department,
and the bungling manner in which the plan was executed by the conspirators,
it proved a complete and miserable failure.
The intention of these cowardly
wretches to fire the city came to the knowledge of Mr. JOHN DECKER,
chief of the New-York Fire Department, some days [one word, unreadable]
He immediately informed the police, and took such steps as would render
the noble Department under his command most efficient, make their [one
word, unreadable] most united, and prevent as far as possible any confusion.
The police immediately com-[one and a half words, unreadable] to investigate
the matter, but at first all their endeavors to gain any information
were baffled. Mr. JOHN YOUNG, chief of the detective corps., and his
entire force, were constantly at work night and day. Immediately after
the first alarm was given, Chief YOUNG, went to the Metropolitan Hotel,
told the proprietors what was anticipated, and urged them to set double
watches through all the halls, and to examine each and every room throughout
the house, no matter who might be its occupant. He also sent similar
messages to the other hotels, and had his advice been heeded, many of
the fires would have doubtless have been prevented. He personally superintended
and directed his force, and was untiring in his exertions to destroy
all unity of action between the rebel emissaries, and to secure as many
of them as possible. In all his efforts he was ably seconded by his
men, not one flagged. Neither sleep nor rest was thought of, and every
moment was devoted to the great work they had in hand. Their exertions,
it is pleasant to be able to record, have been quite successful. Already
several of the gang have been arrested, and a great quantity of the
strongest kind of evidence obtained against them. The police are on
the track of the others, and it is more than probable that before tomorrow
closes all of them will be in custody. The police are also in possession
of a great deal of information which it is not proper now to publish,
but which promises most satisfactory results.
The woman, who, from her singular
action and rapid moving from hotel to another, was thought to be concerned
in the affair, and who was arrested on Friday evening, was yesterday
brought before Superintendent KENNEDY for examination. She proved to
his satisfaction that she was entirely innocent, and indeed that she
first called the attention of a chambermaid to the fire at the Metropolitan
Hotel. She was immediately discharged.
Maj.-Gen. Dix has acted in
the matter with a promptitude and decision which deserves the unqualified
praise of the loyal citizens. In an order published yesterday, he declares
these incendiaries to be engaged in secret acts of hostility, and that
they can only be regarded as spies "subject to martial law and to the
penalty of death. If they are detected, they will be immediately brought
before a Court-martial or military commission, and, if convicted, they
will be executed without the delay of a single day."
Superintendent KENNEDY and
President ACTION were constantly in attendance at Police Headquarters,
and had their plans and forces so arranged that in case any disturbance
had occurred it would have been immediately suppressed.
In addition to the hotels published
yesterday morning as included in the plan, are those of the Astor, the
Fifth Avenue, the United States Hotel, the Howard Hotel, on Broadway,
and the New-England Hotel in the Bowery. These houses were, as was also
the Belmont in Fulton st., fired after 1 o'clock yesterday morning. Some
of them as late as 2 1/2 o'clock yesterday A.M. Fortunately the fire in
each case was discovered in time to prevent much damage the St.
Nicholas has probably suffered the worst--the damage there will probably
amount to $3,000. Lovejoy's Hotel was set on fire twice. The first attempt
to burn it was about 10 1/2 o'clock, and the second at near 12 o'clock.
Below we give further particulars as to this hotel.
THE LAFARGE HOUSE.
P. M., the fire was discovered in one of the front rooms on the third
floor of the Lafarge House, situated opposite Bond-street, on the west
side of Broadway. Immediately after the alarm was given, the boarders
and employees in the establishment repaired to the spot whence the flames
proceeded, and in a short time the fire was extinguished. The damage
to the building and furniture was slight. The police of the Fifteenth
Precinct report, that beyond all doubt the fire was the work of an incendiary.
It was found that a bottle of phosphorus had been emptied on the bedding,
and also on the furniture, all of which were found burning in the room
when the door was burst open. The police report that the entire damage
to this house will not exceed $250. The room in which the fire was discovered
was taken by a Mr. J. B. RICHARDSON, of Camden, New Jersey, who was
out of the room at the time of the fire.
THE EXCITEMENT AT WINTER
When the alarm of fire was given at the Lafarge the excitement became
very intense among the closely-packed mass of human beings in Winter
Garden Theatre adjoining the Lafarge, and but for the presence of mind
of Mr. BOOTH, who addressed them for the stage of the theatre, telling
them there was no danger, it is fearful to think what would have been
the result. There was only the usual number of policemen and watchmen
in attendance, and the panic was such for a few moments that it seemed
as if all the audience believed the entire building in flames, and just
ready to fall upon their devoted heads. In addition to what Mr. BOOTH
said from the stage, Judge McCUNN rose in the dress circle, and in a
few timely remarks admonished them all to remain quietly in their places,
and at the same time tried to show them the danger which would attend
a pell-mell rush for the doors, and especially the uselessness of it,
inasmuch as the theatre part of the building was known to be on fire.
The presence of a squad of policeman soon after so reassured the audience
that with few exceptions, they remained until the close of the performance.
THE UNITED STATES HOTEL.
