Learning Lincoln On-line


The Pinkerton Detective Agency & Spies During the Civil War Activities)

The Union Spies, during the Civil War

Allan Pinkerton, President Abraham Lincoln and
General John McClernand, October 3, 1852
Allan Pinkerton was instrumental in organizing the first Secret Service of the United States and had an assumed name of
Major E. J. Allen (as suggested by Gen. McClellan)
"Mission Impossible"
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The Pinkerton Detective Agency Story

Read the Story and Answer the Questions

 Allan Pinkerton started out as a police detective for the Chicago Police Department.  After doing that he would start his own private detective business.  Times were tough in the late 1800's.
     He would later capture major railroad and bank robbers, would find and capture counterfeiters, and got involved with guarding factories and such.  His business is still going under his original name, and you can often see Pinkerton guards in malls, at factory gates and other places.
     He also was instrumental in starting the Secret Service for the U.S. military in the Civil War.  That involved spying on Confederate troops and activities.
     This story is about when Pinkerton, who knew Abraham Lincoln in Illinois from railroad business, got wind of a plot to kill the new president-elect.  The story tells of how the event was stopped and Pinkerton got his man.  He wouldn't sleep until the job was done.

. . . Guarding Abraham Lincoln

"On a cold February morning in 1861, Allan sat at
his desk reading a letter from one

of his clients.

     It said there was talk of an assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland. Some group was planning to kill Abraham Lincoln, newly elected president of the United States, when he passed through Baltimore on his way to Washington, D.C., to take the oath of office !

    Allan’s face grew grave at the ugly news.

    “It would be no use to tell Mr. Lincoln of the report,” he thought.  “He would not believe he is in danger.  He lets people crowd around him all the time, and he has no protection since there is no government police force to look after him.”

    Allan understood how Abraham Lincoln would feel because he knew the president- elect. Years earlier Allan had worked on a robbery case for a railroad for which Mr. Lincoln had served as lawyer.

    ''I'll send some of my very best men to Baltimore, and I'll go there myself," Allan decided. "If there is a plot, we'll find proof that will convince Mr. Lincoln he needs to have a guard."

    He hurried home to tell Joan of the trip, and she packed a suitcase for him.  She was used to being left alone with the children when he was away on a case.  There three Pinkerton children now— William and twins Robert and Joan.  Allan planned to teach his sons the detective business when they were old enough.  A few days later a pleasant, well dressed gentleman rented an office in Baltimore. His name, he claimed, was " John H. Hutcheson," and he came from South Carolina.

    Soon he became friendly with other business men, especially Mr. Luckett who had an office down the hall.

    The pleasant gentleman with the southern accent was Allan Pinkerton, playing another part. Mr. Luckett was one of the  names had been in the assassination report. Allan believed him to be a the murderous gang.

    It wasn’t an easy role for Allan to play, because he was horrified by what he saw and heard in Baltimore.  Deep trouble had spread through the nation.  The North and South were split over the question of slavery and the right of each new state to decide whether or not it would have slaves.

    Abraham Lincoln thought that slavery was wrong. The slaveholding South was afraid that as president he would free the black people. Southern states were threatening to leave the Union. Some were already arming for war. Feeling was especially bitter in Maryland, a border state between North and South.

    Allan hated slavery. He called it a curse to the American nation. Now he had to pretend to be a Southerner who approved of slavery and feared Abraham Lincoln.  It was the only way to win Luckett’s trust and learn the details of any plot.

    Time was short.  The president-elect had already left his home in Springfield, Illinois.  The train on which he traveled was moving across the North, stopping at many cities for speeches and celebrations.  It drew closer to Baltimore every day.  Allan  knew he would have to work fast.

    "Mark my word, Luckett, Abraham Lincoln will be the downfall of the South," Mr. John H. Hutcheson told Luckett one day.  “If only something would happen to  before he ruins us all. .."

    Mr. Luckett looked wise. "Many people agree with you."  Then he invited his pleasant new friend to go to a meeting that night.

    It was the break Allan needed. That night they went to a dimly lit room crowded with people who were talking wildly.  Here Allan met the ringleader of the plot to murder the president-elect.  His name was Cypriano Ferrandini.

