Virtually every word of Anthony Pitch's account is based on primary source material: quotes from previously unpublished documents, diaries, letters, and journals. With an unwavering fidelity to historical accuracy, Pitch provides confirmation of threats against the president-elect's life as he traveled to Washington by train for his first inauguration, and a vivid personal account of John Wilkes Booth being physically restrained from approaching Lincoln at his second inauguration.
Perhaps most chillingly, details come to light about conditions in the special prison where the civilian conspirators accused of participating in the Lincoln assassination endured tortuous conditions in extreme isolation and deprivation, hooded and shackled, before and even during their military trial. Pitch masterfully synthesizes the findings of his prodigious research into a tight, gripping narrative that adds important insights to our national story.
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"Lincoln Shall Not Pass through Baltimore Alive"
As President-elect Abraham Lincoln's train prepared to chug noisily out of the Great Western Railroad Depot in Springfield, Illinois, on a cold, wet February 11, 1861, security officials far to the east worked overtime to prevent his assassination. The exhausting railroad journey would take him across half the country before passing through the slave state of Maryland into neighboring Washington, DC, for the inauguration on March 4. Both the state and the nation's capital teemed with slaveholders and Southern sympathizers impatient for secession and political violence. The most extreme wanted Lincoln dead and his supporters terrorized into silence. A Bostonian visiting Baltimore, who had his head shaved for calling Lincoln a gentleman, wrote the president-elect: "It will be madness for you to attempt to reach Washington at any time." But Lincoln had refused to take special precautions, spurning the offer of a Chicagoan to round up others and accompany him as bodyguards, explaining, "There is no immediate necessity for employing the proffered help." Aware of the tensions that threatened the Union and perhaps his own life, Lincoln told the well-wishers at Springfield, "I now leave not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon [George] Washington."
General Winfield Scott, seventy-four, overseeing military defenses in Washington, let slip to a few insiders that the secessionists hoped to kill the president-elect together with anyone in close line of succession and all prominent members of Lincoln's Republican Party, in the hope of decapitating the Union government and opening the way for rule by Southerners. Scott, who at six foot five was the imposing hero of the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, found a letter on his own desk vowing that Lincoln, President James Buchanan, and the general himself would be killed by Inauguration Day. There was open talk of a coup d'état. Some had threatened to block the tally of presidential electoral votes scheduled to take place inside the US Capitol on February 13. Others vowed to disrupt the inauguration less than three weeks later. The capital itself, with a population of sixty-one thousand, was in imminent danger of seizure by Maryland secessionists, who wanted to reclaim land that had once belonged to their state. A virulently anti-government group, the National Volunteers, had recently evolved from a political association into paramilitary units, their ranks swollen with slaveholders and others angered by the plummeting value of slaves and land since Lincoln's election. Many expected that the organization would take the lead in fomenting violent opposition to the incoming administration. Several hundred members had already stormed the headquarters of the victorious Republican Party in downtown Washington the night Lincoln won the election, firing pistols, ransacking the interior, terrorizing the occupants, and inciting arson before police moved in.
Rumors were rife, and some people feared that mobs might make good on threats to burn the city. Residents looking grave moved about in a state of anxiety, heightened by the sound of military drums, uneasy at the presence of so many men in uniform, and alarmed by the great number of strangers who had arrived. Washingtonians became suspiciously watchful, some taking to sleeping within easy reach of loaded firearms. The sense of peril was palpable. "I am afraid that much is kept from the ears of the timid," one woman wailed in a letter to her uncle farming twenty- five miles south of Washington. Anna Maria Thornton, widow of the first architect of the Capitol, repetitively wrote "gloomy" to register the daily mood in her diary. When a salute of thirty-four guns boomed across the city on January 29 to mark the admission of Kansas into the Union, many mistook it for the outbreak of insurrection.
Even though Scott urged his staff to be vigilant, he cautioned against rash provocation, warning, "We are now in such a state that a dog-fight might cause the gutters of the capital to run with blood."
