Military history



For the benefit of laymen I will state that in a crowd as great as the greatest, you can always be sure of getting through it if you follow these instructions: Elevate your elbow high, and bring it down with great force upon the digestive apparatus of your neighbor. He will double up and yell, causing the gentlemen in front of you to turn halfway round to see what is the matter. Punch him in the same way, step on his foot, pass him, and continue the application until you have reached the desired point. It never fails.

—JOSEPH HOWARD of the New York Times, from aboard the Lincoln Special

KATE WARNE, IN THE PERSON of Mrs. Barley of Alabama, had become a familiar sight in the hotel parlors and tearooms of Baltimore by this time. The young widow invariably found a seat at the edge of a large group of women and busied herself with a book or a piece of needlework, nodding pleasantly as she settled herself. With the dangling black and white ribbons of a Southern cockade pinned to her breast, Mrs. Warne, whose kindly blue eyes seemed to resonate with the laughter and animated comments nearby, would allow herself by slow degrees to be drawn into the neighboring conversations. She had “an ease of manner that was quite captivating,” Pinkerton observed, “and had already made remarkable progress in cultivating the acquaintance of the wives and daughters of the conspirators.”

As a rule, Pinkerton’s operatives avoided one another in public, so as reduce the risk of exposure if suspicion fell on a particular detective. It came as a surprise, therefore, when Pinkerton himself appeared suddenly in the parlor of Mrs. Warne’s hotel on the morning of February 18, signaling an urgent need to speak in private. Taking leave of her latest group of new friends, Mrs. Warne rose and quietly made her way to her room. Moments later, Pinkerton followed, unobserved.

As soon as the hotel room’s door closed behind him, Pinkerton began to speak in a rush. Mrs. Warne was to leave immediately, he told her, in order to rendezvous with Abraham Lincoln’s party in New York. Although Pinkerton had already been in touch with Norman Judd by telegraph and special messenger, the information he now planned to send would require delicate handling to ensure that it arrived safely and received the attention it deserved.

Reaching into his coat pocket, Pinkerton handed over a fresh letter for Norman Judd. It warned that the danger waiting for Lincoln in Baltimore could no longer be ignored, and urged him to take protective measures. It was essential, Pinkerton insisted, that Mrs. Warne place the letter directly into Judd’s hands, and that she bring all of her considerable powers of persuasion to bear as he read it. Above all, she must convince Judd of one essential fact: If Lincoln passed through Baltimore as planned in five day’s time, his safety could not be guaranteed. If necessary, the detective continued, he would arrange to meet with Judd personally to advise on a course of action.

Pinkerton also passed over a letter to be carried to Edward Sanford, the man who had hired him to investigate the Adams Express Robbery three years earlier. Sanford, he explained, was now president of the American Telegraph Company, and he would be able to assist in controlling the flow of crucial information in and out of Baltimore. If Mrs. Warne had trouble making contact with Lincoln’s entourage, Sanford would also be able to assist in getting access to Judd.

Glancing at his pocket watch, Pinkerton began pacing the room. In order to intercept Lincoln’s party, he said, Mrs. Warne would have to take a late train, leaving Baltimore just after five o’clock that evening. There was still much to do in the few hours remaining, but he promised to see her off at the depot with any further information that might come to hand. As Pinkerton turned to take his leave, the strain of the past few days showed in his ashen features and reddened eyes. Mrs. Warne offered no comment; she knew full well that Pinkerton would not rest for more than two or three hours a night until Lincoln had passed safely though Baltimore. Instead, she tucked the letters away and promised to carry out his instructions to the letter.

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LEAVING MRS. WARNE TO PREPARE for her journey, Pinkerton hurried back to his office and dashed off an urgent warning to Samuel Felton, instructing him to tighten the patrols around his bridges and ferries. The railroad president would have needed little persuading. He remained deeply concerned about the militia groups carrying out their training drills alongside his track. “One of these organizations was loyal,” he believed, “but the other two were disloyal, and fully in the plot to destroy the bridges.”

By this time, Felton had received corroboration from a second informant. This unknown “gentleman from Baltimore” had walked five miles out of the city to deliver a warning to one of Felton’s bridge keepers. According to his information, some of the militiamen were secretly preparing “combustible materials” to pour over the wooden bridges, so that they could be more easily destroyed when the time came. In the event that Northern troops were brought by train to reinforce Washington, the militiamen would set fire to the bridges just as the Lincoln Special came within range. “The bridge was then to be burned [and] the train attacked,” the informant claimed, “and Mr. Lincoln to be put out of the way.” Every detail of the scheme had been carefully worked out, Felton’s informant claimed, including the means by which the saboteurs would “disguise themselves as negroes” to avoid detection.

