Read an Excerpt
"An Omen of What Is to Come"
Washington's Birthday 1861
I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.
Abraham Lincoln, speech at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, February 22, 1861
But, if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principleI was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.
Abraham Lincoln, speech at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, February 22, 1861
I have already gone through one exceedingly interesting scene this morning in the ceremonies [flag-raising ceremony] at Philadelphia.... I could not help hoping that there was in the entire success of that beautiful ceremony, at least something of an omen of what is to come.
Abraham Lincoln, speech before the combined General Assembly of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, February 22, 1861
On Thursday evening, February 21, 1861, Allan Pinkerton and Frederick W. Seward were trying desperately to get to Abraham Lincoln. Both men carried secret intelligence about an assassination attempt planned for February 23 in Baltimore. Neither man knew if he could reach Lincoln in time, or if the president-elect would believe the extraordinary information. Neither agent knew about the other.
Months earlier, Philadelphian Samuel M. Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, suspected that Maryland's Confederate sympathizers might sabotage his rail line between Philadelphia and Baltimore. Several bridges and the rail ferry across the Susquehanna River at Perryville were especially vulnerable. Felton hired Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton and his agents, and they quietly infiltrated secessionist groups in and around Baltimore, the largest Southern city in the nation (population slightly more than 212,000). Searching for information about plots to destroy railroad bridges and ferry, the detectives inadvertently uncovered a plan to kill Abraham Lincoln in Baltimore.
In the November 1860 presidential election, Maryland had voted with nine future Confederate states and had given her eight electoral votes to Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. Baltimore had a reputation for political violence, and the city fathers did not support Abraham Lincoln. In fact, it was the only major city on the Inaugural Train's route not to extend an official invitation to the president-elect. In a letter dated February 15, 1861, Baltimore Republican William G. Snethen warned Lincoln that it would be unwise "to attempt any organized display" in Baltimore, but local Republicans "in their individual capacity" would meet Lincoln en route and accompany him through the city.
Baltimore Police Chief George P. Kane was a Southern sympathizer and future resident of the Confederacy. Local conspirators counted on him to provide only a token police escort for Lincoln. Knowing security would be intentionally lax, the would-be assassins planned to shoot or knife Lincoln as he transferred from the Northern Central Railroad Station at Calvert Street to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station at Camden Street. Lincoln would be vulnerable as he came through the narrow vestibule of Calvert Street Station and again during the one and one-quarter mile open carriage ride to Camden Street Station. Pinkerton sent agents to hand deliver this information to fellow Chicagoan Norman B. Judd, Lincoln's good friend who was traveling with the president-elect. Judd decided not to tell Lincoln of the assassination plot until after he had spoken face-to-face with Pinkerton in Philadelphia.
After Lincoln's election to the presidency in November 1860, the nation began to unravel. Six Southern statesSouth Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisianaseceded from the Union; and in a seventh, Texas, a secession convention had voted to leave the Union pending popular ratificationan almost sure thing. Tensions ran high, and Lincoln received death threats. As these events continued to unfold, Lincoln and his advisers planned a grand rail tour to precede the inauguration. Following custom, Lincoln had not personally campaigned in the presidential election, and this would be the first opportunity for most citizens to see the president-elect. For Lincoln, it would enable him to see the people, to take measure of their sentiment, and to plum the depths of their support for him and his administration. It would be an exhausting and stressful thirteen days.
Lincoln departed Springfield, Illinois, on February 11, 1861, the day before his fifty-second birthday. He traveled with his forty-two-year-old wife Mary Todd Lincoln and their sons, seventeen-year-old Robert, ten-year-old Willie, and seven-year-old Tad. Also traveling on the train were Lincoln's personal secretaries John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay, bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, brother-in-law and personal physician Dr. William S. Wallace, longtime friend and unofficial campaign manager Judge David Davis, Chicago attorney and political supporter Norman B. Judd, and First United States Cavalry Colonel Edwin V. Sumner, a future commander of the Second Corps, Army of the Potomac. The Inaugural Train visited the Northern cities of Indianapolis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, and New York.