Scott scrambled to bolster the defenses and protect public property. Five weeks before the inauguration he warned Secretary of War Joseph Holt of grave dangers to the capital unless more troops arrived. "It is not necessary to be an alarmist to believe that the Federal metropolis will be at the next inauguration — nay, on 13 February, and even much earlier — in great peril, and I am obliged to add that without a considerable augmentation of troops I do not feel that I can guarantee its safety during the next five days."
Intelligence from security agents, spies, informants, and loyalists in almost half the states, even from those in rebellion, confirmed the threat of imminent insurrection and assassination. Word from the latest clandestine meeting of the National Volunteers was that as many as two thousand men devoted to the Confederacy could be relied upon to seize the nation's capital.
Scott could not depend on Washington's militia of about four hundred men, because more than half were suspected of being disloyal and probably would defect to the rebels. The remainder were too inexperienced to be of much use. There were only one hundred policemen, with another twenty-eight Capitol police — recently doubled just for the inauguration — whose commander was ready to join the secessionists the moment neighboring Virginia made good on its threat to secede. John Blake, commissioner of public buildings, appealed to the secretary of war to arm them with muskets and ammunition because Colt pistols would be inadequate "if the building should be attacked by a considerable force." Blake had the Capitol police in a state of "unusual vigilance" to guard against "surprise by evil-disposed persons" lying in wait to sneak into the building. Scott had fewer than five hundred artillerymen, infantry, sappers, and miners, and only 240 marines to deploy. They would be spread thin guarding the city armory and other vulnerable points.
It was a combustible mix ready to ignite. Only a huge influx of loyalist forces, it seemed, could protect against assassination and save the capital from falling to the rebels. But Scott was hamstrung by regional rivalries, aware that he could not recruit help randomly from any state. "No regiment or company can be brought here from a distance without producing hurtful jealousies in this vicinity," he wrote the governor of New York. The sole exception, he noted, was the New York Seventh Infantry Regiment, which had become "somewhat national" and highly respected after escorting the remains of President James Monroe from New York to Richmond, Virginia, and for attending the dedication of a statue of George Washington in Washington. He would have called for ten thousand men to protect the capital if he had the authority, but he knew President James Buchanan would never acquiesce, believing it would ignite even more fury among secessionists in Virginia and Maryland. Scott settled for far fewer, pleading with Secretary of War Holt to transfer to Washington "at once" — or at least several days before the presidential ballot count — artillery batteries from West Point and Fort McHenry, infantrymen temporarily in Texas, and seven companies of volunteers offered by the governor of Maryland. A week later he telegraphed a military barracks in Pennsylvania for the immediate dispatch of forty mounted cavalrymen, with the remainder to follow as soon as possible.
Scott acted boldly. Even though he was aged and infirm, and his glory days long gone, he was still an icon, known by the affectionate nickname Old Fuss and Feathers for his delight in wearing colorful military uniforms. He summoned marines for temporary duty in the city, holding them in readiness to shield the area adjacent to the Capitol from violent street rioters. A day before the counting of electoral college ballots in the House of Representatives, Scott fired off orders for the deployment of specific military units to defend the White House, executive departments, and other public buildings. To safeguard against spies, rebels, or anyone else masquerading as officers acting under his authority, he ordered all general staff officers to attach blue scarves over their uniforms from the right shoulder to the left hip, to authenticate their identities to troops.
Fear of disorder was so great that the House of Representatives had set up a Select Committee in January to report whether any secret organization hostile to the US government existed in the nation's capital, and whether any of its members might include Federal employees in the executive and judicial branches, or staff in the local administration. Testimony from twenty-four individuals, including the mayor of Washington, General Scott, and the most outspoken opponents of the Federal government, confirmed a rumble of political rage so intense that open warfare seemed inevitable in the nation's capital. As Lincoln's train repeatedly stopped before curious, hopeful, and cheering onlookers on its slow journey east, the committee published its mixed findings, declaring that insurgents might attack the Capitol or the District of Columbia if "the surrender should be demanded by a State to which they profess a high degree of allegiance."
There was no mistaking the committee's reference to Maryland, the neighboring border state that had become a powder keg of conflicting political passions. The outcome in Maryland would be key to the future of the nation's capital. And Lincoln's train would have to pass through Maryland to reach Washington. For now, the state that surrounded Washington on the north, east, and south was headed by a beleaguered governor, Thomas Hicks, himself an unabashed slaveholder, though as he told the committee, "I am a Union man, and would live and die in the Union."