It is fair to wonder if this last detail would have passed entirely unnoticed. If the plan lacked a certain element of plausibility, however, Felton had absolute confidence in his unnamed informant. “I have never been able to ascertain who he was,” Felton wrote in later years, but he “appeared to be a gentleman, and in earnest, and honest in what he said.” The man declined to give his name, he said, because “his life would be in peril were it known that he had given this information.”

Felton’s account jibed with reports coming in from Timothy Webster, the agent Pinkerton had stationed in nearby Perrymansville, where the “loud threats” reported earlier had now taken a more tangible form. In a report dated Tuesday, February 19, Webster detailed the manner in which an ordinary game of “Ten-pins” had erupted into a heated debate over Lincoln’s prospects for survival, with one of the players stating darkly that if any Northern troops dared to show themselves, “Lincoln would never get to Washington.” Another man—a railway worker named Springer—heartily concurred, warning that “he had better not come over this road with any military, for if he did that boat would never make another [trip] across the River.” This was understood to be a reference to the Maryland, the small steamer used in the painstaking process of ferrying railcars across the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace.

Later that day, Springer expanded on his remarks, telling Webster that he had heard talk from Baltimore of “about one thousand men, well organized and ready for anything.” When Lincoln arrived in the city, Springer explained, there would be calls for him to step out from his train to give a speech. If Lincoln complied, Springer said, he “would not be surprised if they killed him.” Webster pressed for details about the leaders of this plot, but, as he reported to Pinkerton, “I could not learn from him any of their names.”

In a later account, Pinkerton claimed that the men of Perrymansville saw themselves as key figures in a larger web of conspiracy. In their view, as Pinkerton reported it, little good would be accomplished by Lincoln’s assassination alone. His death would only “hasten a disaster they were anxious to avoid,” because the forces of the Union “would rise as one man to avenge the death of their leader.” That being the case, it would be necessary to work in concert with the Baltimore plotters to hamper and perhaps prevent Northern retaliation. “As soon as the deed had been accomplished in Baltimore,” Pinkerton reported, “the news was to be telegraphed along the line of the road, and immediately upon the reception of this intelligence the telegraph wires were to be cut, the railroad bridges destroyed and the tracks torn up, in order to prevent for some time any information being conveyed to the cities of the North, or the passage of any Northern men.” In this way, the Union would be unable to bring its forces south with any speed or efficiency.

Pinkerton readily acknowledged that the scheme was “wild” and “reckless,” but Webster’s reports left him in no doubt that an attack on Samuel Felton’s railroad was imminent. He advised Felton to assemble a force of men “to guard the various bridges and ferries, who could be warned in time to resist attack should such be made.” Felton raised a group of some two hundred workers, who were “drilled secretly” for the task ahead. Felton was anxious to tread lightly, for fear that a conspicuous display of force would draw a violent response. Accordingly, he sent out his forces in the guise of work crews assigned to whitewash the bridges, as if sprucing up the line in advance of Lincoln’s arrival. In the course of this seemingly innocent labor, Felton’s men coated the vulnerable crossings with a flame-retardant solution of salt and alum, designed to render the wood nearly fireproof. Felton’s crews worked with extraordinary speed, he reported, and managed in some places to cover the bridges with six or seven layers of protective material. The whitewashing was “so extensive in its application,” Felton recalled, that it “became the nine-days wonder of the neighborhood.”

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IN BUFFALO, AFTER THE RELATIVE DAY of quiet on Sunday, William Wood’s ambitious itinerary resumed with a vengeance. On Monday, February 18, the “peculiar exigence of time tables” required the travelers to rise at 4:00 A.M. “At that hour the waking human heart yearneth to behold its enemy,” grumbled John Hay, adding that the cluster of men gloomily assembled in the dim corridors of the hotel “thirsted for the blood of Wood, as the hart thirsteth for the running brooks.” Lincoln and his family were spared to some extent, as Wood had provided them with a sleeper car at the rear of the departing train.

