Hitherto I have kept silent upon this subject …
—ALLAN PINKERTON, January 8, 1868
“NOW THE RUMORS HITHERTO NEBULOUS began to take definite form,” John Hay wrote two days after Lincoln’s unscheduled arrival in Washington, “first whispered, then spoken, and finally bellowed from one end of the town to the other.” The city of Washington, Hay reported, was rife with stories of oaths taken upon daggers, sharpshooters crouched in attic windows, torpedoes to be hurled beneath Lincoln’s carriage, and plans to throw the presidential train off the track “for the gentle purpose of bayoneting any possible survivors.” In fact, Hay insisted, if Lincoln had as many lives as a cat, he would have lost them all if even half the rumors were true. No arrests had been made, he continued, but there was no shortage of suspects: “An Italian barber wanders vaguely through this shadowy surmise; a leader of the Baltimore carbonari, probably, who wears a slouch hat and gives an easy shave for six cents.” For all of that, Hay was at pains to say that Lincoln entertained no fears for his safety. His actions had been motivated by simple expedience, discretion being the greater part of valor. “There will, of course, be future disclosures concerning the matter,” Hay concluded. “Even up to this time it is impossible to form an opinion which may not be controverted by the revelations of tomorrow.”
As far as Pinkerton was concerned, there would be no future disclosures. He had sworn the main participants to secrecy, and arranged matters so that the minor players had no sense of the larger plan. In many cases, even those directly involved in carrying out crucial elements of the detective’s design were ignorant of the roles they had played. Once again, secrecy had been the lever of his success. The entire operation, Pinkerton admitted with satisfaction, had gone off precisely as he had hoped.
* * *
AMONG THE CREW OF SAMUEL FELTON’S RAILROAD, it appeared that the most notable thing to occur on the evening of February 22 had been a set of special instructions concerning the eleven o’clock train from Philadelphia. Felton himself had directed the conductor to hold his train at the station to await the arrival of a special courier, who would hand off a vitally important parcel. Under no circumstance could the train depart without it, Felton warned, “as this package must go through to Washington on tonight’s train.”
In fact, the package was a decoy, part of an elaborate web of bluffs and blinds that Pinkerton had constructed to limit the number of people who knew what was actually happening that night. In order to make it convincing, Felton would recall, he and Pinkerton had assembled a formidable-looking parcel done up with an impressive wax seal. Inside was a stack of useless old railroad reports. “I marked it ‘Very important—To be delivered, without fail, by eleven o’clock train,’” Felton recalled. The name on the package was Mr. E. J. Allen, care of Willard’s Hotel, Washington, D.C. “E. J. Allen,” as Pinkerton would later admit, “was the nom-de-plume I generally used when on detective operations.”
Pinkerton realized that ruses of this type would be crucial if he expected to accomplish his task. Lincoln’s original plans for traveling from Harrisburg to Washington had been admirably direct, a two-part run of just over one hundred miles, with a change of stations in Baltimore. Now, under Pinkerton’s plan, Lincoln would instead set off on a three-part marathon, backtracking from Harrisburg to Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania Railroad, jumping from there to Baltimore on Felton’s line, and finally connecting with a Baltimore and Ohio train into Washington. In all, Lincoln would have to cover some 250 miles in a single night—doubling the original distance—and running in darkness for most of the journey, with two changes of train. Though laborious and indirect, the revised scheme would accomplish Pinkerton’s original goal of bringing Lincoln through Baltimore earlier than expected. In addition, Lincoln would make his approach to the city on a different rail line, and arrive at a different station, which might allow him to slip past any sentries acting on behalf of the conspirators, who expected him to arrive at the Calvert Street Station on the Northern Central line direct from Harrisburg.
The added mileage was only the first of many problems Pinkerton faced that night. Though Lincoln would be making the first leg of his trip in a private train, Pinkerton could not risk using special equipment for the remaining two segments of the journey, as it would draw attention to Lincoln’s movements to have an unscheduled special train on the tracks that night. In order to travel anonymously, Lincoln would have to ride on regular passenger trains, gambling that the privacy of an ordinary sleeping compartment would be sufficient to conceal his presence.