Hicks used all the authority of his office to fend off pressure from Maryland secessionists wanting to convene the legislature, where they had the numbers to vote the state out of the Union. Delay, he hoped, would give even zealots time to reflect on their "mad crusade." Disunion, the governor predicted, would make Maryland the battleground between North and South, because Unionists would never allow secessionists to overrun the nation's capital. The consequences for Maryland would be catastrophic, with death and destruction, bankruptcies, ruinous taxes, depreciation of property, and worse — the abolition of slavery. Hicks, like Scott, had overwhelming evidence that the ultimate goal of secessionists was to remove Maryland from the Union so that it could absorb the national capital. It would then seek international recognition for the entire Confederacy. "The plan contemplates forcible opposition to Mr. Lincoln's inauguration and consequently civil war upon Maryland soil," the governor warned citizens of his turbulent state. One of his confidential sources, an editor of Washington's Daily National Intelligencer newspaper, told him the insurrectionists hoped to triumph before Lincoln's inauguration.
Though Scott's reinforcements trickled in to defend Washington, Marylanders remained a graver threat to Lincoln's life. Several weeks before the president-elect's train pulled out of Springfield, a distinguished woman walked into the Maryland office of Samuel Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad. Dorothea Dix, the pioneer advocate for the mentally ill who would soon take charge of all Union nurses, came to pass on word of treason, murder, and sabotage. She made sure the door was closed before disclosing all she knew from travels in the South of a conspiracy to seize Washington and abort the inauguration — failing which, Lincoln was to be assassinated. Over the next hour she confided that insurgents were conducting military exercises along Felton's and other railroad lines. They planned to cut every rail and other communication link north, east, and west of the capital to prevent Union troops from coming to the rescue.
Felton rushed a confidant overnight to Washington to brief Scott, but with no apparent effect. The general seemed exasperated by President Buchanan's failure to prepare for a military showdown and feared Lincoln might have to be inaugurated in the safety of Philadelphia.
A few days later an elderly man walked up to the keeper of the PW&B bridge over the Back River, six miles east of Baltimore. He too knew of secret plans for sabotage and assassination. Respectable and earnest, he insisted on anonymity and on a promise that officials would not put his life at risk by trying to track down his name or residence. Given the assurance, he told the bridge keeper he wanted Felton to know of a plot to burn the bridge just before Lincoln's train approached it "and in the excitement, to assassinate him." These Baltimore plotters also were targeting other PW&B bridges, including those nearly a mile long over the Bush and Gunpowder rivers, to prevent troops from being transported down for the defense of Washington. The informant said the saboteurs had combustible materials ready to set the bridges alight and were to disguise themselves as blacks for the attack on Lincoln's train.
Felton bought a hundred revolvers to arm the conductors on his trains then hurried to Washington to check with sources to help determine whether Baltimore's police chief, Marshal George Kane, could be trusted to investigate. Was he a Union man? Would he keep the sensitive news to himself? Inexplicably, Felton's contact was poorly informed and vouched for Kane, who was in reality so enamored of the Confederate cause that he would soon incite rioters against Union troops passing through Baltimore and be imprisoned before heading South to join the Confederate army.
Acting on the flawed opinion, Felton asked Kane to detail a police force to investigate the threat to the bridges. The police chief brusquely dismissed the conspiracy as rumor without foundation. Only then did the railroad president summon Detective Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Chicago-based Pinkerton National Detective Agency, whom he had hired before for an undisclosed "important matter," which led him to admire the investigator's "great skill and resources."