The train arrived at Philadelphia's Kensington Station on the afternoon of February 21, 1861. The Minute Men of `76 welcomed the president-elect with a thirty-four-gun salute, one for each of the thirty-four states. Nearly 100,000 people lined the streets as Lincoln traveled by open carriage from the railroad station to the Continental Hotel. Shortly after 5 P.M. Allan Pinkerton and Samuel Felton were conferring in La Pierre House Hotel at Broad and Sansom Streets when they heard the music from Lincoln's procession as it came down Walnut Street. The Chicago detective ran outside in time to see agent George H. Burns break through the police escort and deliver a message to Norman Judd, who was riding in the carriage with Lincoln. The message asked Judd to meet in Pinkerton's room at the St. Louis Hotel at 7:30 that night. As soon as Burns came away from the carriage with a yes from Judd, Pinkerton met him on the sidewalk and told him that 7:30 was now too late. Burns broke through police lines again. Once again Judd said yesthis time to meeting as soon as possible.
Lincoln himself was scheduled for another long evening. After he arrived at the Continental Hotel's Ninth Street door, he immediately went inside. A short time later Mayor Alexander Henry appeared on the hotel's balcony, followed by Lincoln. The mayor extended the city's welcome, and the president-elect addressed the crowd below. Later he met privately with Pennsylvania political leaders, a gathering arranged by Judge James Milliken, a proponent of Pennsylvania iron interests and confidant of Senator Simon Cameron. The Curtin Republican faction, Lincoln was told, had withdrawn its objection to the proposed nomination of Cameron as secretary of war. The impasse had been resolved, and Lincoln was relieved.
Lincoln also received guests at a private reception given in his honor at the Continental. Along the way he declined an invitation to visit Wilmington, Delaware. "I feel highly flattered ... but circumstances forbid." After the reception it was time to greet the general public. The president-elect stood on an inside balcony overlooking the hotel lobby. It was separated from, but very close to, the main staircase that ascended from the lobby to the second floor. He bowed as people filed up the stairs within a few feet of where he stood. Social etiquette required a polite bow. In Lincoln's era, a handshake was generally disdained.
While Lincoln's toilsome evening continued, Norman Judd, Allan Pinkerton, and Samuel Felton met at the St. Louis Hotel. Beginning at 6:45 P.M. Pinkerton and Felton outlined everything that had been uncovered in Baltimore. In their opinion it was vital that Lincoln change his plans, pass through Baltimore secretly, and go on to Washington that very night. After the meeting ended at 9 P.M., Pinkerton accompanied Judd back to the Continental Hotel. On the way, Pinkerton tried to run an errand at the Girard House Hotel, which took him into the mass of people filling Chestnut Street between the two hotels. Not only could Pinkerton not get into the Girard House, but it took him thirty minutes to extract himself from the crowd. When at last free, he went to the Continental Hotel's Sansom Street entrance, joined the slow-moving line going up the staircase past Lincoln, got on the other side of the police lines, and went to Judd's room. Judd and E. S. Sanford, president of the American Telegraph Company, were already there.
At 10:25 P.M. Judd was able to bring Lincoln to the room, where he introduced Pinkerton as a trustworthy man. The detective told all he knew. There were Southern sympathizers in Maryland and paramilitary groups along the rail lines from Philadelphia to Baltimore and from Harrisburg to Baltimore, and in Baltimore itself. He told Lincoln of the assassination plan and recommended that Lincoln secretly leave Philadelphia that evening, the twenty-first. Lincoln refused. He had promised to raise a flag the next day in Washington's Birthday ceremonies at Independence Hall and to address the Pennsylvania General Assembly in Harrisburg. He had given his word, and he was determined to keep it. He did, however, agree to a secret trip from Harrisburg to Washington, through Philadelphia and Baltimore, on the evening of the twenty-second after his commitments were completed. Judd asked Pinkerton if it could be done, and Pinkerton replied yes. Lincoln said that his wife would have to know, and that she would probably insist that Ward Hill Lamon go tooto protect him. Lincoln left Judd's room about 11 P.M.
Unknown to Lincoln, Frederick Seward had arrived in Philadelphia earlier that evening and was now awaiting the president-elect in his room. New York City police detectives, working undercover in Baltimore at the request of men inside the government, had also uncovered a plot to assassinate Lincoln. Seward carried secret letters to Lincoln from his father Senator William H. Seward, from Winfield Scott, general-in-chief of the United States Army, and from a trusted army colonel. The colonel wrote that a New York detective, "has himself heard men declare that if Mr. Lincoln was to be assassinated they would like to be the men." The letter advised, "All risk might be easily avoided by a change in the traveling arrangements which would bring Mr. Lincoln & a portion of his party through Baltimore by a night train without previous notice."