Complaints aside, the morning unfolded smoothly, thanks to well-run trains and straight stretches of track, allowing the Lincoln Special to attain speeds of nearly sixty miles per hour. John Hay declared that the “vital history” of the day amounted to three words: “Crowds, cannon, and cheers.” Lincoln’s speeches, too, appeared to be running more smoothly, or at least drawing better notice in the press. He had now recast his poorly received remark about the “artificial crisis,” clarifying his intent of stating that there had been an unhealthy degree of panic over the situation. “I do not mean to say that this artificial panic has not done harm,” he insisted. “That it has done much harm I do not deny.” Having admitted this much, however, Lincoln went on to assure his audiences that he would “take such grounds as I shall deem best calculated to restore peace, harmony and prosperity to the country.” The New York Times approved: “There is not the slightest doubt that, in its origin and its political aspect, the present crisis is what Mr. Lincoln styled it, an artificial one, got up by demagogues for selfish and partisan purposes.”

Lincoln had also become more adept at turning aside the calls to address the crowds at every stop. If he could not avoid speaking altogether, he devised artful explanations for the brevity of his remarks. In Hudson, New York, he declined to mount a nearby speaker’s platform, but joked with his audience that he did not intend to make a habit of it: “You must not on this account draw the inference that I have any intention to desert any platform I have a legitimate right to stand on.”

Henry Villard observed that Lincoln had also developed a relaxed manner with the “impertinent individuals” who spoke up during his speeches, answering their “rough courtesies” with good-natured humor, which invariably drew cheers and laughter. By now, Lincoln’s trackside pleasantries had been honed to a tidy formula, a fact that greatly pleased the clock-watching Wood. “Short-hand would express it thus,” wrote Joseph Howard in the Times. “Crowds—enthusiasm—little speech—little bow—kissed little girl—God-blessed old man—recognized old friend—much affected.”

This crisp routine fell to pieces as the Lincoln Special reached Albany at 2:30 that afternoon. A company of soldiers had been summoned to maintain order, but when these men failed to appear, the crowd swelled to unmanageable proportions, resulting in yet another ugly scene. An overmatched squad of policemen was swept aside, reported Villard, as “little boys and big men climbed under and over the train, only to be kicked and thrown back.” Lincoln remained safely inside his train compartment, awaiting the late arrival of the soldiers as his fellow travelers watched the brawl outside, commenting on the “relative muscle of the policemen and the crowd.” At last, the reinforcements appeared and quickly fell upon the “enthusiasts,” using clubbed muskets to clear a path from the train. Even so, as Lincoln climbed into a waiting carriage for his trip to the capitol, a few determined supporters slipped through the cordon. A man named Fennessey, “being more or less influenced by liquor,” pushed his way forward and pumped Lincoln’s hand until police ushered him away. “All was confusion, hurry, disorder, mud, riot and discomfort,” remarked a disgusted Villard.

Arriving at last at the capitol’s rotunda, Lincoln received a warm welcome from Governor Edwin Morgan, the influential chairman of the Republican National Committee. In response, Lincoln expressed a hesitation to speak in such an august setting, as he felt himself to be “the humblest of all individuals” ever elected to the White House. At the insistence of his hosts, Lincoln managed a few brief words, but he took pains to avoid a detailed discussion of “our present difficulties” until he had “enjoyed every opportunity to take correct and true ground.”

Lincoln would elaborate on this theme the following day, answering critics who continued to call for an elaboration of future policy. “I have not kept silent since the Presidential election from any party wantonness,” he declared, “or from any indifference to the anxiety that pervades the minds of men about the aspect of the political affairs of this country. I have kept silent for the reason that I supposed it was peculiarly proper that I should do so until the time came when, according to the customs of the country, I should speak officially.” In other words, Lincoln remained determined to keep his powder dry for the inaugural address in Washington, allowing for any further “shifting of the scenes” in the interim, and giving his best and most fully considered statement of intent only when he had officially ascended to the presidency.

Several observers in Albany would remark that Lincoln seemed “much wearied” as he was rushed through his paces. One reporter went so far as to say that he looked like a man who had recently awakened from a nap. If Lincoln appeared more careworn than usual that day, he had good reason. At the capitol, Governor Morgan had handed him a disturbing letter from Worthington G. Snethen, one of his few supporters in Baltimore. Earlier, Snethen had written to report on a torchlight parade of Lincoln men, who conducted themselves “nobly” even when pelted by eggs and brickbats. Now, however, Snethen appeared to be waffling on whether he and his colleagues would be able to mount a similar procession for Lincoln’s arrival. Although he did not report as much to Lincoln, he had now learned that George Kane, Baltimore’s marshal of police, would not provide any police protection, which placed Snethen and his “gallant little band” of supporters in a very delicate position.