As Lincoln's train halted for the president-elect to greet crowds and give speeches in cities and towns along the meandering route eastward, Pinkerton and a single female and eight male assistants dispersed undercover to penetrate militant bands in Maryland. Pinkerton himself opened a bogus stock brokerage firm in Baltimore, a city of 212,000 residents, under one of his aliases, John H. Hutchinson. His aides, masquerading as rebellious Southerners from Charleston, New Orleans, and Mobile, infiltrated three companies of paramilitary forces drilling along the railroad lines in the guise of citizens preparing for home defense. The detectives reported by code to Pinkerton that two of the three companies were preparing for rebellion, with plans to burn the bridges and march on Washington. One unsuspecting conspirator talked of "about one thousand men in Baltimore well organized and ready for anything." They hoped Lincoln would speak to crowds outdoors, where they "would not be surprised if they killed him." Another Baltimorean told an undercover detective, "If our company would draw lots to see who would kill Lincoln, and the lot should fall on me, I would do it willingly."
From his own sources, meanwhile, Felton had no doubt that "it was made as certain as strong circumstantial and positive evidence could make it that there was a plot to burn the bridges, destroy the road, and murder Mr. Lincoln on his way to Washington." He employed some two hundred armed men to guard the bridges and practice drills along the line between the Susquehanna River and Baltimore, about thirty miles southwest. There they also worked as railroad laborers, painting the bridges with half a dozen layers of whitewash heavily dosed with salt and alum to make them almost fireproof. Felton even arranged for a train to be on standby to transport all the forces to a single location if need be.
Simultaneously, Pinkerton passed himself off as one of the impassioned regulars drawn to Barnum's Hotel in Baltimore, a majestic, seven-story, red-brick landmark, where the swill of liquor amid the noisy camaraderie of political kin led to careless talk about rebellion and armed resistance. Initially he knew only of a plot to blow up Maryland bridges and ferry boats essential to the railroad that had hired him. Then, having won the trust of the would-be saboteurs, he was introduced to the redoubtable Cypriano Ferrandini, one of the apparent ringleaders. Pinkerton was instantly taken by this "fine-looking, intelligent-appearing," and excitable Italian immigrant barber, who supported the South with such fervor that "his eyes fairly glared and glistened and his whole frame quivered" as they sat in the corner of Barr's saloon on South Street. Even the seasoned investigator felt himself pulled by "the influence of this man's strange power." Ten days earlier Ferrandini had testified uncowed before a select committee of the House of Representatives investigating the possible existence of secret organizations hostile to the government. He had predicted bloodshed if volunteer militiamen from northern states tried to pass through Maryland to defend the capital. Now, thinking Pinkerton was a like-minded subversive, the barber volunteered that Lincoln would never be president. He was willing to sacrifice his own life to rid the nation of the president-elect. "Murder of any kind is justifiable and right to save the rights of the Southern people," he declared. "If I alone must do it, I shall. Lincoln shall die in this city."(Continues…)
Excerpted from ""They Have Killed Papa Dead!""
Copyright © 2008 Anthony S. Pitch.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. "Lincoln Shall Not Pass through Baltimore Alive",
2. A Presidential Envelope Marked "Assassination",
3. "An Excellent Chance to Kill the President!",
4. "The Last Speech He Will Ever Make",
5. "Like Banquo's Ghost, It Will Not Down",
6. "The President Is Shot!",
7. A Singular Night of Horrors,
8. "They Have Killed Papa Dead!",
9. An Autopsy and Embalming in the White House,
10. A Visceral Preference for Vengeance,
11. "I Am Right in the Justness of My Cause",
12. Escape in the Dead of Night,
13. "Betrayed into the Hands of the Government",
14. "Keep an Eye on Mrs. Surratt's House",
15. "We Know as Much of Your Operations as the Almighty",
16. A Funeral Surpassing All Others in Solemnity,
18. "You Must Get Him Across",
19. "I Don't Want to Know Anything About You",
20. "I Am Worth Just $175,000 to the Man Who Captures Me",
21. "Tell My Mother I Die for My Country",
22. A Secret Burial at Midnight,
23. "What My Imagination Pictured the Inquisition to Have Been",
24. Weeks of Deprivation and Solitude,
25. "The Trial Concluded at Last",
26. "The Posse Comitatus of the Court Is Not Able to Overcome Armies",
27. "I Could Have Jumped upon the Shoulders of Each as They Hung",
28. "A Perfect Hell",
29. "Why This Flight, and Why This Concealment?",
Epilogue: The Scramble for Rewards,