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Yellow Fever Plot of 1864 Targeted Lincoln, U.S. Cities

Yellow Jack

Death as a sailor bringing Yellow Fever to New York
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

In the summer of 1864, Dr. Luke P. Blackburn, a Kentucky-born physician turned Confederate agent, allegedly instituted a bioterrorism plot against United States cities and President Abraham Lincoln. Blackburn’s goal was to “release” Yellow Fever through the distribution of infected clothing, with specific articles being sent directly to Lincoln. The plot was unsuccessful, however, mainly due to a 19th century misunderstanding of how Yellow Fever is transmitted, but also because a disgruntled fellow conspirator revealed the plot to U.S. authorities.

Yellow Fever, also known as “Yellow Jack,” after the flag that was flown from quarantined ships in harbors, was a deadly disease in U.S. coastal cities during the 1800’s (an 1853 outbreak in New Orleans, Louisiana, produced 9,000 deaths – 28% of the city’s population). The disease was notorious for causing “black vomit,” an ominous clinical sign resulting from hemorrhage in the stomach. 

General Longstreet’s Wilderness Wound

James Longstreet

Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet

Following a successful flank attack at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet was riding forward along the Plank Road when a volley of fire emerged from the woods to his right. Longstreet felt the sudden pain of a bullet passing through his neck and shoulder as he became yet another victim of friendly fire. The severity of the wound became quickly evident, as he recalled in his memoirs: “…[I]n a minute the flow of blood admonished me that my work for the day was done.”

The events associated General Longstreet’s injury were eerily similar to those surrounding Stonewall Jackson’s wounding, which occurred roughly four miles to the east, one year and four days earlier.  And although much has been written in the past 150 years about the events surrounding Jackson’s wounding and its implications, the details of Longstreet’s wounding have, for the most part, gone largely unnoticed. However, in another similarity to the Jackson event, the actual specifics of Longstreet’s injury may be in contrast to commonly held impressions.