Today in History: The Plot to Burn New York City to the Ground

Today in History: The Plot to Burn New York City to the Ground

By M.C. Millman

On this day in history, November 25, 1864, eight southern operatives known as the Confederate Army of Manhattan, plotted to burn down New York City during the near end of the Civil War. 

The plan was to burn down as many buildings as possible within New York City so as to overwhelm the New York City fire brigade. The day chosen to pursue the plot was Evacuation Day, which marks the day in 1783 when the British Army left New York City at the end of the Revolutionary War. 

On Friday night, of Evacuation Day 1864, at around 8:45 p.m., the eight members of the group attempted to start fires in nineteen different New York hotels, plus a theater and P. T. Barnums American Museum. 

Fortunately for New York, the men were not skilled enough in starting fires as most of the attempts either didn't catch on fire or were quickly put out, nixing the hopes of the Confederate Army of Manhattan of paralyzing the city with multiple fires at the same time. 

Of the eight arsonists, only Robert Cobb Kennedy was caught two months later when he was attempting to travel from Canada to Richmond, Virginia. 

His military hearing began on January 17, 1865. Although there was no circumstantial evidence presented nor any witnesses to Kennedy's alleged participation in any acts of arson, Kennedy was found guilty and sentenced to hang. 

Kennedy was executed on March 25, 1865 - the last Confederate operative executed by the United States government during the Civil War. 

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