When Seward arrived at the Continental Hotel at 10 P.M., he found Robert Lincoln. The president-elect's eldest son approached Ward Hill Lamon, who took the young Seward to Lincoln's bedroom. In the crowded hotel, few locations were available for a confidential meeting with the incoming president. After waiting alone for what seemed an eternity, Seward heard Lamon call out. He stepped out of the room in time to see Lincoln coming down the hallway. Seward later wrote: "After a few words of friendly greeting, with inquiries about my father and matters in Washington, he sat down by the table under the gas-light to peruse the letter I had brought. Although its contents were of a somewhat startling nature, he made no exclamation, and I saw no sign of surprise in his face. After reading it carefully through, he again held it to the light and deliberately read it through a second time."
Lincoln asked Seward if he knew how the information had been obtained. Had Seward ever heard the name Pinkerton? The young courier said no. Lincoln seemed to be evaluating the testimony he had been given, as if he were in a courtroom. Seward later remembered Lincoln's words: "If different persons, not knowing of each other's work, have been pursuing separate clues that led to the same result, why then it shows there may be something in it. But if this is only the same story filtered through two channels and reaching me in two ways, then that don't make it any stronger.... You need not think I will not consider it well. I shall think it over carefully and try to decide it right, and I will let you know in the morning." Outside the Continental Hotel, Philadelphia celebrated on into the night with a band concert and fireworks. For Lincoln, it had been another day in a never-ending stream of stressful days. He finally went to sleep.
Allan Pinkerton did not have time to sleep. It was 11 P.M., and a competent plan had to be conceived, set in place, and executed in the next thirty hours. He left Judd's room and tried to find his friend Thomas A. Scott, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to arrange for a special train to bring Lincoln back to Philadelphia from Harrisburg. Scott was in Harrisburg. Pinkerton then searched for another friend, G. C. Franciscus, a Pennsylvania Railroad division superintendent. After looking in three places, he found Franciscus in his West Philadelphia Station office, and the men returned to the Continental Hotel to meet with Judd and Sanford.
The four men worked out the details of secretly getting Lincoln back to Philadelphia. Specific tasks were assigned. Sanford would see to the isolation of Harrisburg by telegraph. Franciscus would arrange a secret train, clear the tracks of other trains, and have Lincoln back in Philadelphia no later than 10:30 in the evening. It was a complicated task. Philadelphians who had gone to the state capital to participate in the president-elect's welcome would be returning home, and the railroad had scheduled a number of special trains leaving Harrisburg that evening. Franciscus would assure that all these trains left Harrisburg before Lincoln's train, but he would sidetrack them along the way, allowing Lincoln's train to pass. Only after Lincoln departed Philadelphia for Baltimore at 11:50 P.M. would the other trains from Harrisburg arrive in Philadelphia.
Pinkerton left the hotel and went to George H. Burns's house. Captain Burns was a Philadelphianand Sanford's confidential agent. Pinkerton told Burns to find a telegraph climber and to go with him to Harrisburg on the president-elect's 9:30 A.M. train. The climber, under Burns's direction and with Sanford's authority, was to cut all telegraph lines necessary to totally isolate Harrisburg from 6 P.M. on the evening of the twenty-second until 7 A.M. the following morning. Only one telegraph line was to be kept "live" for the control of the trains, and it was to be staffed by handpicked men. At 6 A.M. Pinkerton gave instructions to a different agent, George R. Dunn, to purchase tickets for the entire last two sections of a sleeping car on the 11:50 P.M. train going from Philadelphia, through Baltimore, to Washington, D.C. Pinkerton told Dunn to give the tickets to agent Kate Warne when she arrived at the station.
Abraham Lincoln awoke at the Continental Hotel on Friday, February 22, 1861, the one hundred twenty-ninth anniversary of Washington's Birthday. He had slept for less than six hours. Lincoln and his son Tad left the hotel at 6:50 A.M. and rode down Chestnut Street in an open carriage, escorted by Scott's Legion. These men were veterans of the Mexican War of 1846-48, and they carried the ragged banner that had accompanied them from Vera Cruz to Mexico City.
Lincoln had seen Independence Hall in 1848. He had attended the Whig National Convention in Philadelphia that year, and there had been a Whig political rally in Independence Square to "ratify" the nominations of Taylor and Fillmore, but this was Lincoln's first opportunity to go inside the building. At 7 A.M. the president-elect was ushered into the hall's east wing, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, where he found members of the city council, who had begun assembling at 5:30 A.M. After a welcome by Theodore L. Cuyler, president of Philadelphia's Select Council, Lincoln made "a wholly unprepared speech," in a low, barely audible voice.
