At 10:15 p.m. on the 21st, President-elect Abraham Lincoln was asked to step away from the brilliant fireworks display lighting up the Philadelphia sky and meet with Norman Judd, one of his associates who had traveled with the Lincoln party from Springfield. This secret meeting took place in Judd’s hotel room at the Continental House. Joining them was Allan Pinkerton, a detective who headed security for the president-elect, as well as Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon. The celebratory nature of the journey from Illinois was now over.
Pinkerton announced that his operatives in Maryland had strong evidence that secessionists would assassinate Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore on the way to Washington. The train would have to be transferred by horses from one station to another in Baltimore, and during this time operatives believed that a street fight would be staged to divert police attention long enough for Lincoln to be killed. Pinkerton urged him to cancel all further plans and head to Washington immediately. Judd believed Pinkerton, but he worried that a schedule change would be seen as an act of cowardice. Lincoln said he would not change his plans and retired to his room.
Soon afterward, Lamon brought Frederick Seward, son of Secretary of State-designate William H. Seward, to Lincoln’s room. Seward had come from Washington, and he had letters from his father, Colonel Charles P. Stone (commanding Washington’s defenses) and Lieutenant General Winfield Scott (general-in-chief of the U.S. Army) warning of a potential assassination. Stone suggested: “All risk might be easily avoided by a change in the travelling arrangements which would bring Mr. Lincoln & a portion of his party through Baltimore by a night train without previous notice.”
When Lincoln confirmed that the Sewards, Scott, and Stone “knew nothing of Pinkerton’s movements,” he concluded that the danger was real. He decided to go ahead with scheduled appearances at Independence Hall and Harrisburg the next day, but if the Baltimore delegation did not greet him by then, he would skip that city’s planned festivities as urged. Judd and Pinkerton worked to revise Lincoln’s travel schedule.
The next morning, Lincoln went to Independence Hall to take part in a planned celebration of George Washington’s Birthday. Over 10,000 enthusiastic people braved freezing weather to witness the president-elect raise a new 34-star U.S. flag over the historic building where the nation’s founders had drafted the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln told them:
“I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence… It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in that Declaration (provided) hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all men should have an equal chance.”
He assured his audience that there “is no need of bloodshed and war” unless secessionists forced it on them. If the Union could “be saved upon that basis,” he would be among “the happiest men in the world.” But if it “cannot be saved without giving up that principle,” he said he “would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.” A politician noted, “I don’t think it is Lincoln’s person or character that calls out the enthusiasm. It must be the present state of the country.”
After the ceremony, the Lincoln party boarded its train at the West Philadelphia depot and moved on to the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg. The train stopped briefly at Lancaster, home town of the president whom Lincoln would be replacing, James Buchanan. The train moved on and reached Harrisburg at 1:30 p.m. Lincoln was greeted there by Governor Andrew Curtin. Local militia drilled for the president-elect, who said he had “the hope that in the shedding of blood their services may never be needed… With my consent, or without my great displeasure, this country shall never witness the shedding of one drop of blood in fraternal strife.”
Before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Lincoln delivered the last speech of his trip. He again maintained that “there is no crisis, excepting such a one as may be gotten up at any time by turbulent men, aided by designing politicians.” He declared that he sought peace if it could be done “consistently with the maintenance of the institutions of the country.” Lincoln had delivered over 100 speeches and traveled over 1,900 miles since leaving Springfield 11 days prior. It was estimated that 750,000 people had personally seen Lincoln on his trip, more than had ever seen a U.S. president in history. He consistently tried to downplay the sectional divide and made no mention of the new Confederate States of America that had been formed during his travels.
At 3 p.m., Lincoln went to his rooms at the Jones House, where he resolved to change his plans for traveling through Baltimore. Judd laid out a plan for Lincoln to travel through the city in the middle of the night so he would not be noticed. Colonel Edwin V. Sumner, part of Lincoln’s security team, called the plan “a damned piece of cowardice” and suggested they “get a Squad of Cavalry Sir, cut our way to Washington Sir.” After some discussion, Lincoln said: “Unless there are some other reasons besides ridicule, I am disposed to carry out Judd’s plan.” To Mary Todd Lincoln’s dismay, Pinkerton insisted that she and her sons stay behind and ride the previously scheduled train into the capital the next afternoon.
As planned, Lincoln left the Jones House reception for him at 5:45 p.m., went upstairs and put on traveling clothes, an overcoat, and a wool slouch hat. In dark of night, Lincoln, Lamon, and a small group of Pinkerton operatives and railroad officials took a carriage to the train station, where a two-car locomotive on the Pennsylvania Railroad awaited them. The train pulled out, bound for Philadelphia, and an operative using Lincoln’s code name wired Pinkerton: “Nuts left at six—Everything as you directed—all is right.”
Operatives cut all telegraph wires out of Harrisburg before leaving. Lincoln’s train arrived at the West Philadelphia station at 10 p.m. The Lincoln party took a carriage to a station on the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, where the sleeping car to Baltimore was waiting; berths had been reserved by a female detective for her “invalid brother” and his companion. Pinkerton joined the party at the station.
The carriage stopped at the back of the car, and Lincoln used the rear door to get in. He closed the curtains as the train started moving. Lincoln’s secretary John Hay spoke for many in the traveling party when he wrote a friend: “Tomorrow we enter slave territory. There may be trouble in Baltimore. If so, we will not go to Washington, unless in long, narrow boxes.”
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