Confederate Army of Manhattan
The Confederate Army of Manhattan was a group of eight Southern operatives who attempted to burn New York City on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1864, during the final stages of the American Civil War.
In a plot orchestrated by Jacob Thompson, the operatives infiltrated Union territory from Canada and made their way to New York. On Friday night, November 25, beginning around 8:45pm, the group attempted to simultaneously start fires in 19 hotels, a theater, and P.T. Barnum's museum. The objective was to overwhelm the city's firefighting resources by distributing the fires around the city.
Most of the fires either failed to start or were contained quickly. All the operatives escaped prosecution except for one, Robert Cobb Kennedy, who was apprehended in January 1865 while trying to travel from Canada to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.
An article from February 28, 1865 describes Kennedy as follows:
Mr. Kennedy is a man of apparently 30 years of age, with an exceedingly unprepossessing countenance. His head is well shaped, but his brow is lowering, his eyes deep sunken and his look unsteady. Evidently a keen-witted, desperate man, he combines the cunning and the enthusiasm of a fanatic, with the lack of moral principle characteristic of many Southern Hotspurs, whose former college experiences, and most recent hotel-burning plots are somewhat familiar to our readers. Kennedy is well connected at the South, is a relative, a nephew we believe, of Howell Cobb, and was educated at the expense of the United States, at West Point, where he remained two years, leaving at that partial period of study in consequence of mental or physical inability. While there he made the acquaintance of Ex. Brig. Gen. E.W. Stoughton, who courteously proffered his services as counsel for his ancient friend in his present needy hour. During Kennedy’s confinement here, while awaiting trial, he made sundry foolish admissions, wrote several letters which have told against him, and in general did, either intentionally or indiscreetly, many things, which seem to have rendered his conviction almost a matter of entire certainty.
A Louisiana native and Confederate officer, Kennedy escaped from Johnson's Island Military Prison on October 4, 1864, and made his way to Canada. There, he joined with a small group of Confederate officers who had been dispatched to Canada by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to plan military raids that could be launched at the Union from politically neutral Canadian soil.
Prior to his execution he claimed that the attempt to set fire to the American Museum was “simply a reckless joke… There was no fiendishness about it. The Museum was set on fire by merest accident, after I had been drinking, and just for the fun of a scare.” He and his fellow “incendiaries” escaped to Canada after their plan failed, and Kennedy alone was captured when he tried to slip back into the United States at Detroit. He was tried, convicted, and executed on March 25, 1865, at Fort Lafayette in New York harbor.
- Roberts, Sam (November 25, 2014). "As Booths Took Stage, South's Plot Against City Fizzled". The New York Times.
- staff (February 28, 1865). "The Hotel Burning Plot". The New York Times.