Having charted this route, Pinkerton now confronted a scheduling problem. The train carrying Lincoln from Harrisburg on the first segment of his journey would likely not reach Philadelphia in time to connect with the second segment, the eleven o’clock train to Baltimore. Felton’s decoy parcel, it was hoped, would hold the Baltimore-bound train at the depot, without drawing undue suspicion, until Lincoln could be smuggled aboard. If all went according to plan, Lincoln would arrive in Baltimore in the dead of night. His sleeper car would then be unhitched and drawn by horse to the Camden Street Station, where it would be coupled to a Washington train for the final leg of the journey.
Pinkerton had laid his plans “keenly, shrewdly and well,” as Norman Judd would say, drawing on his long experience in railroad security to coordinate details across the three separate lines. So long as Lincoln’s presence remained secret, Pinkerton assured Judd, there would be little danger of any of the three trains being attacked. It was essential, therefore, that Lincoln should not be recognized at any stage of the journey.
With that in mind, the task of getting Lincoln safely aboard the Baltimore-bound passenger train would be especially delicate, as it would have to be done in plain view of the passengers and crew. For this, Pinkerton needed a second decoy, and he counted on Kate Warne to supply it. In Philadelphia, Mrs. Warne made arrangements to reserve four double berths on the sleeper car at the back of the train. She had been instructed by Pinkerton to “get in the sleeping car andkeep possession” until he arrived with Lincoln, but when the time came, the job proved difficult. “I found it almost impossible to save the berths together,” she reported, because arriving passengers were permitted to take any available space. As the train began to fill up, Mrs. Warne grew anxious, fearing that only a few scattered places would remain by the time Pinkerton got there. In that case, he and Lincoln would be obliged to wedge themselves into whatever berths happened to be vacant, and any hope of concealing the president-elect’s identity would be lost. As more and more passengers climbed aboard, rapidly filling the available berths, Mrs. Warne flagged down a conductor and pressed some money into his hand. She needed a special favor, she said, because she would be traveling with her “invalid brother,” who would retire immediately to his compartment and remain there behind closed blinds. It was important, due to his fragile nature, that a group of spaces be held at the back of the train to ensure his comfort and privacy. The conductor, seeing the obvious concern in the young woman’s face, nodded his head and took up a position at the rear door of the train.
* * *
IN HARRISBURG, SIMILAR ARRANGEMENTS were being carried out by a late addition to Pinkerton’s network: George C. Franciscus, a superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Pinkerton had confided in Franciscus the previous day, since the last-minute revision of his plan required Lincoln to make the first leg of his journey on Franciscus’s line. “I had no hesitation in telling him what I desired,” Pinkerton reported, because he had worked with Franciscus previously and knew him to be “a true and loyal man.” After spending much of Thursday night in conference with Pinkerton in Philadelphia, Franciscus had traveled to Harrisburg the following morning—catching a ride on the Lincoln Special—to make certain that the initial phase of the plan went smoothly.
Later that afternoon, when he got final word that Lincoln had consented to the plan, Franciscus put the wheels in motion. A Pennsylvania Railroad fireman named Daniel Garman recalled that Franciscus came hurrying up to him, “very much excited,” with orders to get a special train charged and ready. “I quick went and oiled up the engine and lighted the head light and turned up my fire,” Garman recalled. As he finished, he looked out and saw engineer Edward Black running along the track at full speed. Having been ordered by Franciscus to report for emergency duty, Black now hopped up into the cab and scrambled to make ready, apparently under the impression that a private train was needed to carry a group of railroad executives to Philadelphia. “I said everything was all ready,” Garman recalled, and the two men backed the engine into the depot and coupled to an empty saloon car. This done, they ran the two-car special a mile south toward Front Street, as instructed, and idled at a track crossing to wait for their passengers. Franciscus, meanwhile, had circled back to the Jones House in a carriage, pulling up just as Governor Curtin, Ward Lamon, and Lincoln himself—his appearance masked by his unfamiliar hat and shawl—emerged from the side entrance of the hotel. As the door closed behind the passengers, Franciscus flicked his whip and started off in the direction of the railroad tracks, with the indignant cries of the abandoned Colonel Sumner trailing after him.
