President-elect Abraham Lincoln showed no sign of being nervous or apprehensive about the late night ride Pinkerton operatives arranged for him to take on February 23, 1861. Kate Warne noted in her records of the events surrounding Mr. Lincoln leaving Pennsylvania that he was cooperative and congenial.
When the politician arrived at the depot in Baltimore with his colleagues and confidants, Ward Hill Lamon and Allan Pinkerton he was focused and quiet. He was stooped over and leaning on Pinkerton’s arm. The posture helped disguise his height and when Kate greeted with a slight hug and called him “brother” no one outside the small group thought anything of the exchange. For all anyone knew Kate and Mr. Lincoln were siblings embarking on a trip together. Neither the porter nor the train’s brakeman noticed Mr. Lincoln as the President-elect. Kate made it clear to the limited railroad staff on board that her brother was not well and in need of solitude.
It took a mere two minutes from the time the distinguished orator reached the depot until he and his companions were comfortably on board the special train. The conductor was instructed to leave the station only after he was handed a package Pinkerton had told him to expect. The conductor was informed the package contained important government documents that needed to be kept secret and delivered to Washington with “great haste.” In truth the documents were a bundle of newspapers wrapped and sealed.
The bell on the engine clanged and the train lurched forward. The gas lamps in the sleeping berths in Mr. Lincoln’s car were not lit and the shades were pulled. Kate and Pinkerton agreed it would be best to prevent curious passengers waiting at various stops from seeing in and possibly recognizing the President-elect. No one spoke as the train slowly pulled away from the station. All hoped the journey would be uneventful and were hesitant to make a sound for fear any conversation might jeopardize what had been done to get Mr. Lincoln to this point. It was Mr. Lincoln who broke the silence with an amusing story he had shared with Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtain the previous evening.
“I used to know an old farmer out in Illinois,” Mr. Lincoln told the three around him. “He took it into his head to venture into raising hogs. So he sent out to Europe and imported the finest breed of hogs that he could buy. The prize hot was put in a pen and the farmer’s two mischievous boys, James and John, were told to be sure not to let it out. But James let the brute out the very next day. The hog went straight for the boys and drove John up a tree. Then it went for the seat of James’s trousers and the only way the boy could save himself was by holding onto the porker’s tail. The hog would not give up his hunt or the boy his hold. After they had made a good many circles around the tree, the boy’s courage began to give out and he shouted to his brother: “I say, John, come down quick and help me let go of this hog.”
Mr. Lincoln’s traveling companions smiled politely and stifled a chuckle. Had the circumstances been different perhaps they would have laughed aloud. Undaunted by the trio’s subdued response, the President-elect continued to regale them with amusing tales of the people he’d met and experiences they shared. The train gained speed and soon Philadelphia was disappearing behind them.
After a while Kate and her fellow passengers retied to their sleeping berths. As she closed the drapes hanging in front of the President-elect’s berth she suggested he stay out of sight until they reach their destination. In Kate’s report she noted that Mr. Lincoln was “so very tall that he could not lay straight in his berth.” She proceeded to the bunk where Pinkerton was tucked inside and presented to him the reports George Dunn had compiled about the assassination plot. Pinkerton had barely had a chance to review the material when the conductor making his rounds approached requesting tickets. Kate, wearing a tearful expression, intercepted the conductor. She quickly handed her ticket and Mr. Lincoln’s ticket to him. “My brother is a sick man,” she explained to the conductor, “and has already retired.” The conductor nodded sympathetically and took the tickets from her. Pinkerton surrendered his ticket and Ward Hill Laman’s ticket at the same time. The conductor carried on without question.
Laman checked his watch as Kate and Pinkerton climbed into their individual berths. Not only was he anxious about what might happen during the four and a half journey to Washington, but he was frustrated with Pinkerton. Prior to boarding the train Laman had offered his Bowie knife to Mr. Lincoln to carry with him encase he was attacked. Pinkerton objected to the idea. “I would not for the world have it said that Mr. Lincoln had to enter the capital armed,” Pinkerton wrote in his report about the exchange. “If fighting has to be done it must be done by others than Mr. Lincoln.”
