Archive for December, 2014

Lincoln’s Perilous Journey to Washington DC

by Andy Mateja

While we all remember the tragedy that befell the nation from the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the perilous times for the 16th  President began even before he was sworn into office………..

As we know, immediately following the election of Abraham Lincoln, seven southern states seceded from the Union in protest. However there were some that wanted to do further damage to the nation be seizing and killing Lincoln BEFORE he became President.

Lincoln was keenly aware of the negative feelings toward him and tried to assuage his detractors be making conciliatory speeches during the train ride from Springfield IL to Washington DC for his inaugural.

The President of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (PW & B) Samuel Fenton was concerned about Lincoln’s safety while traveling through Baltimore en route to Wash DC. He knew that there were many Southern sympathizers there and was informed that there was a possible plot being developed by some of them to kill Lincoln before the inauguration. The tip off mentioned the conspirators may be planning to use Maryland Home State Guards supposedly guarding the railway. Maryland, a border state was almost evenly divided between Unionists and Secessionists and the only way to reach Washington DC by train.

The telegraph could not be trusted to convey the warning of danger to the military officials in Wash DC so Fenton asked and employee AND personal friend of Gen Winfield Scott to travel to the national capitol and warn him. Scott had already suspected an attempt like this would take place. There was even talk that perhaps the Lincoln’s Inauguration should take place in Philadelphia instead of DC over concerns for his safety.

Within days Fenton received another report from an “anonymous” individual that there WAS an actual plot to burn the railroad bridges to prevent Lincoln and any supporting troops from reaching Washington DC to defend the capitol.

Fenton attempted to alert the Police Marshall in Baltimore of the plot but later found out HE was a secessionist and had involvement in the plan to seize Lincoln. The Marshall dismissed the plot as merely a “rumor” and claimed to have already investigated it. Fenton did not believe him and decided to send for Detective Allan Pinkerton instead. Pinkerton became Chicago’s very first police detective in 1850 as this “Private Eye” was known for his work.

Pinkerton’s agents infiltrated several secessionist groups in Baltimore and reported every couple days on their actions. The plot they uncovered was that bridges would be burned and Lincoln killed before troops were sent to defend Wash DC.  However if troops were sent before Lincoln arrived, the plotters would just burn the bridges and cut off Washing DC from any military aid.

Fenton warned the Lincoln procession as it arrived in Philadelphia February 21st 1861, two weeks before the scheduled inaugural. Since Lincoln’s travel schedule was public knowledge, Fenton armed about 200 men to guard the bridges from PA to MD. However Lincoln would change trains in Harrisburg PA for his approach into Baltimore and Washington DC.  Fenton advised that Lincoln should not change trains and travel directly from Philadelphia to Wash DC without fanfare at night instead of Harrisburg. Lincoln refused to change his plans for visiting Harrisburg even though yet another report arrived from his soon to be Sec of State Wm Seward confirming the information provided by Fenton & Pinkerton.

Lincoln agreed to the suggestion made by Fenton and Pinkerton that he still visit Harrisburg and later that night make it look like he was going to stay at a nearby hotel while in reality he would be secretly be transported to a train outside of town that would sneak him into Philadelphia. Telegraph lines would be cut thereby adding to the deliberate confusion. The plan worked perfectly except for the train to Philadelphia he was supposed to be on was scheduled to leave before he arrived.  By manipulating a few inbound train schedules, Fenton was able to delay the departure of the Philadelphia bound train. A phony “package” addressed to the Willard Hotel in Washington DC was all the cover they needed to slip Lincoln out of Philadelphia at 11:15PM Lincoln boarded secretly wearing a large overcoat and a beaver cap and arrived in Baltimore at 3:30AM. 2 ½ hours later he arrived in Wash DC on the morning of February 23rd. Confirmation was sent to Fenton that Lincoln had arrived safely. Lincoln wife Mary, who was already in Wash DC, was relieved as well when she saw her husband and soon-to-be President.  And contrary to the rumors that widely circulated back then, Abraham Lincoln did NOT arrive in Wash DC disguised in a plaid suit and Scotch cap…..

