Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 1861: An Assassination Plot

Passage through Baltimore
President-elect Abraham Lincoln had left his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, on February 11, 1861, but was still on a roundabout journey to Washington for his inauguration.  On February 21, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just before an appearance at Independence Hall, Lincoln was warned that he would be murdered if he traveled through Baltimore on February 23 as scheduled.

While working for S. M. Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railway, to investigate rumors that secessionists were planning to break railroad connections to Washington, private detective Allen Pinkerton had uncovered the plot.

In Baltimore, a train car from the North traveling to Washington would have to switch from Felton's Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railway to the Baltimore & Ohio line.  The cars would usually be hauled down a city street with horses.  According to Pinkerton, Lincoln would be mobbed and killed during the transfer from one station to the other.  Lincoln was urged to cancel his last remaining appearances and travel to Washington that night.  Lincoln refused.

The following day, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln received another warning, this time from Frederick Seward.  He brought a message from his father William and General Winfield Scott, who had also learned of the murder plot.

Lincoln, his close friend Ward Lamon, and Pinkerton slipped out of Harrisburg that night and boarded a train back to Philadelphia.  There they boarded a Washington sleeper and got through Baltimore in the middle of the night without incident.  They arrived in Washington at 6 a.m. on February 23.

Lincoln's critics ridiculed him for trading his honor for his safety.  On the trip, he wore a soft felt hat instead of his usual top hat and the press somehow turned that into a story that he had come to Washington in a disguise, in a plaid Scotch cap and cloak.  Adalbert Volck, a Baltimore dentist, etched Passage through Baltimore, ridiculing Lincoln for his cowardice.

In just a few weeks, on April 19, 1861, the 6th Massachusetts Militia Regiment would be attacked while making the same rail transfer in Baltimore, resulting in a riot that left four soldiers and twelve civilians dead.

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