Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Baltimore Plot: Red Dots, Lady Detectives and That Man, Lincoln!

The splinter effect
It begins on Tuesday, November 6, 1860 when Abraham Lincoln is elected president. Weeks later, just a nod before Christmas, South Carolina secedes in response. 
Lincoln, c. 1858 (LoC). Look at those eagle eyes!

The new year is a miserable one for outgoing President Buchanan and the nation at large as three more slave states leave the nation within days of each other. During the second week of January, Mississippi leaves on the 9th, Florida on the 10th, and Alabama on the 11th.

Come January 19, Georgia departs.

One week later to the day, Louisiana follows.

On February 1, Texas secedes – and the new president isn't even in office yet.

Of the 7 Confederate states that secede before Lincoln takes office, 2 are original to the 13 colonies: Georgia and South Carolina. Of the 11 states that eventually make up the Confederacy, 2 more are from the original 13: Virginia and North Carolina. When Virginia, home to so many founding fathers, leaves the Union in April, 1861, that split births an entirely new state, West Virginia, and West Virginia becomes a Union state. Two more of the original 13 colonies, Maryland and Delaware, stay in the Union but keep their slaves, and Maryland is put under martial law. Kentucky, while not part of the original 13 colonies, was the birthplace of President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd (she was considered the "real" abolitionist in the family – if you didn't worry she secretly was a secessionist spying on her husband); Kentucky stayed in the Union. But take note, every single one of the four slave-holding border states (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and the new state of Missouri), supported factions and sponsored regiments for both sides.
Union Civil War flag: Lincoln kept every state's star

But we get ahead of ourselves. The point being, that well before the first shots of the Civil War were fired, this new nation, less than 100 years old, was shredding. When leaving the White House, President Buchanan is said to have spoken these sardonic words to President Lincoln:
"If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed." (New York Times)
Capitol steps, Lincoln's inauguration March 3, 1861 (LoC)

And so it went, which is why, when President-Elect Lincoln started making his way by train from Springfield, IL to Washington, DC in February, 1861, he inspired enormous crowds – of all opinions. Lincoln's presidential secretary, John Nicolay, made this observation:

"There is a power of fine discrimination in the eyes and ears of an intelligent American multitude that does not often fail to rightly interpret the personal relation of the official to the constituent. ... If such a current of electrical communion from the people to Mr. Lincoln be denied or disproven, those who stood near him throughout his memorable journey can give earnest testimony to its presence from Lincoln to the people." (An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln 110)

You can get an understanding of this connection from Lincoln as he stopped and greeted the citizens who gathered to see him. They came from miles and they stood in snowstorms to see him, to see the face that was to split or seam the country.

In Rochester, NY, at 8 a.m. on a snowy day before a crowd of over 8,000, Lincoln was unable to leave the train. Henry Villard, a reporter who followed Lincoln on the campaign trail, recorded this brief statement the President-Elect made to the people from the train's observation area:
Lincoln in Rochester (cartoon, c. 1861, Lincoln Inst.)
"I am not vain enough to believe that you are here from any wish to see me as an individual, but because I am, for the time being, the representative of the American people. ... I appear merely to see you, and to let you see me..." (Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, v.4  222)

Follow the red dot
In addition to the crowds that Lincoln's eastbound journey inspired, the journey is thought to have inspired one purported assassination attempt: the Baltimore Plot. The plot was planned for February, 23, the day Lincoln's train was due in Baltimore, the last big stop before reaching Washington the next day.

Barnum City Hotel, Baltimore (c. 1860)
If you lived in Baltimore in the mid-to-late 19th century and you favor the buzz of politics and society, chances are you are more than familiar with Barnum's City Hotel, a large and luxurious establishment next to Monument Square in downtown Baltimore. One of the hotel's amenities is that patrons, like John Wilkes-Booth, could go down to the basement and get their hair trimmed by a well-known, Corsican barber, Cipriano Ferrandini.

Ferrandini, however, was not just a barber, just like Wilkes-Booth was not just an actor. Ferrandini, like many a Baltimore resident, was a passionate anti-abolitionist who considered Lincoln to be nothing less than Devil spawn. Unlike many pro-Southern sympathizers, however, Ferrandini had spent several months in Mexico, in 1860, training with a pro-secessionist militia. He returned with the rank of Captain (

As Lincoln's train, the Presidential Special, wend its way across country, Ferrandini was at the heart of a group of rabid anti-abolitionists who were planning to murder the new president when he stopped in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, undercover detective, Allen Pinkerton (Pinkerton used to work security for the railroads, one of Lincoln's law clients), had gone undercover in Baltimore, a known hotbed of political intrigue. In his biography, Pinkerton says he was able to infiltrate Ferrandini's group of would-be assassins by posing. This group also is supposed to have included, among other notables, the Mayor of Baltimore, George Brown ( and the Chief of Police, George P. Kane (Harper's 1868).
Members of the Baltimore Plot (

The plan was simple: Lincoln's train would stop in Baltimore. Crowds would surge forward. Members of the local police were to create a block so that those involved in the conspiracy could move forward, surround Lincoln, and knife him to death. The actual assassin was to be unknown to the group, although obviously a part of it: Each conspirator was to draw a piece of paper out of a hat. The person who chose the paper with a red dot on it would be the one to do the deed (Harper's New Monthly Magazine June, 1868). This way, all were involved while the actual assassin's identity was protected.

That was plan, according to Pinkerton. While Lincoln was in Philadelphia on February 21, Pinkerton, and others, were eventually able to persuade Lincoln to take the plot seriously.

The counter-plot was equally simple: The Presidential Special would move forward as planned but without Mr. Lincoln. Instead, Lincoln and an undercover detective would be in disguise aboard a different train and taking an earlier route that would not stop in Baltimore. The undercover detective was a woman, Kate Warne. She is considered to be America's first woman detective and the first woman to guard a president-elect.
Cipriano Ferrandini (Baltimore Sun)

Warne also is credited with being part of the undercover surveillance of Baltimore to confirm the assassination attempt. She played a wealthy Southern charmer who stayed, of course, at Barnum's City Hotel.

Through the night of February 21 and the morning hours of February 22, Warne, armed and in disguise, guarded the president. They traveled together as a woman caring for her sickly brother, Warne having made advance arrangements for a sleeper car at the end of the train for herself and her "brother" ( Also on board the train was Pinkerton and another operative, George Gangs (Kate Warne, First Female Detective Niderost).

The next morning, Lincoln arrived in Washington with a beard and dressed in "a soft cap" and long coat. Though a peaceful arrival, it was not uneventful. When word of the possible assassination attempt got out, he was depicted as a coward in much of the national press.
Lincoln enters Washington (LoC)

For an interview about the validity of the Baltimore Plot, see this C-Span video: The Baltimore Plot: Fact of Fiction? In it, historians Thomas Craughwell and Michael Kline, review the evidence. The program was part of the Lincoln Forum Symposium, November 17, 2011 in Gettysburg, PA.

Let it fly!

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