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 wars 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 Lincolns assassination. When that scam landed him in prison, he started a new one offering fake proof of Andrew Johnsons complicity in the murder to Radical Republicans trying to impeach the President. Although Dunhams 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.
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“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