James Nevius is the author of three books about NYC, the most recent of which is Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers.
One hundred and fifty years ago, on the night of November 25, 1864, Confederate saboteurs attempted to burn down the city of New York. In a coordinated attack designed to both inflict real property damage and instill terror, the agents infiltrated a dozen of the city's finest hotels to set them on fire, including the Astor House, Saint Nicholas Hotel, and the Metropolitan Hotel. Even if the plot had worked, it would not have changed the course of the war or caused a Copperhead uprising, but it certainly would have caused long-term damage to a city that was still recovering from the bloody draft riots a year earlier. Luckily, the attack was ill-conceived and poorly executed; many of the hotel fires were set in rooms that were starved of oxygen and quickly fizzled out.
Of all the spots the saboteurs hit on November 25, only one fragment of one hotel—the Saint Nicholas—still stands, but even though it can be difficult today to get a sense of what New York looked like during the Civil War, there are a number of places around the city that were integral to New York's role in the conflict. This list is neither exhaustive—plenty of famous sites from Trinity Church to Green-Wood Cemetery were important in the era—nor does it include post-war monuments, but it maps a path through the city where you can take in a few slivers of Civil War history.Read More