Baltimore, Allan Pinkerton, 
and the Plot to Assassinate President Lincoln, 1861

Introduction

Allan PinkertonOn February 11, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln boarded an east-bound train in Springfield, Illinois at the start of a whistle stop tour in seventy towns and cities ending in Washington, DC. While enroute to Washington, Lincoln was introduced to Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton's National Detective Agency of Chicago, who had been hired by the Baltimore, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad to investigate suspicious activities along the Baltimore route and the destruction of railroad property. Pinkerton became convinced that a plot existed to ambush Lincoln's carriage between the Calvert Street Station of the Northern Central and the Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, allowing conspirators to assassinate the President-elect during his passage through Baltimore on February 23, 1861.  Pinkerton tried to convince Lincoln to cancel his stop at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and proceed straight through Baltimore, but Lincoln insisted upon keeping to his schedule. 

On the evening of the 22nd, telegraph lines to Baltimore were cut to prevent communications from passing between potential conspirators. Meanwhile, Lincoln left Harrisburg on a special train, arriving in Baltimore in the middle of the night. Since a city ordinance prohibited night time rail travel though the downtown area of the city, the railcars had to be horse-drawn between the President Street and Camden Street stations. Once Lincoln's rail carriage had safely passed through Baltimore, Pinkerton sent a one-line telegram to the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad: "Plums delivered nuts safely."

On the afternoon of February 23rd, Lincoln's schedule train arrived in Baltimore. The large crowd that gathered at the station to see the President-elect quickly learned that Lincoln had already passed by and had to be content with viewing Mary Todd Lincoln, her sons, and John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary. The newspapers, however, harpooned Lincoln for slipping through Baltimore in the dead of night. Adalbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist and caricaturist, was inspired to pen his famous satirical etching, "Passage Through Baltimore." Volck's image of a startled Lincoln in his nightshirt peering out of the side of his rail car as it passes through Baltimore has become part of the Lincoln iconography. 

Most historians believe that Pinkerton perception of an assassination plot was incorrect and Lincoln came to regret that he slipped through the city unannounced.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

STANDARD 2: The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people. 

Standard 2A: The student understands how the resources of the Union and Confederacy affected the course of the war. 

5-12: Identify the turning points of the war and evaluate how political, military, and diplomatic leadership affected the outcome of the conflict. [Assess the importance of the individual in history] 

Standard 2B: The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and homefront. 

5-12: Compare the human and material costs of the war in the North and South and assess the degree to which the war reunited the nation. [Examine historical perspectives]

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: [Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton ("E. J. Allen") of the Secret Service on horseback].
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1862 September.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865
    REPOSITORY:
    Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 

  2. DESCRIPTION: Letter, R. A. Hunt to Abraham Lincoln (Warns Lincoln of assassination attempt)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: January 18, 1861 
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  3. DESCRIPTION: Letter, Charles Gould to Henry C. Bowen (Plot to assassinate Lincoln)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 5, 1861
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  4. DESCRIPTION: [Charles P. Stone] (Memorandum pertaining to danger in Baltimore)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 21, 1861
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  5. DESCRIPTION: Letter, William L. Schley to Abraham Lincoln (Plot to harm Lincoln in Baltimore)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: February 23, 1861
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress, Washington, DC

  6. DESCRIPTION: Passage Through Baltimore
    ARTIST: Adalbert John Volck (18281912)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Etching, 1863
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to Order Photographic Reproductions
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE: Civil War Treasures from the New-York Historical Society
    RESPOSITORY: New York Historical Society

  7. TITLE:  Baltimore and the nineteenth of April 1861
    AUTHOR:  George William Brown
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 
    1887
    NOTE: 
    Brown was the mayor of Baltimore at the time of the riot. See chapter 1 for account of plot.
    SOURCE:
      The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925 
    REPOSITORY:
    Library of Congress, American Memory

  8. DESCRIPTION: Published transcription, Pinkerton's Account of the Plot 
    DATE CREATE/PUBLISHED: 1866
    SOURCE: Norma B. Cuthbert, Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1949.
    REPOSITORY: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

  9. DESCRIPTION: Published transcription, Allan Pinkerton's Record Book, 1861 
    DATE CREATE/PUBLISHED: 1866
    SOURCE: Norma B. Cuthbert, Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1949.
    REPOSITORY: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

  10. DESCRIPTION: Published transcription, Judd's Account of the Plot, 1866 
    DATE CREATE/PUBLISHED: 1866
    SOURCE: Norma B. Cuthbert, Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1949.
    REPOSITORY: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

  11. DESCRIPTION: Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: June 1868 in Harper's New Monthly Magazine
    COPYRIGHT:
    Copyright and Other Restrictions
    SOURCE:
    The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals
    REPOSITORY: Digitized by Cornell University Library and the Preservation Reformatting Division of the Library of Congress

See also:

  • "Ward H. Lamon and the Baltimore Plot" In  Norma B. Cuthbert, Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot 1861: From Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1949. 

Additional Media Resources

Abraham Lincoln Research Site. Website compiled by a former American history teacher.

Secondary Resources

Arnold, Isaac H. "Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln" Harper's Magazine (June 1868): 123-128.

Mason, Victor Louis. "Four Lincoln Conspiraces." The Century. (April 1896):889-912.

Sheads, Scott Sumpter and Daniel Carroll Toomey. Baltimore During the Civil War. Linthicum: Toomey Press, 1997.

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Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.

 

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