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The Dahlgren Affair:
Author Duane Schultz offers a fascinating chronicle of Civil War espionage in this account of the infamous Dahlgren raid, a bold attempt by a small detachment of Union cavalry to free prisoners of war held by the Confederates in Richmond. The effort failed, but its consequences were enormous; allegedly found among slain commander Ulric Dahlgren's papers was an order to assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Schultz argues persuasively that the papers were a forgery, but whatever the truth, they started a controversy that encouraged Davis to order secret agents based in Canada to launch a campaign of terror on the Northern home front. He describes a few stunning near- misses: the Confederates once nearly captured Vice President Andrew Johnson, and in another plot almost took possession of the only warship on the Great Lakes. They also engaged in a primitive form of biological warfare: collecting the garments of yellow fever victims and distributing them in Washington, D.C. (to no apparent effect). This narrative of Civil War intrigue is sprinkled with true tales of invisible ink, railroad sabotage, and prison escapes; in one remarkable episode, a Confederate spy dresses up like a lady, attends a soiree held by Union officers, and learns critical intelligence from his talkative dance partners. All told, this is an outstanding work of popular history on an aspect of the Civil War long kept hidden. --John J. Miller [via]