As the carriage clattered through the streets, Governor Curtin noted a crush of people gathering at his official residence on South Second Street. “The halls, stairways and pavement in front of the house were much crowded,” he said, “and no doubt the impression prevailed that Mr. Lincoln was going to the Executive Mansion with me.” Instead, the carriage thundered past and made directly for the waiting train.
At the Front Street crossing, engineer Black and fireman Garman had barely maneuvered their two-car special into position when the carriage rolled to a stop alongside. Garman looked on as a tall person quietly alighted, escorted by Franciscus, and made his way down the tracks to the saloon car, in the company of a group of local railroad men. Once he and the other travelers were on board, Garman said, “the gong rang and we did some lively running.” Lincoln’s 250-mile dash to Washington was under way.
Even as the train vanished into the darkness, Andrew Wynne of the American Telegraph Company was climbing a square-cut wooden utility pole two miles south of town. Under the direction of George Burns and others, Wynne carefully laid a copper ground wire across the cables at the top, cutting off all telegraph communication between Harrisburg and Baltimore. The wires that Wynne had cut, however, did not belong to the American Telegraph Company. Earlier that day, Wynne had been asked by his supervisor if he would object to “fixing the wires” of a rival company to prevent any communications from passing over them. “I answered I would not,” he recalled, “in some cases.” This, apparently, was one of those cases.
Governor Curtin, meanwhile, returned to the Executive Mansion and spent the rest of the evening turning away callers, so as to give the impression that Lincoln was resting inside. It was “eminently proper,” Curtin said, “that it should not be generally known that Mr. Lincoln had left Harrisburg.”
* * *
ON BOARD THE TRAIN, Edward Black and Daniel Garman were pushing their engine to the limit. “If ever I got a fast ride,” Garman said, “I did that night.” All other trains had been shunted off the main line to allow the special an unimpeded run. Black had been instructed to make no stops, apart from essential watering breaks, and to arrive at the West Philadelphia depot as speedily as could be managed without running off the tracks. Garman would recall shoveling coal at such a frantic pace that much of it wound up on the floor. At times, he said, he was literally rolling in it.
In the passenger coach, Lincoln and his fellow travelers sat in the dark, so as to reduce the chance that the president-elect would be spotted at a watering stop. The precaution wasn’t entirely successful. At one of the stops, as Garman bent to connect a hose pipe, he caught sight of Lincoln in the moonlight streaming through the door of the coach. He ran forward to tell Black that “the rail-splitter was on the train,” only to be muzzled by Franciscus, who warned him not to say a word. “You bet I kept quiet then,” Garman recalled.
Climbing back into the cab alongside Black, Garman could not entirely contain his excitement. He cautiously asked his colleague if he had any idea what was going on in the saloon car. “I don’t know,” the engineer replied, “but just keep the engine hot.” By this time, Black may well have had suspicions of his own. Earlier that day, he had driven the flag-draped special that brought Lincoln to Harrisburg to address the state legislature. “I was introduced to Lincoln,” Black recalled, “and after a few words, he shook me by the hand, handed me a cigar, and passed into the train. Could I only have foreseen what was to occur in the next few years I think that cigar, instead of being smoked, would have been kept as a precious and hallowed remembrance.”
Now, some nine hours later, there were no cigars or other pleasantries. Lincoln, exhausted from the labors of the previous days, sat in the darkened saloon car with his eyes closed as Garman and Black bent to their work in the cab. Compared to the luxurious trappings of the earlier trains in which Lincoln had ridden, the arrangements that night were notably spartan. As the train paused to take on more water in Downingtown, Lamon and the other passengers climbed down to find refreshments, leaving Lincoln huddled by himself in the dark train. “A cup of tea and a roll was taken to him in the car,” recalled one of the railroad men.
