Friday, February 22, 1861 – George Washington’s Birthday
The threats upon his life were taken seriously by Lincoln, but not seriously enough to halt today’s scheduled festivities. He rode in an open carriage to Independence Hall, and delivered a speech invoking the wisdom of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The signers were not just separating from England, but were “giving liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.”
The focus of this event was the raising of the new 34 star flag over the historical Hall. As Lincoln drew the halyards and hoisted the flag to the top of the pole, the crowd of 10,000 pierced the cold morning air with their cheers.
He left the City of Brotherly Love without incident and headed on to Harrisburg. During the ride, Norman Judd briefed Lincoln on a plan he had for Lincoln to quietly escape to Washington. He would board a secret train and would be given the right of way along the entire route. Telegraph wires would be silenced to prevent leaks. His public train would proceed as normal, carrying Mary and the children.
This would have to be discussed later.
Lincoln arrived in Harrisburg and went quickly to the Jones House hotel in Market Square. He addressed a rowdy and drunk crowd of Pennsylvanians before heading to the State Assembly. Here, he reinforced his “no crisis” idea, saying, “there is no crisis, excepting such a one as may be gotten up at any time by turbulent men, aided by designing politicians.”
According to public knowledge, the President-elect headed back to his hotel to rest up before having dinner with his family. But what actually happened was that, at 3pm, he and Judd told the secret plans to those who needed to know.
Later in the evening, during a reception held by Governor Curtain, Lincoln slipped outside, throwing on an old overcoat handed to him by a railroad superintendent, and doffed a soft, wide-brimmed hat rather than his highly noticeable stovepipe hat.
He and only a handful of men hopped on the special train and were off to Philly. A Pinkerton operative wired his boss, “Nuts left at six – Everything as you directed – all is right.” There, they caught a regularly scheduled overnight train to Baltimore. Lincoln was coyly stashed in the rear sleeper car without anyone being the wiser.
Baltimore’s rail infrastructure was strange. A train bound for Washington would pull into the Calvert Street Station, have its cars uncoupled and drawn through the town by horses to the Camden Depot, where they would be coupled to another engine for the trip to the capitol.
Lincoln’s trek, though a little late, followed this procedure. While waiting in Baltimore, the waking (or still awake) crowds were singing rebel anthems and a spirit of secession filled the air. But two hours later at 6am, the train pulled into Washington and Lincoln was escorted to the Willard Hotel. Pinkerton, who was also known as “Plums,” wired to his operative, “Plums arrived here with Nuts this morning – all right.”
This little stunt might cause some public outcry in the following days, but for now, Lincoln was safe and sound.1
- Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer — It seems strange to take and entire post from one source, but Holzer’s book is so detailed and good that it would be crazy not to. Holzer has done more research upon this short era of Lincoln’s life than anybody. I strongly recommend his book. For a truly interesting take on this whole ordeal, check out Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Seriously, check that out too. [↩]