None of the four slept. The President-elect talked softly to his tense fellow passengers from behind the closed curtain of his berth. “He talked very friendly for some time,” Kate recalled in her notes about the trip. “The excitement seemed to keep us all awake.”
The most worrisome part of the journey was yet to come. All the members of the party were preoccupied thinking of it. Pinkerton couldn’t stay still. He would alternate sitting for a few moments, laying back in his berth, pacing, and walking to the rear door of the car to keep watch from the back platform. Pinkerton arranged for his operative to leave a series of signals along the route should assassins plot to destroy the tracks and derail the train. Pinkerton had watchmen placed at various intervals along the track. They waved lanterns to show the coast was clear.
As the train approached Perryville, a critical point of the trip, it slowed to a crawl as it neared the Susquehanna River. Here the cars on the train had to be uncoupled and carried across the water by ferry. Pinkerton feared if Mr. Lincoln had been spotted leaving a Pennsylvania and assassins had tracked him to the slowing train it would be a perfect opportunity to kill him. Rebels could set the ferry on fire and any attempt to rescue the President-elect from the blaze and get him to shore could be met with gunfire.
Just before the car was set to be shuttled across the river, Kate crawled out of her berth and sat in a chair next to Mr. Lincoln’s berth. She did not move from his side for the duration of the trip. According to Kate’s report, “There was no doubt Mr. Lincoln was uneasy about this part of the trip. The echo of his own words at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, when he declared he would “rather be assassinated on the spot” than abandon his ideas of independence and equality for all, rang in his head. His spirits were bolstered by the fact that Pinkerton had “taken every precaution to protect him from insult and annoyance, and to do honor to him as the President-elect, if not to the man.”
In addition to the possibility of the ferry being attacked was the danger inherent with transporting rail cars across the river by boat. Train carriages were difficult to secure. They had to be strapped down tightly lest they break away and roll around. A significant amount of water could destabilize the ferry and cause the carriages to tip. The entire process of loading the rail cars onto the ferry, sending them across the river, unloading the rail cars, and coupling them together again took more than forty minutes. When the last car was placed back on the track and the train’s engine was again started, Pinkerton and Kate breathed a collected sigh of relief. “We are getting along very well,” Pinkerton reported Mr. Lincoln as saying. “I think we are on time,” he added. “I cannot realize how any man situated as he was could have shown more calmness or firmness,” Pinkerton recalled of the President-elect.
Without mishap the train pressed on, running through the very stronghold of Lincoln’s angriest border opponents. The train reached Baltimore at 3:30 in the morning. Kate peered out at a city she knew would be a boil with plots of discussion.
Like all pioneer railroads, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore cares bound for the capitol had to be drawn through the city thoroughfares by horses to the station of the Washington line. The party moved surreptitiously through the streets to meet the train that would take Mr. Lincoln on into Washington.
In spirt of the late hour, numerous people had congregated in the quarter of the city and were singing and celebrating. The connecting train from the west Mr. Lincoln’s entourage was to meet was late and several tense moments passed before news of its impending arrival was made known to Pinkerton. Once or twice Kate felt the partisan revelers milling dangerously close. “Perhaps at this moment the reckless conspirators were astir perfecting their plans for a tragedy as infamous as any which has ever disgraced a free country,” Pinkerton wrote about that stressful time the quarter spent contemplating their fate on the way to the next depot. “Perhaps even now the holders of the red ballots were nerving themselves for their part in the dreadful work, or were tossing restlessly upon sleepless couches.”
Kate Pinkerton, Lamon, and Mr. Lincoln would have to wait two hours for the connecting train to pull into the depot. All the while the President-elect remained in his berth joking with those around him. Occasionally, when all was silent inside the car choruses of the songs “My Maryland” and “Dixie” could be heard coming from the waiting passengers. After one obviously intoxicated individual belted out the last stanza of “Dixie,” Mr. Lincoln peered out the curtains of his berth and smiled. “No doubt there will be a great time in Dixie by and by,” he told his protectors.
