By Liz Stern
Earlier this week, I introduced Kate Warne, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency’s first female gumshoe. One of her most famous cases was the Baltimore Plot. The Pinkertonian Mystery, an interactive theater experience produced at the New-York Historical Society in conjunction with Live In Theater for families with kids ages eight and older. After receiving rave reviews, our first four shows have sold out. To keep up with demand we’ve added four new dates. Don’t miss out—buy your tickets here!
In the early spring of 1861, the Civil War was about to erupt. The slave state of Maryland played a unique and critical role in this history. Opinions there were sharply divided between those who favored secession and those who opposed it, but very few people supported the recently-elected President Lincoln. In Baltimore, only 1,100 out of the 30,000 residents had voted for him. So it was to Baltimore where Pinkerton, a strong abolitionist himself traveled, along with his agent, Kate Warne.
They both went undercover. Kate became a Southern belle and began to frequent pro-slavery social gatherings in homes and places like the elite Barnum Hotel. She quickly “wormed” her way into Baltimore high society in order to learn locals’ secrets. It wasn’t long before she learned details of a plan to kill the president.
Lincoln had just set out on his journey from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration. He would travel by train, stopping along the way to make speeches, proclaiming his faith in the union of the country.
Pinkerton met with Lincoln in Philadelphia to tell him what he and Warne had uncovered in Baltimore. He advised him that it was not safe to travel through the city, because the journey would require a transfer between two train stations. Security would be too difficult to guarantee Lincoln’s safety.
Lincoln’s advisers did not believe Pinkerton and didn’t want Lincoln to appear cowardly by avoiding Baltimore. But Pinkerton was able to convince the president-elect of the danger and together they came up with a plan.
Lincoln would travel through Baltimore under cover of darkness the night before his scheduled arrival. Kate Warne booked a special private sleeper car and was able to escort Lincoln aboard as her “invalid brother” so nobody was aware of his presence. She and Pinkerton took turns throughout the overnight trip into Baltimore guarding the president-elect. Lincoln, with Pinkerton as his guard, successfully transferred in Baltimore to the second train and arrived in Washington, D.C., at six o’clock the next morning. That day, back in Baltimore, a mob with murderous intent greeted the scheduled train but there was no Lincoln aboard!
Allan Pinkerton compiled statements from many of the people involved in the derailment of the Baltimore Plot, including a statement from President Lincoln himself. Lincoln admitted he first disbelieved Pinkerton but when evidence of the assassination plot was confirmed by his friend and future Secretary of State, William Seward, it could not be ignored.
Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States on March 4, 1861. Five weeks later, shots were fired at Fort Sumter and the American Civil War began. Pinkerton, at the request of President Lincoln and General George McClellan, became the head of the Union Intelligence Service. Check back here soon when we learn how his agents, including Warne, would serve in critical roles gathering military intelligence in the South.