Military history

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

A SINGLE RED BALLOT

When the train entered the depot, and Mr. Lincoln attempted to pass through the narrow passage leading to the streets, a party already delegated were to engage in a conflict on the outside, and then the policemen were to rush away to quell the disturbance. At this moment—the police being entirely withdrawn—Mr. Lincoln would find himself surrounded by a dense, excited and hostile crowd, all hustling and jamming against him, and then the fatal blow was to be struck.

—ALLAN PINKERTON, The Spy of the Rebellion, 1883

“THE MAN AND THE HOUR have met,” announced one local politician as the flag-draped train pulled into yet another depot on the evening of February 16. “The whole city is agog,” declared another. “Crowds are pouring in from every direction.” The journey thus far, observed the New York Times, had been “one continuous ovation,” an unbroken chain of stirring speeches from train platforms and hotel balconies, and “rapturous audiences” filled with ladies who were “equally enthusiastic with the gentlemen.”

Though the praise had a familiar ring by this time, in this instance it was being heaped upon Jefferson Davis—“the other President,” as the Times referred to him—whose arrival in Montgomery, Alabama, marked the end of his five-day inaugural trip from Mississippi. In two day’s time, while Lincoln continued his halting progress through New York, Davis would take his oath as president of the Confederate States of America. “The time for compromise is past,” Davis declared upon arrival in Montgomery, “and we are now determined to maintain our position, and make all who oppose us smell Southern powder, feel Southern steel.”

The New York Herald, while objecting to the warlike tone, nevertheless believed that Davis had acquitted himself well on his inaugural journey, in pointed contrast to Lincoln: “Mr. Davis made five and twenty speeches en route, but we do not hear that he told any stories, cracked any jokes, asked the advice of the young women about his whiskers, or discussed political platforms.” This difference in styles, the Herald went on to say, owed much to the fact that Davis was a graduate of West Point and a hero of the Mexican-American War, while Lincoln was merely “a splitter of rails, a distiller of whiskey, a story teller and a joke maker.”

Even as Davis made his triumphant appearance in Montgomery that Saturday, Lincoln found a near disaster looming in upstate New York. Ten thousand people were massed outside Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station as the Lincoln Special approached at 4:30 that afternoon. At trackside, a delegation headed by no less a figure than former president Millard Fillmore stood waiting to receive Lincoln, but the planned exchange of greetings would soon descend into pandemonium. Although the front doors to the station had been barred, with soldiers in position to guard the access points, the eager crowd outside began swarming through the track portals as the train pulled in, resulting in what Henry Villard called “the most ill conducted affair witnessed since the departure from Springfield.”

“As Lincoln’s train approached, the mass of people gathered in the depot became alarming,” reported Buffalo’s Commercial Advertiser. “The rush was tremendous. A squad from Company ‘D’ threw themselves around Mr. Lincoln and his immediate party and measurably protected them, but it was impossible to protect anyone else.”

“A scene of the wildest confusion ensued,” wrote Villard. “To and fro the ruffians swayed and cries of distress were heard on all sides.” John Hay saw the soldiers and a line of local policemen struggling valiantly against the surging crowd, but they were soon “swept away like weeds before an angry current.” As Major Hunter leaped down from the train and struggled to open a path to a waiting carriage, Lincoln narrowly escaped being swept into the crush and “macerated” as hordes of people outside the station sought to force their way into a receiving area that was already filled to capacity. By comparison, Hay insisted, “the hug of Barnum’s grizzly bear would have been a tender and fraternal embrace.” Villard believed that Lincoln got through safely only due to the desperation of the small circle of men surrounding him. “The pressure was so great that it is really a wonder that many were not crushed and trampled to death,” he wrote. “His party had to struggle with might and main for their lives.” The truth of his words may be judged by the injury to Major Hunter, who was “crushed violently against the wall, receiving serious injuries.” Hunter came away with a dislocated shoulder, and he would spend the rest of the trip with his arm in a sling. An elderly man in the crowd was also badly pummeled, and before he could be pulled free, he had broken ribs and blood streaming from his nose and mouth. “Women fainted, men were crushed under the mass of bodies, and many others had their bones broken,” reported the Commercial Advertiser. “Once out of the depot every man uttered a brief ‘Thank God!’ for the preservation of his life. More with personal injuries were carried away and the fainted women were recovering under a free use of hydrant water.”

