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Chapter 4:

  • The conspirators in council.
  • -- my operative joins the conspiracy.

I had already written to Mr. Norman B. Judd as the party reached Cincinnati, informing him that I had reason to believe that there was a plot on foot to murder the President on his passage through Baltimore, and promising to advise him further as the party progressed eastward.

This information Mr. Judd did not divulge to any one, fearing to occasion undue anxiety or unnecessary alarm, and knowing that I was upon the ground and could be depended upon to act at the proper time.

When the party reached Buffalo another note from me awaited Mr. Judd, informing him of the accumulation of evidence, but conveying no particulars. The party were now journeying towards New York city, and I determined to learn all that there was to learn before many hours.

Previous to this, in addition to the men engaged in Baltimore, I had sent for Mrs. Kate Warne, the lady superintendent of my agency. This lady had arrived several days before, and had already made [75] remarkable progress in cultivating the acquaintance of the wives and daughters of the conspirators.

Mrs. Warne was eminently fitted for this task. Of rather a commanding person, with clear-cut, expressive features, and with an ease of manner that was quite captivating at times, she was calculated to make a favorable impression at once. She was of Northern birth, but in order to vouch for her Southern opinions, she represented herself as from Montgomery, Alabama, a locality with which she was perfectly familiar, from her connection with the detection of the robbery of the Adams Express Company, at that place. Her experience in that case, which is fully detailed in “The Expressman and the detective,” fully qualified her for the task of representing herself as a resident of the South.

She was a brilliant conversationalist when so disposed, and could be quite vivacious, but she also understood that rarer quality in womankind, the art of being silent.

The information she received was invaluable, but as yet the meetings of the chief conspirators had not been entered. Mrs. Warne displayed upon her breast, as did many of the ladies of Baltimore, the black and white cockade, which had been temporarily adopted as the emblem of secession, and many hints were dropped in her presence which found their way to my ears, and were of great benefit to me. [76]

As I have said, the Presidential party were in Buffalo, and I had resolved upon prompt and decisive measures to discover the inward workings of the conspirators. Accordingly I obtained an interview with Howard, and gave him such instructions as I deemed necessary under the circumstances. He was to insist upon Hill taking him to the meeting at which the ballots were to be drawn, and where he, too, would have an opportunity to immortalize himself, and then, that being accomplished, the rest would be easy and all further danger would be over.

Accordingly, that day Howard broached the matter to Hill in a manner which convinced him of his earnestness, and the young Lieutenant promised his utmost efforts to secure his admission. At five o'clock in the afternoon they again met, and Hill joyfully informed his companion that his request had been granted, and that, upon his vouching for the fidelity of his friend, he had succeeded in obtaining permission for him to enter their society.

That evening Howard accompanied his friend Hill to the rendezvous of the league, and as they entered the darkened chamber, they found many of the conspirators already assembled. The members were strangely silent, and an ominous awe seemed to pervade the entire assembly. About twenty men comprised the number, but many entered afterward. After a few preliminary movements, Howard was conducted to the station of the President of the [77] assembly and duly sworn, the members gathering around him in a circle as this was being done.

Having passed through the required formula, Howard was warmly taken by the hand by his associates, many of whom he had met in the polite circles of society. After quiet had been restored, the President, who was none other than Captain Fernandina, arose, and in a dramatic manner detailed the particulars of the plot.

It had been fully determined that the assassination should take place at the Calvert street depot. A vast crowd of secessionists were to assemble at that place to await the arrival of the train with Mr. Lincoln. They would appear early and fill the narrow streets and passages immediately surrounding it. No attempt at secrecy was made of the fact that the Marshal of Police was conversant with their plans, and that he would detail but a small force of policemen to attend the arrival, and nominally clear and protect a passage for Mr. Lincoln and his suite. Nor was the fact disguised that these policemen were in active sympathy with the movement. George P. Kane's animus was fully shown when he was subsequently arrested by General Banks, and afterwards became an officer in the rebel army.

When the train entered the depot, and Mr. Lincoln attempted to pass through the narrow passage leading to the streets, a party already delegated were to engage in a conflict on the outside, and then the [78] policemen were to rush away to quell the disturbance. At this moment — the police being entirely withdrawn --Mr. Lincoln would find himself surrounded by a dense, excited and hostile crowd, all hustling and jamming against him, and then the fatal blow was to be struck.

A swift steamer was to be stationed in Chesapeake Bay, with a boat awaiting upon the shore, ready to take the assassin on board as soon as the deed was done, and convey him to a Southern port, where he would be received with acclamations of joy and honored as a hero.

The question to be decided this evening was: “Who should do the deed?” “Who should assume the task of liberating the nation of the foul presence of the abolitionist leader?” For this purpose the meeting had been called to-night, and to-night the important decision was to be reached.

It was finally determined that ballots should be prepared and placed in a box arranged for that purpose, and that the person who drew a red ballot should perform the duty of assassination.

In order that none should know who drew the fatal ballot, except he who did so, the room was rendered still darker, and every one was pledged to secrecy as to the color of the ballot he drew. The leaders, however, had determined that their plans should not fail, and doubting the courage of some of their number, instead of placing but one red ballot in [79] the box, they placed eight of the designated color, and these eight ballots were drawn-each man who drew them believing that upon him, his courage, strength and devotion, depended the cause of the South-each supposing that he alone was charged with the execution of the deed.

After the ballots had been drawn the President again addressed the assembly. He violently assailed the enemies of the South, and in glowing words pointed out the glory that awaited the man who would prove himself the hero upon this great occasion, and finally, amid much restrained enthusiasm, the meeting adjourned, and their duties had thus far been accomplished.

My time for action had now arrived; my plans had been perfected and I resolved to act at once. Taking Mrs. Warne with me I reached New York city on the same day that the presidential party arrived there, and leaving Mrs. Warne to perfect arrangements, I proceeded at once to Philadelphia. That evening Mrs. Warne repaired to the Astor House and requested an interview with Mr. Judd. Her request being granted, Mrs. Warne informed that gentleman, that, fearing to trust the mail in so important a matter, she had been delegated by me to arrange for a personal interview, at which all the proofs relating to the conspiracy could be submitted to him. It was suggested that immediately after the arrival of the party in Philadelphia, I should inform Mr. Judd of my plans [80] for an interview, and that he would be governed accordingly.

While they were conversing, Col. E. S. Sandford, President of the American Telegraph Company, called, and was introduced by Mrs. Warne to Mr. Judd. This gentleman had been made fully acquainted with what I had learned, and had promised all the assistance within his power, and he accordingly tendered to Mr. Judd his own personal service and the unlimited use of the telegraph lines under his control, for any communications he might desire to make.

On arriving at Philadelphia, I proceeded directly to the office of Mr. Felton, and acquainted him with all the information I had received, of the designs of the conspirators with regard to Mr. Lincoln, and of their intention to destroy the railroad should their plot be successful. The situation was truly alarming, and cautious measures were absolutely necessary. It was therefore resolved to obtain an interview with Mr. Lincoln, submit the facts to him, and be governed by his suggestions, whatever they might be.

This interview took place on the 20th day of February, and Mr. Lincoln was expected to arrive on the following day. Great preparations had been made for his reception, and the military, of which Philadelphia was justly proud, were to escort the President-elect from the depot to the Continental Hotel, where quarters had been engaged for him, and where he would receive the congratulations of the people.

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