Even though Lincoln himself did not believe he was really in any danger, Samuel Fenton & Allan Pinkerton DID believe he was and changed the course of history by making sure he arrived in Wash DC safe and sound for his Inaugural. Both of them benefited enormously from the event – Pinkerton became nationally renowned as the Premier Detective in the North and Fenton’s PW & B railroad hauled vast amounts of troops and supplies throughout the war.

It’s hard to imagine what the fate of the nation would have been had the malevolent plot been successful ………..

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Lee’s Motivation Into Pennsylvania

by Andy Mateja

While many of us are familiar with Gen Robt. E. Lee’s incursion into Pennsylvania and the ensuing Battle of Gettysburg, there are some that are unclear as to his strategy and motivation leading up to this epic conflict.

While there is no definitive strategic plan found in Lee’s records, there are many factors to consider that influenced his decision. At the time, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville had been major victories for Lee while stalemate existed between the Union and Confederate armies in Tennessee and Maj Gen Ulysses S. Grant was continuing his relentless advance on Vicksburg.

Most of the Confederate leaders in Richmond (including Lt. Gen James Longstreet who had just returned from an unsuccessful independent foray into Eastern Virginia) wanted to put Lee’s army on the defensive and detach some of his troops to aid in the West against Grant. Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon had suggested this move to Lee before the battle of Chancellorsville. Lee strongly opposed the idea and suggested a movement to the North would be more effective in relieving the pressure on Vicksburg. He felt the distance was too great to send his troops from Virginia to Mississippi and that Confederate command in the West was “questionable”. Lee’s argument was very persuasive for Southern President Jefferson Davis which we concurred, even though he still had strong reservations about leaving Richmond undefended.

Lee also felt that if his forces remained idle, troops would be dispatched from his army anyway. It was only a matter of time when the Union troops firmly entrenched in his front would be reinforced and ready to advance on Richmond once again. He had initially met with Davis and Seddon after his victory at Chancellorsville and proposed his movement to Pennsylvania. Davis later discussed Lee’s proposal with his cabinet members, some of whom later claimed they opposed the movement.

Lee believed if they could keep the North in confusion as to which side was winning the war up to the 1864 Presidential Elections – Lincoln would eventually lose. He also realized that despite momentous victories at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Confederacy was actually getting weaker and time was running out. He believed ultimate victory would only be the result of combined military and diplomatic efforts.

Lee suggested that Davis make an offer of peace to the Lincoln Administration while his Confederate Army was in Pennsylvania. Rather that demanding Southern Independence, he recommended an “armistice” be offered which would ultimately lead to their independence, as Lee was convinced the Northerners would not want to resume the fighting after it had stopped.

Lee had suggested a similar proposal to Davis the year before prior to the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. If the Confederate President would make an offer of peace after a Southern victory on Northern soil, he felt foreign recognition would result and all would place the blame on the North if they continued the war. He also felt a Southern offer of peace after a military victory would influence the outcome of the Mid-Term Elections in the North. Fortunately for the Union, Antietam turned out to be more of a Union victory and no offer of peace was even entertained. Instead Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took center stage at that time.

Another motivation factor for Lee’s invasion of the North was feeding of his army. Northern Virginia was almost barren of food from the last year of constant fighting. However Pennsylvania was plentiful in food and grain with more than enough to supply his army. If he could pull the Union forces out of Virginia, he could not only feed his hungry men but also relieve the pressure on the local population who were enduring the same hardships.

Apparently Jefferson Davis did not fully grasp Lee’s plan and failed to provide him with reinforcements from the Atlantic coast as Lee had requested. He seemed to rely more on Lee’s communications after his army began to move on June 10th into the Shenandoah Valley. No question that Davis and Seddon both were nervous about Lee’s movements as indicated in a letter to Lee from Seddon about the fragility of the port in Wilmington NC.

Lee felt advance was necessary as the Union army would eventually recover after their crushing defeat at Chancellorsville and continue their advance on Richmond. Lee would disrupt their plans by seizing the initiative and moving on Pennsylvania. He wanted to draw the Union army out of their strong defensive position and “destroy” it.  In essence Lee wanted to prove to Northern civilians beyond any doubt they could not win the war and the price would be too high to pay for its continuation. Did they really want to continue the bloody struggle or call it quits, since up to this time Lee could not be stopped ?

The historic struggle of July 1st to 3rd in the little village of Gettysburg Pennsylvania decided that question once and for all…..

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