Aside from watering stops, the train ran “mighty sharp” for the entire length of the line. “I have often wondered what people thought of that short train whizzing through the night,” engineer Black would later say. “A case of life and death, perhaps, and so it was.”
* * *
IN PHILADELPHIA, ALLAN PINKERTON had been in a state of suspense for two hours, awaiting word that Lincoln was safely under way. Though the telegraph wires between Harrisburg and Baltimore had been cut at the detective’s instigation, communications into Philadelphia were operating normally under the watchful eye of a Pinkerton confidant. Eager for news, Pinkerton made the rounds of the telegraph and express offices to see if any reports had arrived. Finally, at 8:30P.M., he fired off a message to George Burns, using the agreed-upon cipher: “Where is Nuts?” After forty-five agonizing minutes, the answer came: “Nuts left at six—Everything as you directed—all is right.”
Greatly relieved, Pinkerton readied himself for the next phase of the operation. Hiring a closed carriage, he made his way to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s West Philadelphia depot at Market and Thirty-Second streets. Pinkerton left the carriage waiting at the curb and took up a position near the main stairs, where he could keep an eye on the arriving trains. Soon, the detective was joined by H. F. Kenney, another of Samuel Felton’s employees. Kenney reported that he had just come from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore depot across town, where he had issued orders to hold the Baltimore-bound train for Felton’s “important parcel.” Pinkerton checked his watch. “Thus far,” he noted, “everything had passed off admirably.”
Just after ten o’clock, the squeal of brake blocks and the hiss of steam announced the arrival of the two-car special from Harrisburg, well ahead of schedule. As the train lurched to a halt, George Franciscus handed over two ten-dollar gold pieces to Black and Garman. Later, when Garman realized exactly what had happened that night, he commented on Franciscus’s generosity: “So we can say that we got the first money in protecting the President,” he declared proudly.
In fact, Garman’s and Black’s heroic efforts had created a problem for Pinkerton. As he stepped forward and exchanged hushed greetings with Lincoln, Pinkerton realized that the early arrival of the Harrisburg train left him with too much time on his hands. The Baltimore-bound train was not scheduled to leave for nearly an hour, and Felton’s depot was only three miles away. It wouldn’t do to linger at either train station, where Lincoln might be recognized, nor could he be seen on the streets. Pinkerton decided that Lincoln would be safest inside a moving carriage. To avoid arousing the carriage driver’s suspicions, he told Kenney to distract him with a time-consuming set of directions, which included “driving northward in search of some imaginary person.” Franciscus and the other Harrisburg railroad men took their leave of Lincoln at the depot and offered prayers for the remaining portion of the journey. “Mr. Lincoln thanked them for their kindness,” Pinkerton reported, “and I promised to telegraph them in the morning.” As Franciscus withdrew, Pinkerton, Lamon, and Lincoln, his features partly masked by his shawl, took their seats in the carriage. “I took mine alongside the driver,” Kenney recalled, and gave a convoluted set of orders that sent them rolling in aimless circles through the streets.
* * *
ACROSS TOWN, STANDING BESIDE the Baltimore-bound train, George Dunn was growing anxious. Dunn, the Harnden’s Express agent whom Pinkerton had sent to Baltimore earlier that day, had returned to Philadelphia in time to meet up with Kate Warne at the depot. He gave Mrs. Warne the reports he had collected at Pinkerton’s South Street office, and assisted her in making the necessary arrangements for their “invalid friend,” who was expected to appear at any moment. As the scheduled departure time neared, Dunn wished to satisfy himself that “everything was free, clear and safe.” He decided to walk through the interior of the train to make sure he saw nothing suspicious. At the front of the sleeping car, he noticed “a small party of men, who from their quiet talk, vigilant appearance and watchfulness, seemed to be on the alert for somebody or something,” Dunn reported. “This feature was not at all satisfactory to me. Knowing the public feeling, I felt very sure that it boded no good to my expected party.”
