Victor Vifquain authored this memoir of his and his friends’ daring attempt to kidnap Jefferson Davis. Their plot might have succeeded if events had not turned transpired as they did. Vifquain refers to himself and his friends as the characters in the book The Three Musketeers to hide their identities in the kidnapping plot. In reality, though they used their real names, but it made a better story with these code names. Vifquain tells his story in very romantic language, which stands to reason since they were living in the Victorian period.
Vifquain and his friends used their French citizenship to their advantage by getting the French ambassador to write a letter of introduction for them to present to those who questioned their citizenship. One of them was a cousin of a fellow Frenchman who was serving as a Confederate general, Prince Camille Polignac, to whom they claimed to be making their way to visit. This was only a ruse to get them behind Confederate lines. They were arrested and taken to Richmond. They were freed once their identities were confirmed by the French consul general in Richmond.
They spent days in Richmond and discovered that Davis visited Norfolk by tugboat with only a few people on board. They planned to ingratiate themselves with him and get themselves invited to join him for a trip. At the same time General George McClellan and his Union Army were moving up the peninsula toward Richmond. Eventually the Federals made it to Norfolk, ending Davis’ trips to that city and Vifquain and his friends’ plot. The Frenchmen then worked on getting back to Washington to join the Union Army.
Vifquain went on to join the 97th Illinois and won the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the battle for Fort Blakely, Alabama, in April 1865. He reached the rank of brevet brigadier general and was later involved in Nebraska politics. He was in the Spanish American War as a lieutenant colonel. He died on January 7, 1904, in Lincoln, Nebraska. He wrote the story of the kidnapping plot around 1900. The manuscript was passed from descendant to descendant until it was finally published in1999 by Stackpole Books, then published in paperback in November 2005 by the University of Nebraska Press’s Bison Books.
The plot was so secret and limited to so few that there is very little historical proof of it. There is a record, though, of the plotters having been arrested and having been in Richmond. Vifquain’s memoir needed little editing, according the editors, and indeed it flows very well. There are several black-and-white illustrations, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
The editors, Jeffrey H. Smith and Phillip Thomas Tucker, are themselves authors. Smith has written a book on Victor Vifquain’s days in the 97th Illinois entitled A Frenchman Fights for the Union: Victor Vifquain and the 97th Illinois (1992). Phillip Tucker has written several Civil War books: The South’s Finest (1993), The Forgotten “Stonewall of the West”: Major General John Stevens Bowen (1997), Burnside’s Bridge (2000), Cathy Williams (2002), Storming Little Round Top (2002), and Cubans in the Confederacy (2002).
This book is recommended to Civil War enthusiasts, public and academic libraries.