Friday, February 25, 2011

The President Elect is Warned about a Baltimore Plot

On Thursday evening, February 21, 1861, we stayed overnight at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following Mr. Lincoln’s speech, Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania met me in the lobby and asked if I was up to the task of guarding the president-elect. I showed him my armaments – two Colt 44 pistols, two Bowie knives, a black jack, a set of brass knuckles, and a hickory cane with a sword in the handle. “Yes, Mr. Governor. I am ready.”
Later that evening, railroad detective Allan Pinkerton met with us to inform Mr. Lincoln that his detectives in Baltimore had uncovered a plot to assassinate the newly elected President when his train passed through Baltimore.  Pinkerton said the plan was to distract the police at the scene when the train cars were being transferred between stations.  Assassins would carry out the dastardly deed when the police left his side.  Mr. Lincoln did not believe the reports and insisted that the train proceed on scheduled as listed in the newspapers.
I convinced Mr. Lincoln that we needed to take precautions, even if the information was incorrect.  I impressed upon him that his safety was a larger concern than the audience waiting to see him in the very unfriendly city of Baltimore. It was Mrs. Lincoln who finally urged him to allow me to sneak him through the city in the middle of the night. She trusted me.  Pinkerton himself had offered to do the job, but none of us trusted Pinkerton.
Mr. Lincoln wanted to fulfill his obligation in speaking to the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but agreed after that to follow my plan. The plan was simple. We would take the train, pass through the town in the middle of the night, and not let anyone know the details including Mrs. Lincoln. Part of the plan was to cut the telegraph wires from Harrisburg so no one could relay the information to the scoundrels who were waiting.
Mr. Lincoln gave his talk in Harrisburg the evening of February 22. While eating dinner, I gave the signal and Mr. Lincoln excused himself, saying he was not feeling well. I escorted him onto the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. We passed through Baltimore, transferring trains in the dead of the night, and made it safely to Washington, D.C.
Newspaper reports and cartoons in the following days showed Mr. Lincoln hidden by a shawl and being secreted through Baltimore. He was always embarrassed by the way he arrived at the nation’s capital. For my money, all that counted was that he arrived safely.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, February 18, 2011

Part II -- The train trip to Washington City

The train trip was intense. Because the itinerary had been published in all the newspapers, every town we travelled through was filled with people of all ages wanting to get a look at their new President, Abraham Lincoln.
Even out in the middle of nowhere, people waved as our train went past.  In the large cities, huge crowds waited at the depots. In my new role as bodyguard, the logistics were a nightmare. In every direction I saw someone who might harm my friend, before he was allowed to go through the inauguration to become our country’s leader.
I was alone in worrying about his safety. Meanwhile, Mr. Lincoln was surrounded by family and friends. Mrs. Lincoln, Robert, Willie and Tad all were on board and helped us celebrate the president-elect ‘s  52nd birthday in Cincinnati on February 12, 1861. Others on board included Mr. Lincoln’s personal physician, William Wallace; is personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay; Illinois Governor Richard Yates;  Norman Judd; Major David Hunter; O.H. Browning;  Judge David Davis; John Pope; and Captain Elmer Ellsworth.
On February 13, we arrived in Columbus, Ohio.  There Mr. Lincoln spoke to the Ohio state legislature. That night we got the news that the Electoral College had made it official. The telegram from General Winfield Scott said it all. “The votes were counted peaceably. You are elected.”
Mr. Lincoln smiled at the news.  And then he told me in soft voice only I could hear.  “Now the work begins.”
W. H. Lamon

Friday, February 11, 2011

The train trip to Washington City

President-elect Abraham Lincoln decided to travel to Washington, D.C. by train to allow persons along the way to see their newly elected leader.  Before the train pulled out of the Great Western depot in Springfield at 8 .m. on February 11, 1861, Mr. Lincoln talked to the crowd. I was puzzled when he said “With these words I must leave you – for how long I know not. Friends, one and all, I must now bid you an affectionate farewell.”  It sounded to me like he didn’t think he’d ever return.
With that we started on a twelve day, 1900 mile trip involving twenty-three separate railroads. We would stop for a few minutes at every town we passed through, with overnights in major cities along the way.
That first night we stayed at the Bates Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana. Several of Mr. Lincoln’s friends prepared to return home. They met with the president elect and wished him well. They cut locks from his hair for “posterity”. Then they cornered me in a room.
Jessie Dubois (who I knew as “Uncle Jessie”) got close to my face, looked me in the eye and shook his finger in my face. “Mr. Lamon,” he said. “We entrust the life of Abraham Lincoln to your keeping. If you don’t protect it, never return to Illinois for we will murder you on sight.” And they were not kidding.
On that evening I unofficially became the personal bodyguard of President Abraham Lincoln. As a man of stature, weighing 250 pounds and standing 6 feet 4 inches tall, I also knew that I was one of the few men in Abraham Lincoln’s life who he totally trusted.
I did not take my assignment lightly at all. I would have taken a bullet for my friend, if necessary. I was also one who would shoot first and ask questions later, if that was what was needed.
W. H. Lamon

Friday, February 4, 2011

Mr. Lincoln has other ideas for me

As the letters of support for me to become Minister of France continued to pile up on Abraham Lincoln’s desk in Springfield, I was asked to join him at his office. My wife Sallie was beside herself – very sure Mr. Lincoln was going to announce that he made the appointment. Her bags were packed to be shipped to Paris.
Mr. Lincoln didn’t mince words. But instead of announcing me as the new Minister of France, he said the following: “You know, Hill, that I will have little support in Washington. I am trying to pull together my political opponents for my Cabinet. I think they will agree to aid me with this difficult task. Congress does not meet until the fall. The country is in crisis. And I will be accepting the job as President of the United States, perhaps the most important position anywhere, with no experience handling even a small portion of the job. Please, Hill, tell me you will go with me.”
I was honored to be asked, while at the same time realizing that Mrs. Lamon would not find Washington, D.C. anywhere near as appealing as Paris, France. I did not let her feelings influence my decision. Right away I agreed to go to Washington with Mr. Lincoln.
Sallie’s response was not quite as enthusiastic. In fact, her words are not printable. She actually refused to go with me to Washington.
W. H. Lamon