As the suspicious characters clustered at the front door of the train, Dunn “quickly concluded” that Lincoln should enter at the back. Finding the rear door locked, Dunn sought out the porter of the sleeping car and asked for the key. “At first he declined,” Dunn recalled, “but on explanation of the fact that it was for the accommodation of an invalid, who would arrive late, and did not desire to be carried through the narrow passageway of the crowded car, he consented to the arrangement.” Dunn would recall this moment with pride to the end of his life. In a later conversation with Pinkerton, he reported, the detective “complimented me very highly on my forethought and complete arrangements.”
For the moment, Dunn’s greatest concern was letting Pinkerton know of his actions so that the detective could avoid the suspicious group at the front of the train. Dunn slipped quietly out the back of the sleeper, locked the door behind him, and kept an anxious eye on the front doors of the station.
* * *
LINCOLN, MEANWHILE, was clattering through the streets “as if on the lookout for someone,” sandwiched between the small, wiry Pinkerton and the tall, stocky Ward Lamon. Lincoln used the time to brief the detective on what had occurred in Harrisburg. He admitted that he had shared the details of Pinkerton’s plan with the members of his suite, as well as with Governor Curtin, explaining that he would have “found it impossible to get away from the crowd” without their help. Pinkerton was distressed by the ever-widening circle of people who were now in on the secret, but in his field report he expressed satisfaction with the way Lincoln had dismissed the objections of his closest advisers: “Mr. Lincoln said that he knew me, and had confidence in me and would trust himself and his life in my hands.”
Lincoln also shared details of the visit from Frederick Seward the previous night at the Continental Hotel. The warning Seward brought had been “substantially the same” as Pinkerton’s, Lincoln reported, but the details were “much stronger,” suggesting a plot far greater in scope. According to Senator Seward and General Scott, there were “about fifteen thousand men” standing ready to prevent Lincoln’s passage through Baltimore. In addition, Lincoln had been told, plans were laid to blow up the railroad tracks and set fire to the train. “Here,” as Ward Lamon would write, “was a plot big enough to swallow up the little one.”
Pinkerton had heard such claims many times in Baltimore, but it would have been unsettling to hear them repeated by Lincoln himself, on the authority of the highest-ranking military officer in the nation. The previous day, the detective had insisted to both Judd and Lincoln that only a small handful of men were in on the plot. Soon enough, he would claim that he had never wavered in this conviction, but at that moment, sitting in the darkened carriage beside Lincoln, Pinkerton must have experienced a ghastly moment of doubt. Whatever lay ahead in Baltimore—a dozen men or an army of thousands—the die was cast. Lincoln, at least, appeared perfectly content to press ahead. “Mr. Lincoln was cool, calm, and self possessed—firm and determined in his bearing,” Pinkerton recalled. “He evinced no sign of fear or distrust.”
Ward Lamon did not share Lincoln’s confidence. Unsettled by what might lay ahead, and perhaps irritated at the manner in which Pinkerton had usurped his role, he now made an extravagant gesture to reclaim his ground as Lincoln’s protector. Reaching into his pockets, Lamon pulled out a revolver and a bowie knife. As Pinkerton looked on in disbelief, he held them out to Lincoln, offering the president-elect a chance to arm himself. “I at once protested,” Pinkerton wrote in his field report, “saying that I would not for the world have it said that Mr. Lincoln had to enter the National Capitol armed; that I anticipated no trouble; that if we went through at all we must do so by stratagem, but that if fighting had to be done, it must be done by others than Mr. Lincoln.” The president-elect, Pinkerton later insisted, shared his views. “Mr. Lincoln said that he wanted no arms, that he had no fears and that he felt satisfied that all my plans would work right.”