This hotel, situated on the corner of Fulton and Pearl streets, was among
the victims. According to the Second Police Precinct returns, about [one
word, unreadable] o'clock on Friday evening, flames were discovered issuing
from a room on the upper or fifth floor of the building. This room, it
appears, had been taken by a young man, who, carpet-bag in hand, had that
afternoon appeared at the office of the hotel and asked for a room. He
desired one in the lower part of the building, but when told that the
house was pretty full and he could have a room on the upper floor, he
consented to occupy it, though apparently with great reluctance. When
the alarm was given, of course this travelling stranger was [one word,
unreadable]. The fire was promptly extinguished, with [three words, unreadable].
Upon inquiry at the hotel, we find that the [one word, unreadable] and
appearance of this young man excited somewhat the suspicions of the man
in the office, but not sufficiently, it would seem, to put the proprietor
on his guard. It is believed that he was disguised with a wig and false
whiskers, as well as otherwise, and that it will therefore be very difficult,
if not impossible, to identify him. This last remark will doubtless apply
to all of the villains who have taken a part in the nefarious business.
THE HOWARD HOTEL.
On Tuesday last, a man giving the name of S. M. HARNER came to the Howard Hotel,
corner of Broadway and Maiden-lane, and registered his name as coming
from Philadelphia. He was given a room on the fourth floor. At 3:30
o'clock yesterday morning the night watchman discovered that an attempt
had been made to set fire to the room occupied by HARNER. The bed-clothing
had been saturated with inflammable material, phosphorus had been used,
and the furniture was all piled upon the bed. Fortunately it was discovered
in time to prevent damage.
THE ASTOR HOUSE.
Upon looking over the morning papers yesterday, the guests of the Astor
congratulated each other that their favorite hotel had escaped the general
raid which it seemed to them had been made upon nearly all of the first-class
New-York hotels. Mr. STETSON, the proprietor, however, thought it best
that every possible precaution should be taken, and at about 9 o'clock
yesterday morning an examination was commenced of all the rooms in the
establishment. When room No. 204 on the top floor (Vesey-street side)
was opened, a dense volume of smoke burst forth, and for a time all attempts
to enter the room were fruitless. Soon after Mr. DEVOE Police Detective,
succeeded in forcing his way into the room where the fire was burning.
It was then found that a portion of the floor had been raised, a fire
built there, and the beds and their contents piled thereon. The floor
and contents of the room had been thoroughly saturated with spirits of
turpentine. The furniture of the room had been piled on the bedstead and
a fire built under them.
The person who occupied the
room is known, as he has been staying in the house since the 20th [one
word, unreadable]. There can be little doubt of his escape from justice.
The damage done to the building and furniture will not exceed $500.
Too much credit cannot be
given to Detective DEVOE, and also to the engineer, the porters and
other employes of the Astor House for the promptness with which they
acted after the fire was discovered.
THE ST. JAMES.
The fire was discovered at 8:43 o'clock at the St. James Hotel, corner of Broadway and Twenty-sixth street, but resulted in but slight damage. It originated
in one of the bedrooms, and the strong smell of phosphorus that pervaded
the apartment, and the proximity of matches to the bed clothes, disclosed
the fact that the fire was the work of an incendiary. Something like
a panic was imminent at first, but as soon as the real extent of the
damage was ascertained order was restored and the usual quiet resumed.
It is stated by the proprietors
that a man registering his name as "John School, Md.," took a room in
this house at about 5 1/2 o'clock, and that the smoke was discovered issuing
from his room by the occupant next door. Upon the door being broken open
the room was found empty, the occupant having gone, leaving a black satchel,
with a bottle of phosphorus, behind.
THE ST. NICHOLAS.
At five minutes of nine the St. Nicholas Hotel was discovered on fire,
in rooms 128, 139 and 130, situated in the middle building of the three
on the upper floor. About the same time fire broke out in bedroom 174
in the front building of the hotel. In both places the strong smell of
phosphorus and an abundance of matches in the bed clothes signified the
fire to have been the work of an incendiary. The rooms were burned completely
out, but the fire department of the hotel, under superintendence of the
proprietor, Mr. HAWKS, succeeded in confining the fire to three apartments.
Had it not been for the admirable arrangements for taking care of fires
at this house, it would have been entirely burned down. The damage done
is principally by water, and will probably amount to about $3,000. Covered
by insurance. The business of the house will not in any way be interrupted,
the parlors, dining rooms, &c., not having been damaged any whatever.
SUSPICIOUS PERSONS AT THE ST.
A well-known citizen, who boards at the St. Nicholas Hotel,
was passing through the main hall on Friday evening, on his way to his
room, just before the fire was discovered, when his attention was attracted
by the very suspicious movements of two men who were conversing in the
hall. Approaching them, he heard one say, "It's all right," when both
started for the door, and immediately left the hotel. Within a few seconds
afterward the alarm was given.
At about 10 o'clock a fire was discovered in a front room on the upper floor
of the Metropolitan Hotel, but it was speedily extinguished by the servants
of the house. An alarm was given, but before the fire-men arrived at
the hotel the danger had been passed. The damage here was estimated
at $1,500. One room only was injured. In this room were found an empty
bottle, which had contained phosphorus, a pair of heavy boots and a
valise. These articles and the bottle were taken possession of by Fire-Marshal BAKER. In the valise were found a pair of pantaloons and a pair of prunella galters. The bottle was of a description similar to that found at the