After this calamitous scene, Lincoln and his traveling party were thankful that the following day—Sunday, February 17—had been set aside as a day of much-needed rest. Lincoln went to church twice that day, once in the company of Millard Fillmore, and later dined at the home of the former president. By all accounts Lincoln was grateful that the relatively light schedule gave him a chance to rest his speaking voice, which by this time had been worn to a ragged croak.

While Lincoln recuperated in Buffalo, the Peace Convention at Willard’s Hotel in Washington had also adjourned for the Sabbath. “We are getting along badly with our work of compromise—badly!” one discouraged delegate wrote to his wife. “Will break up, I apprehend, without anything being done. God will hold some men to a fearful responsibility. My heart is sick.”

While his fellow delegates rested, Lucius Chittenden turned his attention to the rumors drifting down to Washington from Maryland. Chittenden, the “independent committee of safety” member who had kept an anxious eye on the electoral count a few days earlier, had reason to believe that a fresh crisis was brewing. “Lincoln is to be assassinated—I know it,” he was told by a local journalist. “It is not even an independent plot; it is part of the conspiracy of secession.” On Sunday afternoon, Chittenden reported, a “duly authenticated” messenger arrived bearing a cryptic message from “reliable friends,” urging him to hurry at once to Baltimore. The reason for the summons, the messenger explained, would be revealed on arrival. “It was too important to be trusted to the mails or the telegraph,” Chittenden was told, “or even to be put upon paper.” Chittenden departed at once for Washington’s B&O Railroad Station, where he boarded a late train for Baltimore. As the train neared its destination, he recalled, “a stranger half-stumbled along the aisle of the dimly lighted car, partially fell over me, but grasped my hand as he recovered himself and apologized for his awkwardness.” As the man moved away, Chittenden realized that a piece of paper had been pressed into his hand. He withdrew into the passenger car’s “dressing-room” to read the note without being observed. “Be cautious,” it read. “At the station, follow a driver who will be shouting ‘Hotel Fountain,’ instead of ‘Fountain Hotel.’ Enter his carriage. He is reliable and has his directions.”

Chittenden followed the directions to the letter. Soon he found himself being driven to a private residence that he did not recognize, where a “true Republican”—whom he identified only as “Mr. H.”—stepped forward to greet him. “Our friend of the train came soon after,” he reported, whereupon he was led upstairs and introduced to half a dozen “reliable citizens of Baltimore.” “No time was wasted,” Chittenden continued. No sooner had the group assembled than the mysterious Mr. H. announced his reason for summoning Chittenden from Washington: “We want you to help us save Baltimore from disgrace, and President Lincoln from assassination.” Before the startled Chittenden could gather himself to respond, Mr. H. pressed on to explain that he and his colleagues had uncovered details of a credible threat to Lincoln but were unable to take measures to prevent it from being carried out. “We are watched and shadowed so that we cannot leave the city without exciting suspicion,” he explained. “We have sent messengers to leading Republicans in Washington, notifying them of the plot against the President’s life, but they will not credit the story, nor, so far as we can learn, take any action.” Worse yet, it appeared for the moment that Lincoln was determined to pass openly through Baltimore—even if “he loses his life in consequence.”

According to Mr. H., the details of the plan were chillingly clear. Within ten minutes of his arrival, Lincoln would be surrounded by a mob of “roughs and plug-uglies” who would murder him where he stood. “We have every detail of the plot,” Chittenden was told, “[and] we know the men who have been hired to kill him; we could lay our hands upon them to-night. But what are we to do if our friends will not believe our report?”

Chittenden was dubious. In spite of the many similar rumors he had heard in Washington, he had trouble accepting the existence of such an audacious scheme. “You call the plot a certainty,” he said. “What proof have you? Direct proof, I mean?” His hosts were prepared for this. Mr. H. explained that he had arranged for Chittenden to hear directly from one of the conspirators, an “unscrupulous character” who had now turned informant. Chittenden had qualms about accepting the testimony of such a man at face value, but he agreed to hear what he had to say. “Two men entered the room with the supposed assassin,” Chittenden reported. He noted that the informant “looked the character,” and went on to give a description that would not have been out of place in one of the lurid “penny dreadfuls” of the day: “He represented a genus of the human family seen in pictures of Italian bandits. His square, bull-dog jaws, ferret-like eyes, furtively looking out from holes under a low brow, covered with a coarse mat of black hair; a dark face, every line of which was hard, and an impudent swagger in his carriage, sufficiently advertised him as a low, cowardly villain.”