At 5:35 in the morning, two Pinkerton operatives who were also employed to keep the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore line safe and secure, enter the rear of the compartment. Pinkerton greeted the men and one of them announced to the detective that “All was right.” Pinkerton thanked the men for their diligence and escorted them out of the car. Kate followed along behind them. While Pinkerton was giving the two operatives instructions for the final leg of the journey, Kate strode off into the night. Her job was done. She’d provided the necessary cover Mr. Lincoln required to get him to Baltimore and in a short time he would be at the nation’s capital. It would not have been looked upon favorably to have the President-elect arrive with a woman who was not his wife. Even if that woman was a detective, the uniformed would talk.
Kate heard the car carrying Mr. Lincoln being coupled to the train that would transport him to Washington. Pinkerton climbed back on board and the train whistle blew. Kate paused a moment to listen to the engine firing and begin to pull its load away from the depot. Once the train was on its way she hailed a carriage to take her into the city where the next job she was to handle would be awaiting her.
Nothing occurred to delay or interrupt the remainder of the President-elect’s trip. Pinkerton, Lamon, and Mr. Lincoln arrived in Washington at six in the morning on the 23rd of February. Mr. Lincoln exited the car wrapped in his traveling shawl. A great many people had gathered at the depot, but Mr. Lincoln made it through the crowd without anyone recognizing him. Just as the President-elect was about to leave the depot area, Elihu B. Washburne, politician, member of Lincoln’s security detail, and one of the men who personally severed the telegraph wires to keep information from being transferred back and forth from Baltimore and Washington, extended his arm and attempted to shake the President-elect’s hand. “How are you, Mr. Lincoln?” Washburne asked. Pinkerton was taken aback by Washburne’s boldness, and fearing Mr. Lincoln’s cover might be compromised, punched Washburne in the face before he could utter another word. Lincoln broke in and stopped Pinkerton from striking the man again. The detective quickly realized his error and the overreaction was attributed to the stressful circumstances surround the efforts to get the President-elect safely to the capital.
Within twenty-four hours of arriving in Washington, Mr. Lincoln asked the detectives that had played a part in making sure he was delivered unharmed, to meet him at the home where he was staying situated across from the White House. Kate was absent from the gathering but the President-elect made sure to list “his sister” as one of the many to thank for their help.
On the afternoon of February 24, 1861, Kate Warne as Mrs. Barkley, met with fellow operative Harry Davies at the Barnum’s Hotel in Baltimore. News that Mr. Lincoln had passed through the city unnoticed and unannounced had created quite a stir among citizens. Some residents were disappointed they missed seeing the President-elect on his inaugural trip and others were insulted he chose to bypass their town. Kate, Davies, and other Pinkerton detectives in Baltimore had encountered angry citizens who believed they had been slighted intentionally by the government. The detectives anticipated those who had plotted against Mr. Lincoln would band together to mull over their thwarted assassination plan. Pinkerton had asked his agents to gather any information about renewed efforts to kill Mr. Lincoln.
The February 25, 1861, edition of the New York Times reported on the mood in Baltimore and tried to explain to readers why Mr. Lincoln decided to not stop over in the city. “Mr. Lincoln’s coup d’etat and rapid passage through the city have been condemned here by some who do not know the facts,” the article read. “A set of unscrupulous political knaves…who had determined to turn Mr. Lincoln’s visit there to their own account, arranged for a procession from the depot to his hotel. Protection was asked by these rowdies of Marshal Kane [Baltimore’s police marshal], who advised against such a proceeding. He said Mr. Lincoln would be treated with all respect due him personally and his high official position, but so obnoxious were the parties proposing the demonstration that he could not insure the same respect to them. If they were determined to brave the matter, it might result in some indignity being offered which would be mortifying to the President-elect and disgraceful to the City of Baltimore.
