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Devil's Game: The Civil War Intrigues of Charles A. Dunham Paperback – March 18, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A showcase for political and military genius, the Civil War was also a breeding ground for epic frauds, according to this engaging historical study of a great period con-artist. A New York City lawyer and Democratic hack, Charles Dunham found the wartime atmosphere of suspicion and hysteria a perfect climate for his talents as forger, propagandist and agent provocateur. Working (probably) with Union officials, Dunham invented a stable of fictional identities, some of whom fomented fake Confederate raids, sabotage operations and assassination plans, while others reported on these imaginary plots in Northern newspapers to arouse public ire and smear Copperhead opponents of the war. The network of false personas grew so complex that at one point Dunham offered a reward for his own capture and was duly arrested. At war’s end, his machinations grew murkier, as he set up a "School of Perjury" to provide phony witnesses, including his wife and brother-in-law, to investigators looking for evidence to incriminate Jefferson Davis in Lincoln’s assassination. When that scam landed him in prison, he started a new one offering fake proof of Andrew Johnson’s complicity in the murder to Radical Republicans trying to impeach the President. Although Dunham’s labyrinthine schemes can sometimes be eye-glazing, his skillful lying and sheer chutzpah make for entertaining reading. His main historical interest, though, lies in the immense number of false leads he generated to tantalize Lincoln conspiracy theorists. Journalism professor Cummings, author of Secret Craft: The Journalism of Edward Farrer, does a fine job of untangling fact from fiction. His thorough research and careful judgments throw a revealing light on many outstanding controversies in Civil War covert operations and Lincoln conspiracy studies. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“The first extensive treatment of [Dunham’s] mendacious career. . . . Well worth reading for a glimpse at the termites that are eternally at work in the foundations of historical truth.”--Civil War Book Review



“Cumming has done a great service in so fully and carefully bringing [Dunham’s] activities to the attention of scholars and anyone interested in the more bizarre and Byzantine aspects of the Civil War."--Louisiana History

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252075196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252075193
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,433,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Abigail Scott on June 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Cumming's book on Charles Dunham -- known to many by his most prominent alias, Sanford Conover -- fills a gap in Civil War research in the most delightful manner. Dunham's various ploys, scams, and intrigues, under a dozen different alias', are fascinating and dizzying, and Cumming's clever tracking of this ellusive fellow is very satisfying. Better by far than fiction, the outlandish story of Dunham -- including his employment by the gov't to perjure at the trial of the "conspirators" to murder Lincoln -- is quite a ride.

Certainly a must-read for those who've read the Trial, and want to understand Conover's frustratingly confusing testimony.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael T. Schein on May 16, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Meticulously researched history of a con man par excellence. Cumming records as accurately as possible the "game within a game" deceptions of Dunham, which ultimately defy even the most searching attempts to untangle. This is a bit of a specialty book - possibly a bit too dense in places for some general readers - but for any historian or history buff with their head deeply in the political side of the Civil War, it is essential reading. I'm so in awe of the careful research done by Carman Cumming, and grateful for the information packed into this book, including long quotations from original source material.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most important books ever written about a political fixer who operated with impunity during the Civil War, bribing, bulling and conniving his way through the corridors of power. Nothing he said could ever be believed, and he often presented multiple sides of a story as if debating himself using fake names. But the most important element so overlooked were the letters found in his hotel that connected him to the Radical Republican Cabal that tried to prevent Lincoln's second term by running Salmon Chase against him. That cabal lost their election, but pressed on with their agenda anyway.
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