“On consultation with some of our leading Republican friends,” Snethen wrote, “it has been deemed inadvisable, in the present state of things, to attempt any organized public display on our part.” Instead, Snethen proposed that he and a few others should go to Philadelphia or Harrisburg and return with Lincoln to the city, so as to escort him quietly to his planned lunch at the Eutaw House hotel. He added, significantly, that they would be pleased to offer this service “should you decide to stop in Baltimore.” If Lincoln chose instead merely to change trains in the city, Snethen continued, he and his group would convey him from one depot to the next. Snethen went on to express hope, even at this late date, that the city’s officials might yet come forward to provide Lincoln with a formal welcome to Baltimore, complete with “the necessary conveyances and escort,” as had been done at all of the previous stops on his journey. He admitted, however, that so far there had been “no intimations” of this kind. “The city authorities are all opposed to us,” he said, “and some of them are even hostile.”

Snethen had couched his letter in terms of unflagging support, but the underlying message was unmistakable: Lincoln was not welcome in Baltimore. The following morning, as the Lincoln Special’s route turned toward Washington, Lincoln would be headed due south for the first time. Maryland lay directly in his path, but the political establishment of the state had yet to acknowledge his approach. Governor Hicks, still trying to maintain his partisan balancing act, had been especially notable in his silence. Only Snethen and his plucky fellow Republicans had troubled to extend a hand of welcome, and even they appeared to be thinking better of it.

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AS IT HAPPENED, the man who would have best understood Lincoln’s concerns was not on board when the Lincoln Special pulled out of Albany at eight o’clock the following morning. Norman Judd, who had already received two warnings about conditions in Baltimore from Pinkerton, found himself left behind when the train departed ahead of schedule. Judd had “never felt so mortified in all his life,” he admitted, and hastily bought a ticket on a regular passenger train to catch up with the Lincoln Special in New York City later that afternoon.

It was felt by some that Lincoln’s early departure reflected his disgust with the hectic arrangements in Albany—“a miserable botch,” in Villard’s words—but it was more likely a concession to difficult travel conditions. Ice floes in the Hudson River had made the original route inadvisable, so Wood adjusted the timetable to allow for a detour. Whatever the official reason, both Lincoln and his wife were said to be grateful for “safe deliverance” from their overeager hosts, and vowed never to return.

At three o’clock that afternoon, after another day of “cheers and hurrahs,” the train pulled into New York City’s Hudson River Railroad terminal at West Thirtieth Street. It was a significant milestone for the man whose name had been misreported as “Abram Lincoln” at the time of election. Nearly one year had passed since his previous visit to the city, when he had delivered his pivotal address at Cooper Union. On that occasion, he had been virtually unknown, and he had walked to the Astor House hotel on foot. Now, as John Nicolay reported, the city’s streets, doorways, windows and rooftops were lined with a “continuous fringe of humanity” as residents jockeyed for a clear view of the incoming president.

New York City’s police superintendent, John Kennedy, greeted Lincoln at the station, signaling an unparalleled level of security and crowd control. Lincoln’s arrival had been an occasion of bedlam at every previous stop, but Kennedy had imposed a system of ticketed admission at the station, limiting the crowd to invited guests. Maj. David Hunter, who still wore his arm in a sling after the melee in Buffalo, looked on with obvious approval as he climbed down from the train.

Kennedy’s security measures remained in evidence outside the station, where a line of thirty-five coaches stood waiting for a procession of three and a half miles through the city streets. Lincoln submitted to a brief grooming from his wife, who attempted to smooth his unkempt hair and beard, before stepping into an ornate carriage at the head of the column, drawn by six black horses. As the procession rounded onto Ninth Avenue from Thirtieth Street, squads of mounted police took up positions at the front and rear, with patrolmen on foot flanking the carriages, and hundreds of additional men lining the parade route. “The police arrangements were among the most perfect,” Nicolay reported. “Broadway had been kept clear, so that the double line of carriages which made up the procession moved in perfect order.”