Speaking in the halting, heavily accented English of a recent immigrant, the informant described how he had come to be swept up in the plot. “A bad president was coming,” he began, and when he took power he would “free the negroes and drive all the foreigners out of the country. The good Americans wanted him killed.” The instrument of this plot was to be a man known as “Ruscelli,” a barber who likened himself to the Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini, and who had gathered a group of like-minded men around him. These men, the informant went on to explain, had formed a plan that could not fail. If, as many believed, the railcar carrying Lincoln was to be uncoupled at the Calvert Street Station and pulled through the city by horses, Ruscelli and his men would create a sudden obstruction to block its progress. “When the President’s car stopped at the obstruction,” Chittenden was told, “the assassins were to follow their leader into the rear of the car [and] pass rapidly through it, each knifing the president.” They would then make their way out of the car and pass through the crowd to a rum shop at the harbor’s edge. Hurrying through to the rear of the shop, the assassins would climb aboard a waiting schooner for a quick getaway. For added cover, bombs and hand grenades would be set off to create general panic and confusion.

The informant went on to say that every stage of the plot had been carefully rehearsed to avoid mistakes or hesitation at the crucial moment. “The whole work,” Chittenden learned, “from arresting the car to the departure of the schooner, could be done in five or six minutes.” If, on the other hand, Lincoln left his train car at the Calvert Street Station and boarded an open carriage, the work of the assassins would be even simpler. Within five minutes, the carriage would be surrounded by “a crowd of rowdies,” who would “swoop down upon it like vultures [and] have ample time to tear him to pieces.”

Chittenden took a moment to reflect on this grim scenario as the “miscreant” was led away. Turning to the others in the darkened room, he asked why the information had not been taken to the authorities. Mr. H. and his colleagues shifted uncomfortably. Ruscelli and his men, they explained, were simply tools of a much larger cabal that stretched from “pot-house politicians of a low order” to an “admixture of men of a better class, some of them in the police.” It was thought that many of the city’s leading citizens were privy to the plot, having “argued themselves into the belief that this was a patriotic work which would prevent greater bloodshed and possible war.” These well-heeled supporters kept the conspirators abundantly supplied with money, while the city’s police force—“from superintendent to patrolmen”—looked the other way. “No,” Mr. H. insisted, summing up his frustrations, “we have done everything in our power!” Chittenden, he believed, was their last hope. “If the government itself will not interfere,” he concluded, “and if, as he declares he will, Mr. Lincoln insists on passing through Baltimore in an open way, on the train appointed, his murder is inevitable.” Chittenden agreed at once to carry the group’s concerns back to Washington, and to do all that he could to convince General Scott and others of the seriousness of the threat. He passed the rest of the night talking the matter over with the Baltimore group, until it was time to catch the early-morning train back to the capital.

*   *   *

MANY OF THE DETAILS OF CHITTENDEN’S ACCOUNT are dubious and others are open to interpretation, but it seems probable that the ringleader he described as “Ruscelli” was, in fact, Cypriano Ferrandini, as it is unlikely—even in a city the size of Baltimore—that there were two Italian barbers invoking the name of Felice Orsini as a justification for murdering Lincoln. Chittenden would also assert that one member of the league of assassins was “an actor who recites passages from the tragedy of Julius Caesar,” raising the tantalizing specter of the noted Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth, a Maryland native who was known to patronize Barnum’s Hotel in Baltimore. Booth was performing in Albany that month, and may have been in the crowd as Lincoln passed through that city, but there is no evidence to place him in Baltimore during the inaugural journey. Lucius Chittenden, whose account was published many years after the events at Ford’s Theatre, and who was much inclined toward elaborate conspiracy theories, drew no connection to the notorious assassin.

Allan Pinkerton would note, however, that “a sample of the feeling” among the people of Baltimore could be found in the person of Otis K. Hillard, a theater devotee who missed few opportunities to quote a favorite line from Shakespeare’s play: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.” As Pinkerton recounted, Hillard took solace in these words “when his conscience roused him to a contemplation of the awful crime” under consideration. The “young Lieutenant,” as Pinkerton called him, came to believe that Brutus’s struggle with the conflicting demands of honor and patriotism mirrored his own. The points in common between Chittenden’s story and Pinkerton’s—including the Orsini-inspired barber and the Shakespeare-quoting plotter—suggest that the two men were tangled in the same thread of conspiracy. If nothing else, Chittenden’s account would seem to confirm that Lincoln’s supporters in Baltimore harbored a deep mistrust of the authorities, suggesting that Pinkerton’s own suspicions toward Marshal Kane and his men were not entirely without foundation.