    “Murder is right if it will save the Southerners!”  Ferrandini shouted loudly.  “Lincoln must die— and die he shall!”

    The plot, Allan learned, was to shoot Abraham Lincoln when he stopped in Baltimore to make a speech. The plan had been carefully worked out to the last detail. Allan did not doubt that it could succeed.

    The thought made his blood run cold, but he sat quietly and nodded agreement that Lincoln must die. Then he handed Luckett $25 to "help the cause."

    Once away from the plotters, Allan hurried to find out what information his men had uncovered. It backed up his own. Then he traveled to Pennsylvania where he was to meet Mr. Lincoln's train. He arrived there on February 21.

    Late that night the detective was given his first chance to talk to Mr. Lincoln in in private. The weary president-elect listened quietly as Allan explained the Baltimore plot.

    Then a look of great sadness spread over his tired face. It was hard for Abraham Lincoln to believe that some of his own countrymen wanted to kill him.  Yet he did not doubt Allan's word.  He knew that his old friend was a wise and honest man.  “I place myself in your hands,” he told Allan.

    For a moment Allen was shaken.  The life of the president-elect in his hands!

    They called in a few of Mr. Lincoln's most trusted advisers, and a plan was made. Mr. Lincoln would continue his trip earlier than people expected. The program published in the newspapers said that, en route from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., Mr. Lincoln would stop in Baltimore during the afternoon of February 23. Allan advised that, instead, Mr. Lincoln should travel to Washington secretly late at night on February 22. Nobody except Mrs. Lincoln was to be told.

    "Secrecy is all-important," the detective warned. "The fewer people who know about this, the better."

    It was arranged to have the Harrisburg  telegraph wires cut as soon as Mr. Lincoln left. Then if spies saw him leaving early, they could not wire their fellows in Baltimore. In those days there were no telephones.

    The next night Abraham Lincoln and two of his advisers slipped out of his hotel in Harrisburg and got on a train to Philadelphia. Everybody else thought the president-elect was tired and had gone to bed early. In Philadelphia they met Allan Pinkerton and a few of his men. There, in the dark night, they all moved quietly through the train shed to where the puffing locomotive stood, ready to depart for Baltimore and Washington.

    Mr. Lincoln wore a black overcoat, and instead of his usual tall stovepipe hat, he wore a soft felt one. He leaned on Allan's arm, stooping to hide his great height and pretending to be ill. Allan's woman operative, Mrs. Warne, had already bought tickets for seats at the far end of the last car. She had said they were for her "sick brother and party ."

    As the newcomers took their seats in the car, none of the other passengers gave them more than a glance. Who would have expected the president-elect of the United States to be on that train! Then bells rang, wheels began to grind, night. and the train moved forward.

    Allan stood on the rear platform of the car where he could watch for signals.  He had operatives hiding along the route at every bridge and crossing, for the plotters had talked about destroying bridges and tearing up tracks. If this secret journey had been discovered, there could be some trouble.

    Allan's men were to signal by lanterns if all was well ahead.  If they failed to signal, Allan planned to step inside the car and pull the emergency cord that would warn the engineer to stop the train. Through the cold night the detective stood on the platform, peering through the blackness for those important signals. Two flashes-all's well.

    They passed through Baltimore at midnight. The depot was empty, the city sleeping. As the morning sun came up, they arrived safely in Washington, D.C.

    Afterward Allan would remember how cool and unafraid Abraham Lincoln had been through that long night. Nobody slept, but the president-elect told some jokes. He acted as though he'd forgotten that if the secret leaked out, he might soon be dead.

    Allan Pinkerton went back to Baltimore to close up his office. There he met Mr. Luckett.

    "We were betrayed," Luckett told him angrily. "Rotten spies betrayed us. We had 20 men armed with guns and knives at the depot, but when the afternoon train came through, Lincoln wasn't on it. Now we're going to catch those spies and give them the fate we meant for Lincoln."

    As he walked away, there was a grim smile on John H. Hutcheson's face. Mr. Luckett didn't see that smile, but if he had, he wouldn't have known what the joke was about."