Special Report

The Unsuccessful Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln

On the eve of his first inauguration, President Lincoln snuck into Washington at night, evading the would-be assassins who waited for him in Baltimore

Lincoln sat at the back of the train in disguise to escape his assassins. (Edward Kinsella III)
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Just after 10, the squeal of brake blocks and hiss of steam announced the arrival of the two-car special from Harrisburg, well ahead of schedule. In fact, Garman and Black’s heroic efforts had created a problem for Pinkerton. As he stepped forward and exchanged hushed greetings with Lincoln, Pinkerton realized that the early arrival of the Harrisburg train left him with too much time. The Baltimore-bound train was not scheduled to leave for nearly an hour; Felton’s depot was only three miles away.

It wouldn’t do to linger at either train station, where Lincoln might be recognized, nor could he be seen on the streets. Pinkerton decided that Lincoln would be safest inside a moving carriage. To avoid rousing the carriage driver’s suspicions, he told Kenney to distract him with a time-consuming set of directions, “driving northward in search of some imaginary person.”

As Franciscus withdrew, Pinkerton, Lamon and Lincoln, his features partly masked by his shawl, took their seats in the carriage. “I took mine alongside the driver,” Kenney recalled, and gave a convoluted set of orders that sent them rolling in aimless circles through the streets.

Lincoln was sandwiched between the small, wiry Pinkerton and the tall, stocky Lamon. “Mr. Lincoln said that he knew me, and had confidence in me and would trust himself and his life in my hands,” Pinkerton recalled. “He evinced no sign of fear or distrust.”

At last, Pinkerton banged on the roof of the carriage and barked out an order to make straight for the PW&B depot. Upon arrival, Lamon kept watch from the rear as Pinkerton walked ahead, with Lincoln “leaning upon my arm and stooping...for the purpose of disguising his height.” Warne came forward to lead them to the sleeper car, “familiarly greeting the President as her brother.”

As the rear door closed behind the travelers, Kenney made his way to the front of the train to deliver Felton’s decoy parcel. Pinkerton would claim that only two minutes elapsed between Lincoln’s arrival at the depot and the departure of the train: “So carefully had all our movements been conducted, that no one in Philadelphia saw Mr. Lincoln enter the car, and no one on the train, except his own immediate party—not even the conductor—knew of his presence.”


The journey from Philadelphia to Baltimore was expected to take four and a half hours. Warne had managed to secure the rear half of the car, four pairs of berths in all, but there was little privacy. Only a curtain separated them from the strangers in the forward half, so the travelers were at pains to avoid drawing attention. Lincoln remained out of sight behind hanging drapes, but he would not be getting much rest that night. As Warne noted, he was “so very tall that he could not lay straight in his berth.”

As the train pressed on toward Baltimore, Pinkerton, Lamon and Warne settled into their berths. Lamon recalled that Lincoln relieved the tension by indulging in a joke or two, “in an undertone,” from behind his curtain. “He talked very friendly for some time,” said Warne. “The excitement seemed to keep us all awake.” Apart from Lincoln’s occasional comments, all was silent. “None of our party appeared to be sleepy,” Pinkerton noted, “but we all lay quiet.”

Pinkerton’s nerves kept him from lying still for more than a few minutes at a time. At regular intervals he stepped through the rear door of the car and kept watch from the back platform, scanning the track.


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