Significantly, New York Mayor Fernando Wood was not on hand to greet Lincoln that day. The previous month, Wood had proposed that New York declare a form of independence during the secession dispute, so as to continue “uninterrupted intercourse with every section” of the country. “When Disunion has become a fixed and certain fact,” he declared, “why may not New York disrupt the bands which bind her to a venal and corrupt master?” The suggestion drew bitter criticism. “Wood evidently wants to be a traitor,” wrote Horace Greeley. “It is lack of courage only that makes him content with being a blackguard.” Lincoln’s response, expressed privately, was equally cutting. “I reckon,” he said, “it will be some time before the front door sets up housekeeping on its own account.”

If Mayor Wood’s views were extreme, they reflected New York’s mood, which had turned anxious and pessimistic in the wake of the election. Businesses were faltering and the stock market had plummeted. Many New Yorkers believed that their troubles rested squarely on Lincoln’s shoulders, and they greeted his arrival with “much respect,” according to one reporter, but “little enthusiasm.” Signs of the city’s ambivalence could be seen clearly along the route to the Astor House.RIGHT MAKES MIGHT read one banner, a reference to Lincoln’s triumphant Cooper Union address, but another urged the incoming president to show caution: WELCOME ABRAHAM LINCOLN, it read. WE BEG FOR COMPROMISE.

After bowing and doffing his hat for an hour and a half as the procession rolled slowly along, Lincoln arrived at last at the Astor House, located on Broadway between Vesey and Barclay streets. Across the street, watching from the top of a Broadway omnibus, the poet Walt Whitman looked on as Lincoln stepped out of his carriage. “The figure, the look, the gait, are distinctly impress’d upon me yet,” Whitman wrote many years later. “All was comparative and ominous silence. The newcomer look’d with curiosity upon that immense sea of faces, and the sea of faces return’d the look with similar curiosity. In both there was a dash of something almost comical. Yet there was much anxiety in certain quarters. Cautious persons had fear’d that there would be some outbreak, some mark’d indignity or insult to the President elect on his passage through the city, for he possess’d no personal popularity in New York, and not much political. No such outbreak or insult, however, occurr’d.” The poet went on to take a bit of license with the scene, looking back over the intervening years to suggest a presentiment of roiling dangers: “I had no doubt (so frenzied were the ferments of the time) many an assassin’s knife and pistol lurk’d in hip or breast-pocket there—ready, soon as break and riot came.”

While Whitman watched from the street, Kate Warne looked down on the scene from the top floor of the hotel. “Lincoln looked very pale and fatigued,” she noted in her field report. “He was standing in his carriage bowing when I first saw him. From the carriage he went directly into the house, and soon after appeared on the balcony.” As had become his habit, Lincoln attempted to deflect the calls for an impromptu speech, insisting that he had “nothing to say just now worth your hearing,” but the crowd persisted. Mrs. Warne looked on as he ventured a few remarks, but “there was such a noise it was impossible to hear what he said.”

For Mrs. Warne, it had been a day of frustrations. Her train ride from Baltimore had been an eleven-hour crawl, finally reaching New York at the inhospitable hour of 4:00 A.M. She then made her way to the Astor House, where, “after much trouble,” she succeeded in getting a room. Weary from the unpleasant journey, she tried to get a few hours of rest but found herself unable to sleep. She rose and breakfasted at 7:30, then settled down in her room, awaiting the chance to meet with Norman Judd. In the meantime, Mrs. Warne hoped to make contact with Edward Sanford to deliver the other message Pinkerton had left in her care. Summoning a messenger boy, she sent a note to Sanford’s office to arrange a meeting, and waited with increasing impatience for a reply. Finally, at three o’clock that afternoon, she sent a second message, underscoring the urgency of her errand. At this, Sanford replied, saying that he was unavailable but would call on Mrs. Warne that evening. In the meantime, upon seeing Lincoln arrive, Mrs. Warne dispatched a note to Judd, asking him to come to her room as soon as convenient. “I gave the note to the bell-boy and told him to deliver [it] immediately,” she noted in her field report, but her hopes for a prompt meeting were dashed when the messenger returned with the news that Judd had been left behind in Albany. Exasperated, Mrs. Warne pulled a chair to the window and resumed her vigil.

Several hours later, as Judd belatedly straggled into the Astor House, the hotel bellboy pressed Mrs. Warne’s note into his hand. Judd lost no time in answering the summons, having been well primed by his earlier messages from Pinkerton. “I followed the servant to one of the upper rooms of the hotel,” he recalled, “where, upon entering, I found a lady seated at a table with some papers before her. She arose as I entered.”