Chittenden’s interlude in Baltimore came just as Pinkerton’s own investigation was drawing near to the heart of Ferrandini’s plot. By Sunday, February 17, Pinkerton had “resolved upon prompt and decisive measures to discover the inward workings of the conspirators,” because he had only a few days remaining in which to act. The detective sent another report to Norman Judd, in Buffalo, advising him that “the evidence was accumulating,” then summoned his resourceful operative Harry Davies, whose efforts to draw further information from Otis Hillard had reached a frustrating impasse.

By piecing together various rumors and reports, Pinkerton had managed to form a working theory of Ferrandini’s plan. Though he did not know it at the time, the broad strokes were disturbingly similar to those reported by Lucius Chittenden. “A vast crowd would meet [Lincoln] at the Calvert Street depot,” Pinkerton stated. “Here it was arranged that but a small force of policemen should be stationed, and as the President arrived a disturbance would be created which would attract the attention of these guardians of the peace.” While the police rushed off to deal with this diversion, he continued, “it would be an easy task for a determined man to shoot the President, and, aided by his companions, succeed in making his escape.” All that remained now, Pinkerton believed, was to select the man who would “commit the fatal deed.” This was to be determined by a drawing of ballots, “and as yet no one knew upon whom might devolve the bloody task.”

Pinkerton was convinced that Otis Hillard held the key to uncovering the final details of the plot, as well as the identity of the designated assassin. Hillard, he believed, was the weak link in Ferrandini’s chain of command. The grim realities of the plot were “preying heavily” on the young lieutenant’s mind, the detective noted, causing him to sink “still deeper into dissipation.” At such times, Hillard invariably turned to Harry Davies, whom he still believed to be an ardent secessionist. Davies’s sympathy and support, Pinkerton wrote, “had now become a necessity to him, and they were scarcely ever separated.” Though Hillard continued to dangle hints about Ferrandini and his band of conspirators at every opportunity, he had so far refused to take Davies fully into his confidence, claiming that he was bound by a solemn oath of secrecy.

Hillard appeared to regret keeping his friend in the dark. One afternoon, as Hillard appeared at Davies’s door, carrying a pair of “worked slippers” as a peace offering, the detective saw a chance to get Hillard talking. Davies accepted the gift readily enough, but his distracted, serious manner was calculated to put Hillard off balance.

“You look sober,” Hillard said, “what is the matter with you?”

Davies gave an answer designed to get Hillard talking. “I am thinking about what a damned pretty tumult this country is in,” he replied. “I have had all kinds of bad thoughts shoot through my mind.”

“What have you been thinking about?” Hillard asked.

Davies gave his answer as if unburdening himself of a difficult secret. If only a man had sufficient courage, he began, he might immortalize himself “by taking a knife and plunging it into Lincoln’s heart.” It was regrettable, he continued, that a man could not be found “with the pluck to do it.” Turning Hillard’s oft-quoted Shakespeare reference back on him, Davies bemoaned the fact that things were not as they were “in the time of Brutus and Caesar.” The men of the South, he said, lacked the courage of the noble Romans.

Hillard was dismayed by his friend’s words. “There are men who would do it!’ he insisted. Davies pretended to be skeptical: “I will give five hundred dollars to see the man who will do it,” he declared.

Hillard, rankled by the aspersions Davies had cast on Southern manhood, rose to the bait. “Give me an article of agreement,” he said, “and I will kill Lincoln between here and Havre de Grace.” Davies smiled to himself and offered his friend a drink. At last they were getting somewhere.

By any measure, this was an astonishingly reckless exchange on the part of both men. In effect, Davies had goaded Hillard into making a vow to assassinate the president-elect. It is difficult to gauge, based on the dry and uninflected language of Davies’s field report, the degree to which either man was in earnest. As the two continued talking, however, it became evident that Hillard had no intention of carrying out the deed alone and unabetted, but Davies’s offer appeared to have strengthened his determination to assist in Ferrandini’s designs, if so ordered. As he turned the matter over in his mind, Hillard’s enthusiasm grew. The money Davies had pledged would be of no use to him personally, he explained, but that was of no concern. “Five hundred dollars would help my mother,” he said, “because I would expect to die, and I would say so soon as it was done: ‘Here gentlemen take me, I am the man who [has] done the deed.’”

Hillard returned to the subject several times over the course of the day. By evening, Davies’s bold statement had inspired further confidences. As the two men dined together at Mann’s Restaurant, Hillard at last confirmed that his unit of the National Volunteers might soon “draw lots to see who would kill Lincoln.” If the responsibility fell upon him, Hillard boasted, “I would do it willingly.”