Pinkerton’s reasoning was sound, but it is likely that the rebuff gave offense to Lamon. As Kate Warne would note, the detective was “sick, and tired out” from strain and lack of sleep. He had already expressed irritation with Lamon the previous evening upon being addressed by his proper name, rather than by his alias. In the carriage, having just learned of General Scott’s estimation of the forces waiting in Baltimore, he likely interpreted Lamon’s gesture as a lack of confidence in his plan. Even at the best of times, Pinkerton was not noted for his even disposition. One suspects, in these circumstances, that his response to Lamon had not been quite so measured as he reported, and that perhaps some colorful Scottish idioms were heard. In any case, Pinkerton would soon learn that Ward Lamon was a dangerous man to cross.
At last, the meandering drive through the outskirts of Philadelphia had consumed sufficient time. Pinkerton banged on the roof of the carriage and barked out an order to make straight for the PW&B depot. “Driving up to the sidewalk on Carpenter Street, and in the shadow of a tall fence, the carriage was stopped and the party alighted,” Pinkerton wrote. Lamon kept watch from the rear as Pinkerton walked ahead, with Lincoln “leaning upon my arm and stooping a considerable [amount] for the purpose of disguising his height.” As they approached the train, Pinkerton scanned for signs of anything that was out of place. Kate Warne came forward to lead them to the sleeper car, “familiarly greeting the President as her brother.” In one rather colorful recounting of the scene, Lincoln responded in high style: “I believe it has not hitherto been one of the perquisites of the presidency to acquire in full bloom so charming and accomplished a female relation.” It seems unlikely that this well-turned phrase was spoken that night, but even Ward Lamon had praise for Mrs. Warne’s arrangements. “The business had been managed very adroitly by the female spy,” he remarked.
As the travelers reached the train platform, George Dunn’s great moment had at last arrived. “I quickly caught Mr. Pinkerton’s eye,” he reported. Dunn motioned toward the rear of the train, bent down to unlock the door, and stood aside as Pinkerton brought Lincoln aboard “without unnecessary delay, and without anyone being aware of the distinguished visitor who had arrived.”
At the same moment, as the rear door closed behind the travelers, H. F. Kenney made his way to the front of the train to deliver Felton’s decoy parcel. The package was placed in the hands of the unsuspecting conductor as the whistle sounded and the train lurched into motion. Pinkerton would claim that only two minutes elapsed between Lincoln’s arrival at the depot and the departure of the train: “So carefully had all our movements been conducted, that no one in Philadelphia saw Mr. Lincoln enter the car, and no one on the train, except his own immediate party—not even the conductor—knew of his presence.”
* * *
THE SECOND LEG OF THE JOURNEY, from Philadelphia to Baltimore, was expected to take four and a half hours. The accommodations in the sleeper were crude—George Pullman’s luxurious “hotel” cars were not yet in use—and Lincoln’s party had to make do with narrow padded benches. Kate Warne had managed to secure the rear half of the car, four pairs of berths in all, but there was little privacy. Only a curtain separated them from the strangers in the forward half, so the travelers were at pains to avoid drawing attention. Lincoln was shown to a berth and encouraged to remain out of sight behind hanging drapes, but he would not be getting much rest that night. As Mrs. Warne noted, he was “so very tall that he could not lay straight in his berth.”
As the train cleared the Philadelphia city limits, Mrs. Warne handed over the reports George Dunn had collected in Baltimore. Pinkerton spent a few moments studying them, until a train conductor entered the car to collect their tickets. Pinkerton quickly intercepted him and produced Lincoln’s ticket, explaining that the “sick man” had already retired for the evening. The conductor glanced briefly at the closed curtains but left without further scrutiny. Pinkerton noted with satisfaction that he “did not return again during the trip.”
As the train pressed on toward Baltimore, Pinkerton, Lamon, and Mrs. Warne settled into their berths so as to appear to be ordinary travelers. Lamon recalled that Lincoln relieved the tension by indulging in a joke or two, “in an undertone,” from behind his curtain. “He talked very friendly for some time,” said Mrs. Warne. “The excitement seemed to keep us all awake.” Apart from Lincoln’s occasional comments, all was silent. “None of our party appeared to be sleepy,” Pinkerton noted, “but we all lay quiet.”
