The Lost Museum Archive

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.


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, and Others.
Attempts to Fire Shipping in the Harbor.
Important Arrests by the Police Yesterday.

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. At 9:20 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 GARDENS. 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. NICHOLAS 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.

METROPOLITAN HOTEL. 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 other hotels.

BELMONT HOTEL. [more to come...]