Davies was keenly aware that he had reached an important crossroads, as Hillard had never before spoken so openly. After offering assurances that he had no wish to pry, Davies gingerly admitted to a natural curiosity—“being a Southern man”—as to the true extent of the plans Hillard had mentioned.

Hillard hesitated. “I have told you all I have a right to tell you,” he said at last. “Do not think, my friend, that it is a want of confidence in you that makes me so cautious. It is because I have to be.” The reason for this was simple, Hillard explained as he glanced about the restaurant: There were “government spies here all the time.” As evidence of this, he mentioned his summons to testify before the select committee two weeks earlier. Hillard could not recall having spoken of the National Volunteers to anyone outside of the organization, but nevertheless he had been called to Washington to give evidence. To his mind, this was proof of spies in their midst. That being the case, the Volunteers had to be on their guard at all times. “We have taken a solemn oath,” he explained, “which is to obey the orders of our Captain, without asking any questions, and in no case, or under any circumstances, reveal … anything that is confidential.” Hillard was careful not to mention the names of Ferrandini or any other member of the secret order, not realizing that Davies and Pinkerton had already identified the key figures.

Davies continued to press. “It is none of my business to ask you questions about your Company,” he admitted, but he wondered if perhaps the young lieutenant could go so far as to reveal “the first object” of the organization. Hillard weighed the question for a moment. “It was first organized to prevent the passage of Lincoln with the troops through Baltimore,” he said after a time, “but our plans are changed every day, as matters change. What its object will be from day to day I do not know, nor can I tell. All we have to do is to obey the orders of our Captain—whatever he commands we are required to do.” Hillard took a significant pause, apparently wrestling with a desire to confide something further, but after a moment’s struggle he restrained himself. “Rest assured I have all confidence in you,” he said, but “I cannot come out and tell you all. I cannot compromise my honor.”

*   *   *

AS HILLARD RETREATED ONCE AGAIN behind his oath to the National Volunteers, Davies fell into despair. On Pinkerton’s orders, Davies had pushed as far as he dared, even pledging money to a potential assassin in his urgent pursuit of information. Pinkerton, who had passed over twenty-five dollars to James Luckett a few days earlier, clearly believed that such measures were an accepted component of undercover work, and a necessary concession to the limited time in which he had to work. For the moment, however, the aggressive tactics appeared to have failed. The surviving portion of Davies’s field report ends with Hillard’s refusal to compromise his “solemn oath.” According to Pinkerton’s recollections, however, the situation soon took a more favorable turn. On hearing what had transpired, Pinkerton saw that Hillard’s revelation about the ballot drawing had provided them with a tool to overcome the young lieutenant’s intransigence. In an account published many years later, Pinkerton claimed that he instructed Davies to demand to be taken to this fateful meeting, insisting that he, too, wished to be given the “opportunity to immortalize himself” by murdering Abraham Lincoln. “Accordingly,” Pinkerton wrote, “that day Davies broached the matter to Hillard in a manner which convinced him of his earnestness, and the young Lieutenant promised his utmost efforts to secure his admission.” Hillard then withdrew, apparently to plead his friend’s case to Ferrandini. Soon, Hillard returned in exuberant spirits. If Davies would be willing to swear an oath of loyalty, he could join Ferrandini’s band of “Southern patriots” that very night.

As evening fell, Pinkerton’s account continues, Hillard conducted Davies to the home of a man who was well known among the secessionists. The pair were ushered into a large drawing room on the ground floor, where a group of twenty men stood waiting. “The members were strangely silent,” Pinkerton declared, “and an ominous awe seemed to pervade the entire assembly.” At last, Davies found himself being led forward to meet their “noble Captain,” as Hillard repeatedly called him, whose identity had been so closely guarded. As Pinkerton and Davies had expected, this proved to be Cypriano Ferrandini, who had dressed for the occasion in funereal black from head to toe. Ferrandini greeted Davies with a crisp nod, but no words passed between them. As Pinkerton had noted earlier at Barr’s Saloon, the others treated their solemn-faced leader with marked deference. Each new man who entered crossed the room to pay his respects, and sought his approval before speaking.

Pinkerton operative Harry Davies takes his oath as a member of Ferrandini’s band.