“Finding that these men were fixed in their purposes, the latter was advised by telegraph to pass on to Washington without stopping, which he did. This advice came from gentlemen who had the good name of Baltimore chiefly at heart.
“These advices from Baltimore had been anticipated by a special messenger sent hence to meet Mr. Lincoln at Philadelphia, with dispatches from the War Department, urging him to come through Baltimore unexpectedly, as they had specific information of hostile purposes against him there, in relation to which they could not be mistaken. This information was obtained through official secret agents.”
Pinkerton was furious after reading the articles that announced the plot against Mr. Lincoln was acquired by secret agents. All players involved in the plans to get the President-elect to the capital safely were sworn to keep quiet about all matters relating to Lincoln’s trip to Washington. Pinkerton suspected Elihu B. Washburne had spoken to the press in retaliation for punching him. Pinkerton believed the leaked information would compromise his agents in Baltimore. He wanted to make sure Kate and the other operatives were more careful than they had been about getting caught spying. Until the would-be assassins were discovered and arrested Pinkerton agents were at risk. Pinkerton returned to the city as quickly as he could to resume the undercover work he was doing prior to seeing the President-elect to the capital.
From late February to early April 1861, Kate spent the bulk of her time in the parlor of the Barnum Hotel. Many of the wives of Southern businessmen, lawyers, and politicians staying at the establishment congregated in an open room connected to the lobby. The women would share news of the unrest between the states and pass along tidbits their husbands told them or that they overheard. Kate would pass along any information that would advance the cause of the Union to Pinkerton. Operative Hattie Lawson was doing the same at the hotel where she resided as well. The two women and other female detectives working for Pinkerton were positioned throughout the town in libraries, eateries, and stage and train depots, all in hopes of hearing news worthy of being passed along. Pinkerton believed war was inevitable but wasn’t sure what position Maryland would take. A large and influential minority of people in the state were in favor of secession. Pinkerton wanted to know who would conspire against the Union.
On April 12, 1861, the first engagement between the United and the Confederate States began. Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate troops and President Lincoln proclaimed war and called for an Army of seventy-five thousand. Not long after the fort in South Carolina was overtaken, Pinkerton decided his agency had to be at the President’s service. Operative Timothy Webster was selected as the agent to transport more than a dozen dispatches to Washington. Kate Warne concealed those messages by sewing them into the lining and collar of Webster’s waistcoat.
“Dear Sir,” one of Pinkerton’s letters began, “when I saw you last I said that if the time should ever come that I could be of service to you I was ready. If that time has come I am on hand.
“I have in my force from sixteen to eighteen persons on whose courage, skill, and devotion to their country I can rely. If they, with myself at the head, can be of service in the way of obtaining information of the movements of the traitors, or safely conveying your letters or dispatches, or that class of Secret Service which is the most dangerous, I am at your command.
“In the present disturbed state of affairs I dare not trust this to the mail, so send by one of my force who was with me at Baltimore. You may safely trust him with any message for me, written or verbal. I fully guarantee his fidelity. He will act as you direct and return here with your answer.
“Secrecy is the great lever I propose to operate with, hence the necessity of this movement (if you contemplate it) being kept strictly private, and that should you desire another interview with the Bearer that you should so arrange it that he will not be noticed. The Bearer will hand you a copy of a telegraphic cipher which you may use if you desire to telegram me.
“My forces comprise both sexes, all of good character and well skilled in their business. Respectfully yours, Allan Pinkerton.”
In May 1861, President Lincoln ordered the formation of a military secret service. Major General George McClellan was named the head of the organization and Allan Pinkerton was in command directly under the general. Both McClellan and Lincoln agreed that Pinkerton and his operatives could be trusted to uncover traitors and carry secret dispatches. Pinkerton moved his operation to Washington along with key personal. Kate was promoted to the head of the female division of the secret service. Her job, as well as the other agent, was to investigate suspicious people within the Union territory and gather information from behind Confederate lines. Both endeavors required the strictest secrecy. Kate and the other operatives were supplied with a variety of disguises and equipped with a theatrical wardrobe.