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.... All the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn ... from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of IndependenceI have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.... If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principleI was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.
Because his speech was extemporaneous, the president-elect worried aloud that he might have been indiscreet but defended his words saying, "I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, in the pleasure of Almighty God, die by." Very few understood, as did Allan Pinkerton, that Lincoln's pledge to stand fast even in the face of assassination was not just an idle boast.
Kansas had been admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, but Philadelphia delayed its flag-raising ceremony for the new thirty-four-star flag until the president-elect could participate. Workmen constructed a six-foot-high wooden platform between Independence Hall and Chestnut Street and decorated it with American flags on the front and both sides. People began gathering around the platform long before sunrise; eventually it became necessary to form Scott's Legion between the platform and the crowd in order to secure the area. Philadelphian Washington H. Penrose wrote in his diary, "February 22. somewhat cloudy but pleasant ... went to the State House in the morning before 7 o'clock to see Abraham Lincoln (President-elect) raise a flag above the State House at 7 o'clock, and swing to the breeze, the stars and stripes. Such a dence [sic] crowd I was never in before; and never wish to be again."
Long, sustained cheering greeted the president-elect when he exited Independence Hall and appeared on the platform. After brief introductory remarks by Stephen Benton, chairman of the Committee on City Property, Lincoln spoke. He stood by the wooden railing at the front of the platform, holding his hat in his left hand. He turned, half toward the dignitaries who stood with him and half toward the expectant crowd below. The first American flag to fly atop Independence Hall, he said, had thirteen stars. As the number of stars increased, so too, did the nation's size, prosperity, and happiness. "Its [the nation's] welfare in the future, as well as in the past, is in your hands," Lincoln told the Philadelphians. Permanent prosperity would come, he hoped, by "cultivating the spirit that animated our fathers.... cherishing that fraternal feeling that has so long characterized us as a nation, excluding passion, ill-temper and precipitate action."
Lincoln removed his overcoat, and the Reverend Dr. Henry Steele Clark said a prayer. Everyone except the president-elect and two or three designated council members left the platform. The police stood quietly, and Scott's Legion presented arms. A signal gun fired. Lincoln gripped the ropes firmly and hoisted. As the thirty-four-star flag rose higher and higher above Independence Hall, a stiff breeze caught it, and it spread out full length in the wind. The crowd cheered. The band played "The Star-Spangled Banner" and dedicated "The Stars and Stripes Are Still Unfurled" to Mrs. Robert Anderson, wife of Major Robert Anderson, Fort Sumter's commander. Cannon in Independence Square boomed, and the program ended.
Lincoln returned to the Continental Hotel to eat breakfast and to get ready to leave for Harrisburg. At 8:10 A.M. Pinkerton arrived for a brief, final meeting with Norman Judd. Judd approved Pinkertons arrangements and said that the telegraph company and the Pennsylvania Railroad were ready. He advised Pinkerton to expect Lincoln to return to the West Philadelphia Railroad Station sometime after 10 P.M. that evening. Judd mentioned that the secret trip was sure to cause a political uproar, but he was ready to take responsibility. Elsewhere in the hotel, Ward Hill Lamon found Frederick Seward in a hallway, took him aside, and told him that Lincoln had decided to do as he had been advised.
Pennsylvania Railroad passengers usually left central Philadelphia from the Eleventh and Market Street Station. Because locomotive engines were fire hazards and therefore banned inside city limits, mules pulled the rail cars over street rails the twenty-block distance from the downtown Eleventh and Market Street Station to the West Philadelphia Station. There workmen attached an engine and assembled the train.
That day, however, Lincoln went directly to West Philadelphia after leaving the Continental Hotel at 8:30 A.M. Surrounded by mounted police, the open carriage with Lincoln, Colonel Sumner, Norman Judd, and William P. Hacker, president of Philadelphia's Common Council, traveled west on Walnut Street and then north on Twenty-third Street to Market. As Lincoln's procession rounded the corner from Twenty-third Street onto Market, the crowd at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station was surprised. They had not expected Lincoln to come to West Philadelphia directly by carriage. Seeing him, they rushed through the Market Street covered bridge over the Schuylkill River. Police had difficulty opening a passage through the crowd, but eventually Lincoln and his party were able to reach the station and board the train. As cannon fired and people cheered, Lincoln stood on the last railcar's rear platform and bowed. The three-car special train pulled away. It was 9:30 A.M.
Excerpted from The Lincoln Trail in Pennsylvania by Bradley R. Hoch. Copyright © 2001 by THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.