Judd took a moment to assess the agreeable, if understated, young woman standing before him, likely wondering why Allan Pinkerton had sent a woman to do a man’s job. Seeing his hesitation, Mrs. Warne hurried forward and offered her hand. “Mr. Judd, I presume,” she said crisply.

Judd gave a curt nod. “Yes, madam,” he replied, but before he could speak further, Mrs. Warne guided him firmly to a chair, explaining that Pinkerton had sent her to New York because he “did not like to trust the mail in so important a matter.” Judd had been expecting as much, and he apparently felt the need to steel himself for the contents of Pinkerton’s letter. On the long journey from Springfield, John Hay and others had become accustomed to seeing Judd with an unlighted cigar clamped between his teeth. Now, as Mrs. Warne passed over the envelope from Pinkerton, Judd asked for her permission to light up.

Judd tore open the letter and read through it with visible agitation. Once again, Pinkerton had been sparing with his details. New evidence of a plot against Lincoln had come to light, he insisted, but the particulars were too sensitive to be shared in a letter. It was imperative, however, that Judd be prepared to take whatever action would be necessary when the time came. In the meantime, Pinkerton and his operatives would gather information and form a plan to meet the crisis. Mrs. Warne had been instructed to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Pinkerton at Judd’s earliest-possible convenience. At that time, the detective promised, all would be revealed.

For several moments, Judd said nothing. He read through the letter a second time, sending up a thick plume of cigar smoke, then allowed the paper to dangle from his fingers. Up to this point, he had kept his own counsel about the bulletins Pinkerton had sent from Baltimore, so as to “avoid causing any anxiety on the part of Mr. Lincoln.” Now, after staying silent for nearly a week, he worried that he had badly misjudged the seriousness of the situation. Pinkerton had made it plain that nothing more could be revealed until they met in person, but Judd was not willing to wait. Desperate for more detail, he rounded on Mrs. Warne. What, exactly, was this new evidence? How many conspirators were in on the plot? Why had Pinkerton not gone to the police?

“Mr. Judd asked me a great many questions, which I did not answer,” Mrs. Warne recalled. “I told him that I could not talk on the business.” Instead, she promised Judd that she would hand-carry a message directly to Pinkerton in Baltimore. The two of them could speak in person the following day so that “all the proofs relating to the conspiracy could be submitted.”

This did nothing to calm Judd’s fears. “He said he was much alarmed and would like to show the letter I had given him to some of the party,” Mrs. Warne wrote, “and also consult the New York police about it.” Mrs. Warne stood firm. She told Judd that he was “to do no such thing,” and advised him to “keep cool” until the meeting with Pinkerton could be arranged.

Pinkerton had feared just such a response from Judd, and was counting on Mrs. Warne’s considerable powers of persuasion to keep him in check. Pinkerton earnestly believed that bringing others in on the plot would pose a danger to his agents in the field, and limit his options in dealing with the threat. Secrecy, as he had told Samuel Felton, was the lever that guaranteed his success. Any wider discussion of his discoveries within Lincoln’s circle would almost certainly spark rumors in the press. If that were to happen, the conspirators might well abandon their current plan and form a new one, and Pinkerton’s hard-won information would become useless.

For the moment, Mrs. Warne’s arguments appeared to be having little effect. Judd began to pace the room, puffing hard at his cigar. After a moment, he asked if Pinkerton couldn’t be summoned to New York immediately. Mrs. Warne calmly pointed out that Pinkerton couldn’t possibly reach the city before Lincoln was scheduled to depart. This served only to deepen Judd’s gloom. He repeated that he “did not know what to do” and felt he must “consult with one of his party” to determine a course of action. Mrs. Warne furrowed her brow and said nothing. She now feared that Pinkerton’s decision to confide in Judd was about to backfire.

At that moment, help arrived from an unexpected quarter as Edward Sanford, Pinkerton’s client in the Adams Express robbery, appeared at the door of Mrs. Warne’s room. The last time Sanford had seen Mrs. Warne, she had been streaked in grime from digging in a dirt cellar for his company’s stolen money. Meeting her again now, Sanford swept into the room and clasped Mrs. Warne’s hands in a warm greeting, praising her lavishly as someone to whom he owed a great debt.

