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Devil's Game

The Civil War Intrigues of Charles A. Dunham

Carman Cumming

Publication Year: 2004

The first book-length study of one of the Civil War's most outlandish and mysterious characters, Devil's Game traces the amazing career of Charles A. Dunham, double agent. _x000B__x000B_Dunham was a spy, forger, journalist, and master of dirty tricks. Writing for a variety of papers (including New York's Tribune, Herald, and World) under alternate names, he routinely faked stories, even writing contradictory accounts for different papers. Dunham also used his journalism to create new identities and then boldly cast himself to play the roles. With the help of his wife, Ophelia, he passed in and out of at least a half-dozen personae. _x000B__x000B_His characters included the vicious "Colonel" Charles Dunham, under the command of General Early; Colonel James Watson Wallace, a wounded Virginian convalescing in Montreal; and Colonel George Margrave, "one of the most cool and reckless villains in the Confederacy." In the South, he was known as Isaac Haynes, with still more aliases for his Canadian travels. Dunham would reinforce his house of cards by going so far as to have the invented characters in his ersatz stories accuse each other of heinous crimes. _x000B__x000B_Dunham achieved his greatest infamy at the war's end. Called to testify in Washington, he was the most notorious of the witnesses to swear that Lincoln's assassination had been plotted by conspirators in Montreal and Toronto, on orders from Richmond. These intrigues continued even from behind bars, as he worked tirelessly to build a network of evidence implicating President Andrew Johnson in the assassination. _x000B__x000B_Although this testimony was later discredited, until now many parts of Dunham's wartime (and postwar) career have remained shadowy. Carman Cumming sheds new light on numerous escapades, including Dunham's effort to sell Lincoln on plans for a raid to capture Jefferson Davis and a complex effort in Canada to plan--and then betray--cross-border raids. _x000B__x000B_Exhaustively researched and unprecedented in its depth, Devil's Game is a shocking portrait of a consummate chameleon. Drawing together all previous Dunham scholarship, Cumming offers the first detailed tour of Dunham's convoluted, high-stakes, international deceits. A carefully crafted assessment of Dunham's motives, personality, and the complex effects of his schemes make Devil's Game an important and original work that will change some basic assumptions about the secret operations of the Civil War.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The puzzle is far from solved, but in recent years much has been learned of Charles A. Dunham (Sandford Conover), most notorious of the witnesses who swore that Abraham Lincoln’s assassination had been ordered in Richmond and planned in Canada. A good deal of this newer material— unknown to historians for more than a century ...

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pp. xv-xvi

This book would not have been possible without the generosity of James O. Hall, noted Lincoln scholar, who offered crucial advice from the start and opened his extensive resources to me. Many others have been similarly generous, especially Joseph George Jr., professor emeritus at Villanova, who pointed me to important sources and shared unpublished material; ...

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1. Chameleon

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pp. 1-19

James Watson Wallace, Virginian officer recovering from war wounds, surfaced quietly in a remote corner of Canada East (Quebec) in the fall of 1864, at a time when the Civil War far to the south was coming to its bloody climax. At a time when Grant was squeezing in on Richmond, when Sheridan was scouring out the Shenandoah Valley, ...

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2. "Cheats and Forgeries"

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pp. 20-34

Some picture of Charles Dunham’s early life would obviously help in the attempt to understand the man who made himself into the Civil War’s most remarkable Chameleon. Unfortunately, that early life emerges only in a few uncertain images, mostly from his frauds and shady political games. ...

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3. Castle Thunder

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pp. 35-55

Charles Dunham’s four months in the Confederacy from April to July 1863 are in many ways the most fascinating of his career, bringing into focus, but without finally answering, the crucial questions of whether he was loyal to either side. A good deal is now known about that adventure, material that shows up mainly in two collections of Joseph Holt’s papers, ...

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4. Reptile Journalist

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pp. 56-80

If Dunham’s Southern adventure hints of a Washington connection, much stronger circumstantial evidence shows up in his year as a Northern “journalist” from the fall of 1863 to the fall of 1864, especially in his New York Tribune work as Sandford Conover. The range of his known fakes, not to mention suspected ones, ...

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5. Southern Life

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pp. 81-94

Throughout the Civil War, Northerners were hungry to learn of conditions in the Confederacy, and Charles Dunham’s reports helped satisfy that desire. As William Hanchett would note much later, Dunham’s sketches of Southern life were vivid, ranging from the distress of Richmond’s old elites and the spread of prisons and brothels ...

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6. Fire in the Rear

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pp. 95-122

If Charles Dunham’s career in Canada was a riddle wrapped in an enigma, the enigma was the Confederates’ “fire in the rear” campaign, mounted in the summer and fall of 1864 to get at the Union along its vulnerable northern border. Both his employer (if he had one) and his motives are still unclear. ...

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7. A Message from Richmond

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pp. 123-144

If Abraham Lincoln’s assassination provides a textbook case of a nation in trauma, Dunham’s performance is a model of cynical exploitation. Literally, the death transformed his life. Left as flotsam on the edge of a receding war, he now found himself a center of attention. Wild inventions he had written months before became evidential gems. ...

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8. "Private Business"

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pp. 145-159

The point when Charles Dunham’s many identities began to melt together can be set precisely: at just after 2 P.M. on June 8, 1865, in the William Ennis saloon in Montreal, at the corner of Great St. James and McGill Streets. On that day, “Wallace” and “Moseby” were meeting with smuggler John (Dick) Cameron, ...

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9. School for Perjury

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pp. 160-180

In the summer of 1865, Dunham launched his most intricate (and best-documented) game, still exploiting Holt’s lust to hang Jefferson Davis. On July 26, nineteen days after the Washington executions, at a time when he was being widely attacked, he sent Holt a tantalizing offer: ...

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10. Plots "Shrewd and Devilish"

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pp. 181-198

The six-month period between Dunham’s exposure in May 1866 and his arrest in November are as Byzantine as anything in his career. It appears that during this time he did an astounding turnaround and conspired with a group of leading ex-Confederates, and also with James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, to bring down Joseph Holt and free Jefferson Davis ...

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11. Scorpions in a Bottle

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pp. 199-212

Charles Dunham’s prosecution for perjury, when it finally came, was begun reluctantly, was limited in scope, and was marked by a series of bizarre and unexplained happenings. At one point in the process, the prosecution actually blocked testimony from a key Dunham friend who could have greatly widened the revelations. ...

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12. Impeachment

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pp. 213-237

Dunham’s part in the Radical Republican attempt to bring down President Andrew Johnson was his last big play, and one of the most astonishing of an astonishing life. It is also, like so much in his record, still open to interpretation. Either he or his Radical allies (or both) told outrageous lies about their dealings. ...

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13. "Protean Maneuvers"

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pp. 238-246

Five days after the White House released Dunham’s packet of documents betraying the Radical Republicans, his victims struck back by publishing, on August 15, 1867, the four depositions on his alleged plot the summer before with friends of Jefferson Davis. While these documents showed the full range of the Chameleon’s loyalty swings, ...

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14. Letters from Albany

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pp. 247-262

Dunham’s letters from prison at Albany serve as a last resource of material revealing his views and actions. Among other things, they show that in the penitentiary he kept on plotting and scheming over fakes such as the Booth-Johnson correspondence, at one point subtly threatening to write memoirs that would feature these embarrassing documents. ...


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pp. 263-290


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pp. 291-296


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pp. 297-305

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252075193

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2004