Tale Of The Red Ballot: The Baltimore Plot – Part I
9th February 2010
written by Will
Will Hutchison's Journal
There are certainly scholars who dispute this story, and even Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s staunch friend and self-appointed bodyguard disputes Pinkerton’s veracity to a degree. However, there is also a body of evidence to support the account. Perhaps we will never know for certain, but it sure makes one heck of a yarn.
This tale begins with the State of Maryland seething with dissension. Pro-slavery factions were bubbling over with new members. Groups like The Knights of the Golden Circle, and the National Volunteers had established cells in Baltimore, and set up training camps in Virginia to drill would-be soldiers. There was talk in taverns and secret meetings of destroying northern railroad property, tracks, and bridges, to disrupt the Federal government in the name of the Southern Cause.
Allen Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, whose symbol was a single open eye, a “private eye” if you will, was thriving in Chicago. He was known for his innovative investigative techniques, and was considered one of the top detectives in the country.
Having heard rumors of such antagonistic groups, the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad hired Pinkerton to identify and investigate these dissident groups, with an end goal of protecting railroad property and interests. He was authorized to take with him a team of detectives.
By early February, 1861, Pinkerton was using undercover agents in Baltimore to gather information. To their surprise, they uncovered a possible plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the President Elect. The bare bones information indicated that the plot would be executed in Baltimore, as the President Elect passed through on the way to Washington for his inauguration.
With the approval of his railroad employers, Pinkerton set about on an audacious plan to flesh out this information and act to neutralize the plot. He would employ three trusted covert operatives using the cover that they were southerners from New Orleans or Charleston. Pinkerton, himself, would be with them as lead operative and coordinator, under the alias “Mister Hutchinson” (No relative … anyway, mine’s Hutchison.)
A “Mister Howard” would target the gentry of Baltimore, many who publically expressed radical pro-slavery views. We don’t know his real name to this day, but he was reported to have been extremely good at his job. Before long Baltimore society had accepted him as that handsome devil, “Howard from New Orleans.”
The middle classes of Baltimore, and the subversive groups, were to be infiltrated by Timothy Webster. That was his real name. In an unrelated covert operation later in the war, he was caught and hanged as a spy. In this operation, he succeeded in joining one of these groups and, in fact, drilled with them at a training camp in Virginia.
Pinkerton’s last operative was a quantum visionary leap in investigative work. He chose a woman, Kate Warne, but no ordinary woman. Pinkerton had hired her as a detective – unheard of in the mid-19th century – and she was good. In fact, Pinkerton later made her his Female Superintendent of Detectives. She went along on some missions with him as his wife. Rumors of a romance were never proven, but they were buried side by side.
As a credit to her skill, she was eventually named one of the five best detectives in America. In this operation, she was to gain acceptance by Baltimore society, to compliment and support the work done by “Howard of New Orleans.”
In only a matter of weeks, Pinkerton and his operatives were amazingly successful. By mid-February, they had identified the groups involved and many of the key players. One in particular stood out. A captain in the Knights of the Golden Circle, Cipriano Ferrandini was of Italian decent, and strongly favored political assassination with a knife to gain his ends, and overthrow a disliked government.
One of Pinkerton’s operatives is reported to have introduced him, as Mister Hutchinson, to Ferrandini in a tavern in Baltimore. It was well known that Lincoln was to come through Baltimore enroute to Washington and his inauguration on February 23, 1861. Ferrandini made it perfectly clear that Lincoln would die in Baltimore.
Pinkerton now had strong reason to believe this was a credible threat. He knew he must report it to Lincoln before he took the train to Baltimore.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II, and find out the meaning of “The Red Ballot.”