On the eve of his first inauguration, President Lincoln snuck into Washington at night, eluding the would-be assassins who waited for him in Baltimore. Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency on November 6, 1860, was a starting point for heated anger in the South, where the wave of secession had already begun to stir. The rage at the president-elect became so great that several conspirators vowed he would never reach the capitol to be inaugurated.

Lincoln was aware of but chose to ignore the threats that rose in early 1861 as he prepared to be inaugurated as the 16th president of the United States. He planned a grand 2,000-mile railroad tour that would pass through seventy cities on the way to his inauguration. He was sure to be greeted by thousands of cheering people, but a more sinister element was also gathering.

Lincoln’s trusted aide John Nicolay would later note, “His mail was infested with brutal and vulgar menace…but he had himself so sane a mind, and a heart so kindly, even to his enemies, that it was hard for him to believe in political hatred so deadly as to lead to murder.”

While Nicolay privately worried about Lincoln’s safety in advance of his Feb. 11 departure for Washington. America’s “First Private Eye” Allan Pinkerton sniffed out a plot to kill President-elect Lincoln in Baltimore and devised a plan to protect him. He immediately set off for Baltimore, Maryland, the suspected location of the plot feared to be underway.

Portrait of Allan Pinkerton from Harper’s Weekly, 1884

Pinkerton and his detectives traveled to Baltimore under fake identities to infiltrate Southern groups. They found the city quite riled up by Lincoln’s impending arrival on Saturday, Feb. 23. The president-elect had published his itinerary, and he was scheduled to arrive at Calvert Street Station in Baltimore, and then depart on the Baltimore & Ohio train from Camden Street Station. The two stations were about a mile apart.

While Lincoln made his trip through the northern states, Pinkerton was unraveling the plot against him. Through their investigations, Pinkerton met Cypriano Ferrandini. Ferrandini, a Corsican immigrant, was a barber, and he was thoroughly dedicated to the Southern cause.

Lincoln shall never, never be president,” Ferrandini said. “My life is of no consequence. I am willing to give it for his.

Pinkerton and his agents discovered that Ferrandini and his men planned to assassinate Lincoln during his one-mile transition between the Calvert Street and Camden Street stations. One of two methods was anticipated. The first being a standard diversion tactic that would draw the attention of the small police force on site, allowing one man to reach the president-elect and kill him. A second method called for having several assassins in the crowd, counting on any one of them to get close enough to kill Lincoln. Either way Pinkerton knew Lincoln’s life was in danger.

On Feb. 22, Lincoln dined with Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin in Harrisburg, PA. Shortly after finishing, he faked exhaustion and retired for the evening. Lincoln slipped out a side door and into a waiting carriage wearing a wool hat and shawl. He walked hunched to disguise his tall frame. He boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train for Philadelphia at 6:00 p.m., then switched to an 11:00 p.m. Baltimore-bound train.

Lincoln arrived at President Street Station in Baltimore at 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 23. Pinkerton managed to bring him into town several hours ahead of schedule, on a different train, and into a different station, changing every item on the previously published itinerary.

From L to R: Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClelland

Now was the time when Pinkerton’s plan was in danger of unraveling. Rail travel at night was against Baltimore law, so Lincoln’s railcar was unhitched and drawn by horses through town to the Camden Street station where the connecting train would be departing. Creeping slowly through the streets, the small group heard the sounds of “Dixie” being sung by drunken Southern revelers.

As the morning light appeared, the benefit of sneakiness faded away. Pinkerton knew that if Lincoln’s presence became known and a mob formed, his ability to protect the president-elect would be slim. Yet, they were successful and Lincoln was soon out of Baltimore, arriving in Washington D.C. at 6:00 a.m. on Feb. 23.

Cartoons making fun of Lincoln hiding in Baltimore.
“The MacLincoln Harrisburg Highland Fling”, Vanity Fair, March 9, 1861

Ferrandini and his co-conspirators were furious at losing their chance to kill Lincoln. Sadly, the president-elect received a great deal of criticism for sneaking through Baltimore. Pinkerton, however, believed in his actions and proud of saving Lincoln from death. Upon hearing of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, he was mournful that he had not been there to protect the president.