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency had a number of offices one in Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Kate was assigned the Ohio office not far from McClellan’s division. Posing as a Southern belle she traveled to Virginia and Tennessee frequenting social events with genuine Southern ladies married or engaged to Rebel soldiers. These belles would often share details their significant other told them about where and when the Confederal Army was moving. Such information was passed along to McClellan and Pinkerton.
In May 1861, Kate and a handful of other operatives were meeting with Pinkerton at his Washington office on I Street when a prominent leader in the capital told them about a woman who was suspected of being a Confederate spy.
According to Pinkerton’s memoirs, the lady was Rose Greenhow, a Southern woman of “pronounced Rebel proclivities, and who had been unsparing in her denunciation of the “Abolition North,” and who had openly declared that instead of loving and worshipping the old flag of the Stars and Stripes she saw in it only the symbol of murder, plunder, oppression, and shame. Pinkerton planned to utilize all the agents in his employ to combat the influential spy. Kate’s assignment in the battle was key and evolved as the investigation played out.
Rose Greenhow was a widow born in 1814 on a farm in Montgomery County, Maryland. When she was thirteen she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Washington. Her relatives were close with a number of people who were advocates of slavery and state’s rights. As she grew older she adopted their view point and became not only a supporter of the Confederate cause, but a spokesperson for the rebellion. At the age of twenty-one she met and married Washington’s most eligible and well respected bachelor, Doctor Robert Greenhow. Her new husband’s position combined with her beauty, refined manners, and congenial personality catapulted her to the top of the social scene. Rose was as cunning and smart as she was attractive and focused on cultivating friendships with the leading figures in the city.
She was well acquainted with James Buchanan, Northern democrats, and Southern sympathizers. In 1856 she encouraged him to run for the presidency and helped raise funds and voters needed for him to receive the nomination. Rose was good friends with political leaders such as Senators William H. Seward of New York, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, and Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Her association with army leaders, politicians, and the affluent earned her a reputation as the woman ambitious legislators needed to know to get anything accomplished in government.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected to office in 1860, Rose’s influence dwindled to nothing. Furious that a republican and anti-slave activist was now in the White House she decided to rail against the system. Seven states seceded from the Union and the majority of the Southern supporters left the capital. Rose refused to relocate and vowed to stay and fight for the cause.
Simon Cameron, the Secretary of War, ordered Pinkerton to carefully watch Rose Greenhow’s home and monitor the people who visited. In the summer of 1861, it was discovered that Rose had been recruited by a Confederate spy ring to join their ranks. Her job was to secure military secrets. Pinkerton tasked three agents with surveillance and ordered them to follow anyone who might seem questionable. Kate was one of those operatives assigned to keep tabs on those individuals coming and going from Rose’s home.
Rose did not work alone. She solicited help from a handful of women in the area capable of charming necessary information from weak minded men. In the short time Rose and her agents had been collecting secrets they had acquired letters from the War and Engineering Departments. Correspondence from both departments included descriptions of the government’s troop number, maps, and locations. “I desired to obtain a thorough insight into all the plans and schemes of these who were to become the prominent actors in the fearful drama [Civil War],” Rose wrote in her memoirs years after the South lost to the North, “in order that I might turn it to the advantage of my country when the hour of action arrived.”
In July 1861, one of Rose’s girls came across a message from a Union soldier containing information about placement near the city of Manassas not far from capital. Using the cover name of Thomas John Rayford, Rose sent a message via courier to Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. The message informed the Rebel officer that 55,000 Union troops were going to March out of Arlington Heights and Alexandria and on to Manassas. A chain of couriers were used to relay messages back and forth from the battlefield to Rose and back again. Men and women who worked on the chain were positioned along secret routes that connected Washington and Baltimore to the Confederacy. Rose sometimes used her eight year old daughter to transport messages.