Pinkerton’s nerves kept him from lying still for more than a few minutes at a time. At regular intervals, he would step through the rear door of the car and keep watch from the back platform, scanning the track for signs of trouble. “I had arranged with my men a series of signals along the road,” he explained. It was still possible that “some reckless individuals” might be planning to destroy Felton’s tracks, or that “a suspicion of our movements might be entertained by the conspirators, and therefore the utmost caution must be observed.” As the train flashed past, each of Pinkerton’s watchmen raised a lantern in turn, signaling that all was well.
The train slowed as it neared the Susquehanna River, where each car was to be uncoupled and ferried across the water by steamer to Havre de Grace. From the earliest days of the operation, even before he suspected a threat against Lincoln, Pinkerton had understood that this crossing marked the point of greatest danger to Felton’s railroad. The ferry could be easily set ablaze, he realized, and if saboteurs had set their sights on the train itself, a night crossing would provide ideal cover. Timothy Webster and Hattie Lawton had been stationed in the area for weeks to ferret out and prevent hostile action, but if Lincoln had been spotted leaving Harrisburg—or if loose talk had filtered down to Baltimore—this would be the likely point of attack.
At last, as the crossing loomed, Pinkerton saw that his precautions had been effective. “I went to the rear platform of the car,” he wrote, “and as the train passed on a bright light flashed suddenly upon my gaze and was as quickly extinguished, and then I knew that thus far all was well.”
Lincoln, too, appeared conscious of the importance of the river crossing. “We are at Havre de Grace,” he said when Pinkerton stepped back inside, “we are getting along very well. I think we are on time.” Pinkerton marveled at his composure. “I cannot realize how any man situated as he was could have shown more calmness or firmness.”
There would be several more points where danger might present itself that night, including the wooden bridge spanning the Gunpowder River, but Pinkerton was able to report that “nothing of importance transpired” for the remainder of the journey. Later, he would admit to a tremendous sense of relief at seeing the unbroken line of lantern signals each time he stepped out onto the rear platform. “From this point all the way to Baltimore, at every bridge-crossing, these lights flashed, and their rays carried the comforting assurance: ‘All’s Well!’”
* * *
AT 3:30 A.M., SAMUEL FELTON’S “night line” train steamed into Baltimore’s President Street depot on schedule. As the cars rolled to a halt, an “officer of the road” named William Stearns entered the rear compartment. Stearns, along with his brother George, had been assigned by Felton to keep watch over the running of the train, in case further delaying tactics were needed on the final leg of the journey. As Pinkerton stepped forward, Stearns whispered that “all was right” in Baltimore.
Kate Warne took her leave of Lincoln while the train idled at the station, as she was no longer needed to pose as the sister of the “invalid traveler.” She followed Pinkerton out of the car and set off for her hotel “for the purpose of ascertaining what the feelings of the people were in the city.” Mrs. Warne likely carried instructions for Harry Davies and the others to watch for signs of fresh activity among the plotters once the news of Lincoln’s “secret maneuver” became known. It has also been suggested that her departure was a nod to decorum, as it might be taken amiss if Lincoln were to arrive in Washington in the company of a woman who was not his wife. In any case, one hopes that Pinkerton permitted her an hour or two of sleep before resuming her duties.
As Mrs. Warne rode off in a carriage, Pinkerton climbed back up into the sleeper where Lincoln and Lamon lay quietly in their berths. Pinkerton listened intently as rail workers uncoupled the sleeper and hitched it to a team of horses. With a sudden lurch, the car began its slow, creaking progress through the streets of Baltimore toward the Camden Street Station, just over a mile away. “The city was in profound repose as we passed through,” Pinkerton remarked. “Darkness and silence reigned over all.” Lamon would recall that Lincoln “lay close in his berth” during the transfer, while the other passengers, “tucked away on their narrow shelves, dozed on as peacefully as if Mr. Lincoln had never been born.”
