Monday, May 24, 2010

Confederate Espionage

Tonight in my class The History of American Spying, we learned about some Covert Actions the South did during the Civil War that I thought were worth reporting.

First, in the summer of 1864 near the end of the war, there were all these painters along the coast of Maine doing-up real top-notch landscape portraits. A real artists' community sprang up, as if this group of painters was fed up with the years of war and were trying to get back in touch with nature. These were actually all Confederate spies who infiltrated Maine from Canada and their true purpose was to map out the coast of Maine for a proposed Naval invasion of the North by Confederate pirates from Quebec. Pretty neat huh?

Another case was that of the insidious Dr. Blackburn. He was chief of medicine at a hospital in Bermuda, but was a Southern sympathizer. He had the idea of carrying out biological warfare on the North. Bermuda was having a Yellow Fever epidemic and he rounded up tons of infected sheets and clothing and shipped them to Army Quartermasters all over the North. Hoping they would get sick when they opened the infected packages and then spread the disease to clean Army supplies. Blackburn also sent sheets to Congress and the White House. Fortunately for the Union, Yellow Fever can only be spread through mosquito bites and not infected bed sheets. But no one knew that at the time and almost all of Blackburn's packages were opened at their intended targets.

Finally, in 1864, a group of about 50 Confederate Agents infiltrated New York City and got hotel rooms all over the city. They then mixed up big batches of homemade "Greek Fire" (barnyard napalm really) and then they smeared their rooms with it hoping to burn down New York City. There were about 50 to 60 fires all happening simultaneously. The only problem was, the Agents didn't want anyone to see the fires in their rooms until they were too large to put out. So the almost every Agent closed the heavy Victorian curtains over their windows as they fled their burning rooms. Well, wouldn't you know it, the heavy curtains were so thick they cut off the air flowing into the rooms so that almost all the fires died before they did any real damage.

I love these stories. They not only show all the crazy shit the Confederacy were willing to try to hurt the Union, but they also show how odd chance can change the outcome of the best laid plans. Just imagine if the Yellow Fever plan had worked, or the New York arson scheme? It could have been catastrophic.

History is so neat.

If I'm the only one interested in this stuff, well then, thanks for indulging me.

Originally posted on June 22, 2005 on Myspace.

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