Pinkerton considered it unfortunate that Rose and her cohorts weren’t discovered before the Battle at Bull Run. The numerous messages she managed to secret into the Confederate generals led to the downfall of the Union army at that occasion. General Beauregard was able to reinforce the battle lines with 12,000 more soldiers than the North had anticipated. Southern President Jefferson Davis sent word of his thanks and added in his dispatch. “We rely upon you for further information,” Davis wrote. “The Confederacy owes you a debt.”
Kate Warne and the two other operatives Pinkerton assigned to keep tabs on Rose began their job in earnest in late July 1861. Pinkerton joined in their efforts. Rose entertained a myriad of guests from July 23 through August 22. She was a celebrity of sorts and intelligence gathered by Pinkerton and his agents attributed her rise in popularity to the secret service work she had done for the Confederacy. She was not shy about expressing her dislike for President Lincoln and his wife. Her open criticism of the administration and the insulting remarks made about the first lady sparked more than a passing interest from loyal Northerners.
While Kate spent time attending various social engagements where Rose was present, Pinkerton and two other agents investigated the Rebel spy’s two story house. On August 20, 1861, the detectives gathered at the Greenhow home to find out what they could about who came and went. The weather that day was dark, gloomy, and threatening. Pinkerton was lifted to the upstairs windows to look inside. While snooping around Rose and a soldier arrived. She welcomed the soldier inside and was escorted to the parlor. Pinkerton recognized the man as a Union Captain of infantry in charge of one of the stations of the Provost Marshal. He watched the pair sitting across from one another and talking. Pinkerton heard enough to convince him that the trusted officer was engaged in betraying his country. “He was furnishing his treasonable companion with information regarding the disposition of our troops as he possessed,” Pinkerton later wrote in his report to the Secretary of War.
“He took from an inner pocket of his coat a map which, as he held it up before the light, I imagined that I could identify as a plan of the fortifications in and around Washington; and which also designated a contemplated plan of attack.
“After watching their movements for some time, during which they would frequently refer to the map before them, as though pointing out particular points or positions, I was compelled to rush into the room.”
Pinkerton controlled himself and waited until the captain left Rose’s home at 12:15 in the morning and quietly followed after him as he strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue. At some point the officer sensed someone was behind him and quickened his pace. Pinkerton did the same. The pursuit ended at the captain’s barracks when four armed soldiers interrupted the chase, apprehended the detective and threw him in jail.
Kate, Pryce Lewis, Sam Bridgeman were left behind at Rose’s house, unaware of the trouble Pinkerton had encountered. No one knew until the resourceful detective bribed a guard to Thomas Scott, Assistant Secretary of War. Scott had Pinkerton transferred to the War Department for a personal interrogation and during the questioning Pinkerton revealed what he had discovered. Scott ordered the captain to be brought before him. The officer denied he was anywhere near Rose Greenhow’s residence, but he wasn’t believed. Scott told him to surrender and he was subsequently arrested. Incriminating papers were found among his effects and he was imprisoned in Fort McHenry. There is evidence that the traitor might have been Captain John Ellwood, who fell into further trouble and later killed himself by cutting his throat with a pen knife.
Neither Rose Greenhow nor Allan Pinkerton identified Ellwood in their memoirs, but the Pennsylvania Archives of Civil War Soldiers notes he was the miscreant Pinkerton saw with Rose. Pinkerton’s report to Scott, provided to him by Kate, contained the names of several prominent gentlemen in Washington who visited Rose.
Assistant Secretary Scott declared that Mrs. Greenhow was a dangerous a character that must at least be attended to, “and issued an order for her arrest.”
Kate Warne watched in the near distance as her fellow operatives congregated at the Greenhow home accompanied by Union soldiers and made their way inside. Kate was prepared to do whatever was asked of her to destroy the spy ring that had altered the course of the early days of the Civil War.