“New York Is Worth Twenty Richmonds”


In spite of this information, only one of the Rebels was caught and tried. Kennedy, whose limp had been noted at several hotels, was easily spotted as he and Ashbrook purchased tickets in Toronto for a train bound for Detroit. A telegram was dispatched to two of Young’s men there. They boarded the train as it stopped briefly at a junction outside the city. Ashbrook, who was sitting by himself in the same car as Kennedy, saw the two detectives as they were going from car to car looking for the Rebels; he opened the window by his seat and jumped out into the snow outside. The detectives failed to see Ashbrook escape, but they found Kennedy as he limped from the station once the train reached Detroit. He was arrested and returned to New York for trial by a military commission.

While in prison Kennedy wrote appeals for help to a number of Copperheads, McMaster and Benjamin Wood included, but each disavowed any knowledge about him or the plot when confronted by the police, who had intercepted the letters. Only circumstantial evidence was offered by the prosecution at Kennedy’s trial, but the spirit of vindictiveness held sway. Found guilty of spying and of arson, Kennedy was hanged at Fort Lafayette on March 25, 1865.

Of the others, only Martin was ever captured, near the end of the war, as he was trying to help Jefferson Davis to escape. He implicated himself by boasting to a fellow inmate in the military prison at Louisville, Kentucky, about his role in the plot. The other prisoner informed the authorities, and Martin was soon transferred to Fort Lafayette to await trial on charges of being a spy. By then the war was over, and no trial was ever held; a state supreme court judge ruled that since the writ of habeas corpus had been restored, civil law was again paramount to military law. Martin was subsequently turned over to New York authorities for trial on civil charges of arson; this time, a federal judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the charges, and Martin was freed.

In the years after the war Martin became a tobacco merchant. He lived first in Indiana and then for several years in New York City before finally settling in Louisville. When the old war wound in his lung began hemorrhaging, he returned to New York for treatment, dying there in 1900. Headley joined Martin in Indiana for a while and eventually also settled in Louisville. He was secretary of state of Kentucky from 1891 to 1896. When last heard of, in 1905, Ashbrook was an insurance broker in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Harrington became a,lawyer for the Southern Pacific Railroad and settled in Los Angeles. What happened to Chenault is unknown.

As for the mastermind of the plot, Thompson, he fled to England but finally returned to the United States, settling in Memphis, Tennessee, with much of his prewar fortune intact.

The night before he was executed, Kennedy, who had maintained his innocence until then, confessed to his part in the plot to burn New York. Had all his comrades “done as I did,” he declared, “we would have … played a huge joke on the Fire Department. … We desired to destroy property, not the lives of women & children although that would of course have followed in its train.”