At a signal from Ferrandini, heavy curtains were drawn tight across the windows. In the flickering light of candles, the “rebel spirits” formed a circle as Ferrandini instructed Davies to raise his hand and swear allegiance to the cause of Southern freedom. “Having passed through the required formula,” Pinkerton wrote, “Davies was warmly taken by the hand by his associates, many of whom he had met in the polite circles of society.” With the initiation completed, Ferrandini proceeded to the main business of the evening. Climbing onto a chair, he explained in hushed tones that he had assembled this sacred trust of patriots to ensure the preservation of the Southern way of life. Ferrandini’s voice gathered force as he spoke, and he carefully reviewed each step of the plan to divert the police at the Calvert Street Station, allowing their chosen assassin to strike. After elaborating on the design, he reminded his followers of the importance of their mission. “He violently assailed the enemies of the South,” as Davies reported to Pinkerton, “and in glowing words pointed out the glory that awaited the man who proved himself the hero upon this great occasion.” Davies noted that all present appeared to draw courage and resolve from Ferrandini’s words. Beside him, Hillard stood with a straight back and steadfast expression, as if his earlier fears were now forgotten. As Ferrandini brought his remarks to a “fiery crescendo,” he drew a long, curved blade from beneath his coat and brandished it high above his head. “Gentlemen,” he cried to roars of approval, “this hireling Lincoln shall never, never be President!”

When the cheers subsided, Ferrandini turned at last to the selection of Lincoln’s killer. “For this purpose the meeting had been called,” as Davies well knew, “and tonight the important decision was to be reached.” A wave of apprehension passed through the room. “Who should do the deed?” Ferrandini asked his followers. “Who should assume the task of liberating the nation of the foul presence of the abolitionist leader?”

Ferrandini explained that a number of paper ballots had been placed into the heavy wooden chest that sat on the table in front of him. One of these ballots, he continued, was marked in red to designate the assassin. “In order that none should know who drew the fatal ballot, except he who did so, the room was rendered still darker,” Davies reported, “and everyone was pledged to secrecy as to the color of the ballot he drew.” In this manner, Ferrandini told his followers, the identity of the “honored patriot” would be protected until the last-possible instant.

One by one, the “solemn guardians of the South” filed past the wooden box and withdrew a folded ballot slip. As each man passed, Ferrandini smiled approvingly and murmured a few words of encouragement. Ferrandini himself took the final ballot and held it high in the air, telling the assembly in a hushed but steely tone that their business had now come to a close. There should be no further discussion of the matter until the very moment of Lincoln’s arrival, he reminded them, to ensure that nothing should happen to compromise their plan. With a final word of praise for the strength and conviction of their “Southern ideals,” Ferrandini brought the meeting to a close.

Hillard and Davies walked out into the darkened streets together, after first withdrawing to a private corner to open their folded ballots. Davies’s own ballot paper was blank, a fact he conveyed to Hillard with an expression of ill-concealed disappointment. As they set off in search of a stiffening drink, Davies pretended to feel anxiety as to whether the plan could succeed. He told Hillard that he admired the strategy but was worried that the man who had been chosen to carry it out—whoever he might be—would lose his nerve at the crucial moment. Hillard waved the objection aside. Ferrandini had anticipated this possibility, he said, and had confided to him that a safeguard was in place to prevent such a failure. The wooden box, Hillard explained, had contained not one red ballot, but eight, and all eight were now in the hands of Ferrandini’s men. Each man would believe wholeheartedly that he alone was charged with the task of murdering Lincoln, and that the cause of the South rested solely upon “his courage, strength and devotion.” In this way, even if one or two of the chosen assassins should fail to act, at least one of the others would be certain to strike the fatal blow. For Hillard’s benefit, Davies feigned relief over the ingenuity of Ferrandini’s deception. Soon, after reviewing the events of the evening over a glass of whiskey, Davies found an excuse to withdraw for the evening.

Moments later, Davies was hurrying along the back alley behind Pinkerton’s South Street building, with the collar of his overcoat drawn tight around his face. He clambered up the rear stairs and burst into the office, launching into his account of the evening’s events even before the door had closed behind him. Pinkerton sat at his desk, furiously scribbling notes as Davies spoke, breaking in every so often to ask a question or confirm a detail.

When Davies had finished, Pinkerton sat back in his chair and pondered his next move. He found himself forced to admit to a grudging admiration for the murderous plot as Ferrandini had outlined it. “It was a capital one,” he acknowledged, and it would require his best effort if it were to be averted. It was now clear that the period of “unceasing shadow,” as he had described his operations in Baltimore, had come to an end.

“My time for action,” he later declared, “had now arrived.”

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