Pinkerton’s thoughts raced as the sleeper rolled quietly through the streets he had come to know well. In particular, he brooded on his recent report from Harry Davies, which described the meeting where Cypriano Ferrandini had presided over the drawing of ballots to determine Lincoln’s killer. “Perhaps, at this moment,” he reflected, “the reckless conspirators were astir, perfecting their plans for a tragedy as infamous as any which has ever disgraced a free country—perhaps even now the holders of the red ballots were nerving themselves for their part in the dreadful work, or were tossing restlessly upon sleepless couches.” If so, there was no sign of it along Pratt Street as the horses pulled the sleeper past the Light Street Wharf. Apart from the gentle clatter of hooves and the faint squeal of the sleeper car’s wheels, the night remained utterly still.
Pinkerton had calculated that Lincoln would spend only forty-five minutes in Baltimore if all went according to plan. Arriving at the Camden Street Station, however, he found that they would have to endure an unexpected delay, owing to a late-arriving train. For Pinkerton, who feared that even the smallest variable could upset his entire plan, the wait was agonizing. So far, there had been no sign of life in the “great slumbering city,” but with the coming of dawn, the busy terminus would spring to life with the “usual bustle and activity.” With every passing moment, discovery became more likely. Lincoln, at least, seemed perfectly sanguine about the situation. “Mr. Lincoln remained quietly in his berth,” Pinkerton said, “joking with rare good humor.”
After a time, Ward Lamon recalled, the silence was broken by a loud hammering noise, which proved to be the thump of a heavy club against a night watchman’s wooden booth. “It was an Irishman,” said Lamon, “trying to arouse a sleepy ticket-agent, comfortably ensconced within. For twenty minutes the Irishman pounded the box with ever-increasing vigor, and, at each report of his blows, shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Captain! It’s four o’clock! It’s four o’clock!’” This went on for some time, according to Lamon, and even in the strained circumstances, he and Lincoln couldn’t help but laugh. “The Irishman seemed to think that time had ceased to run at four o’clock,” Lamon said, “and, making no allowance for the period consumed by his futile exercises, repeated to the last his original statement that it was four o’clock.” Pinkerton added that Lincoln offered “several witty remarks” on the situation, “showing that he was as full of fun as ever.”
As the wait dragged on, however, Lincoln’s mood darkened briefly. Now and then, Pinkerton said, “snatches of rebel harmony” would reach their ears, sung by passengers waiting at the depot. At the sound of a drunken voice roaring through a chorus of “Dixie,” Lincoln turned to Pinkerton and offered a somber reflection: “No doubt there will be a great time in Dixie by and by.”
As the skies began to brighten with the coming of dawn, Pinkerton peered through the blinds for a sign of the late-arriving train that would carry them the rest of the way to Washington. Unless it came soon, all advantage would be swept away by the rising sun. If Lincoln were to be discovered now, pinned to the spot at Camden Street and cut off from any assistance or reinforcements, he would have only Lamon and Pinkerton to defend him. If a mob should assemble, Pinkerton realized, the prospects would be very bleak indeed.
As the detective weighed his limited options, he caught the sound of a familiar commotion outside. At last, a team of rail workers had arrived to couple the sleeper to a Baltimore and Ohio train for the third and final leg of the long journey. In his later writings about the episode, Pinkerton gave no indication of the relief he must have felt at that moment. “At length the train arrived and we proceeded on our way,” he recorded stoically, perhaps not wishing to suggest that the outcome had ever been in doubt. Ward Lamon was only slightly less reserved: “In due time,” he reported, “the train sped out of the suburbs of Baltimore, and the apprehensions of the President and his friends diminished with each welcome revolution of the wheels.”
Whatever they found to say about the episode afterward, all three men would have been glad to put Baltimore behind them that morning. Washington was now only thirty-eight miles away.