Sanford’s effusive words seemed to have a calming effect on Norman Judd. After Mrs. Warne made the introductions, she handed Sanford his letter from Pinkerton, asking for his assistance in making arrangements to conduct Lincoln safely through Baltimore. When Sanford finished reading the letter, he passed it over to Judd. Although this second message offered no new information, Judd took added reassurance from the fact that Pinkerton was already laying plans with Sanford to meet the crisis. As his mood brightened, Judd told Sanford that everything appeared to be “all right” now. Pinkerton, it appeared, was a man of sound judgment. Sanford heartily agreed, and he offered Judd the use of the American Telegraph Company’s lines for any communication he might wish to make. Judd declined, saying that he would withdraw to his room for the moment to consider the matter further.

Mrs. Warne was filled with misgivings as Judd rose to leave. She repeated her warning about keeping Pinkerton’s concerns quiet. Judd offered no promises, saying only that he would return with further instructions later that evening. This was far from reassuring, but for the moment Mrs. Warne had little choice but to stand aside and hope that he would honor Pinkerton’s wishes. As the door closed behind Judd, Mrs. Warne found herself alone with Edward Sanford, whose own curiosity had been inflamed by Pinkerton’s message. Based on his business relationship with the agency, Sanford believed he was entitled to Mrs. Warne’s full confidence. “Now,” he said, with an air of getting down to business, “what is the trouble?” Once again, Mrs. Warne found herself deflecting questions about the drama unfolding in Baltimore. She insisted that she had merely come to New York as a courier for Pinkerton, and “that was all I had to say on [the] business.” Sanford was far from satisfied with this answer. As he pressed harder, Mrs. Warne grew impatient, having covered much of the same ground with Judd moments earlier. “There is no reason why I should tell all I know,” she said tersely. “I have no more to say.”

Sanford pounced on this statement as an admission that Mrs. Warne knew more than she was telling. “There is something more,” he insisted, his temper flaring. “If you will only tell me how you are situated, and what you are doing at Baltimore, I can better judge how to act.” Mrs. Warne held firm, repeating only that she had “nothing more to say.” Sanford grumbled at this, complaining that Mrs. Warne was taking unfair advantage of him. Perhaps, he said, she had entangled so many men with her wily deceits that she could no longer be “roped” herself. Mrs. Warne answered him with a laugh. “It is as easy to ‘rope’ me as anyone else,” she admitted, “but just now I really have nothing to say.” Her lighthearted response had the desired effect: “Mr. Sanford laughed at this, and said that I was a strange woman.” To her relief, his anger had vanished, and he now “seemed good-natured again.”

In fact, Mrs. Warne was paying the price for carrying out Pinkerton’s orders to the letter and adhering to his increasingly impracticable demands for secrecy. Both Sanford and Judd were powerful men who were used to getting their own way, and who would have been unaccustomed to such treatment from a young woman, no matter how skilled at “roping” she may have been. Pinkerton had placed her in the untenable position of securing their cooperation on a vague promise of evidence to come. Her skill and tact may be gauged by the fact that Sanford now turned to her for advice in writing a dispatch to Pinkerton, pledging his full support in whatever lay ahead. Sanford also offered the services of a “young attaché” named George H. Burns, who had carried messages back and forth to Mrs. Warne earlier in the day. Burns, Sanford explained, would be able to take full control of the telegraph wires carrying messages in and out of Baltimore, allowing Pinkerton to monitor the lines or cut off communications entirely if he saw fit. “He was [now] very friendly,” Mrs. Warne wrote, “and stayed until after 10:00, when he bade me good night.”

Pausing at the door, Sanford tried one last time to draw out further information, expressing surprise that Pinkerton and Mrs. Warne were so “frightened” by what they had discovered in Baltimore. “I suppose he thought now that I would go on and tell him all I knew, but I said nothing,” Mrs. Warne declared, “only that we were not frightened, and what was more I had never known Mr. Pinkerton to be frightened.” Sanford took this rebuff in good humor, then left, promising to keep in close contact.

Sanford had barely closed the door behind him when a telegram arrived from Pinkerton. Mrs. Warne read it with rising dread, knowing that it would touch off a fresh round of difficulties. “I immediately sent for Judd,” she recalled, “who came at once to my room.” Closing the door behind her, Mrs. Warne passed over the folded telegraph slip, which read:

“Tell Judd I meant all I said, and that today they offer ten for one, and twenty for two.”

Judd did not have to be told the meaning of this cryptic message. Pinkerton was simply reporting the latest word from the streets of Baltimore, where the local “sporting men” were setting odds that Lincoln would not pass through the city with his life.

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