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Fast-paced account of a dangerous time

The Hour Peril Secret Lincoln

The Hour Peril Secret Lincoln

We are used to Secret Service men preparing the way for a presidential trip, and for worry and groundwork being done to make sure all is safe beforehand. We know all too well that assassins may be lurking. It was no sure thing in Lincoln's time; he himself tended to scoff at the idea that anyone might be gunning for him. He fell to an assassin's bullet, but he might have been murdered even before he took office. The plot of John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators has meant that a previous plot is nearly forgotten, but in _The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War_ (Minotaur Books), historian Daniel Stashower gives an account of plot and counterplot that would, if things had not turned out the way they did, have changed the nation forever. Although self-interested parties at the time tried to play down even the existence of a plot, Stashower presents a strong case that wise precautions kept a disaster from happening. He takes us on the rails as Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, into the city halls, hotel suites, and ladies' parlors on the route, and into brothels and taverns, and into the offices of the detectives as they tried to assess the threat and counter it. We know how it turns out, but this is still an exciting tale.

The book is mostly the story of Allan Pinkerton, America's first professional detective. Pinkerton had a reputation for his work on railway security, and was hired by a railway president to investigate possible bridge sabotage that might occur due to the president's trip. Pinkerton's men were hunting around Baltimore when they learned about a plot by Southern sympathizers not against the railway but against the president-elect himself. Central to the Baltimore plot against Lincoln was an Italian immigrant and barber, Cypriano Ferrandini, who Pinkerton's agents heard swear, "If I alone must do it, I shall. Lincoln shall die in this city." He was not planning to do it alone; the mysterious army of Southern sympathizers of which he was a part intended to distract police by their numbers during the change of trains and kill Lincoln in the melee. Lincoln was reluctant to change the schedule. Maryland was a border state that Lincoln needed for the preservation of the Union, and he did not want to alienate it. Nonetheless, Pinkerton's were not the only investigators that were worried about a threat from Baltimore's underground, and Lincoln eventually assented to bypass the planned public events. In accordance with Pinkerton's plans, Lincoln was quietly escorted through the city at night, earlier than the conspirators would have expected. He probably had a subdued outfit on, but the first dispatch described him as wearing "a Scotch plaid cap and a very long military cloak," a description that may not have been true but was seized upon by editorial writers and cartoonists. It was easy to portray Lincoln as a cringing coward, but he never seems to have thought himself threatened by anyone, and even during the tense transfer in Baltimore, Pinkerton said he "remained quietly in his berth, joking with rare good humor."

The conspirators were disappointed that they had not had more of a chance for action, but they felt they had had good effect. One said, "It is a good thing that Lincoln passed through here as he did, because it will change the feeling of the Union men. They will think him a coward and it will help our cause." Indeed, Lincoln was embarrassed about this prelude to his administration, and was happy to get to Washington and put it behind him. What exactly would have happened if he had made his scheduled transfer and public appearances in Baltimore will never be known; it is significant that others, like the New York police superintendent, came forward years later after Lincoln's death and tried to take some of Pinkerton's credit for stopping the earlier attempt. Stashower's account is convincing that there was a high risk to Lincoln, and his story builds in tension as the train journey from Springfield continues. Pinkerton could do nothing for Lincoln when the actual assassination happened four years later, but perhaps it was only his efforts in Baltimore that got us Lincoln's leadership for our nation during its time of great divide.

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7 Responses to “Train Truck”

  • Bridgette Dean says:

  • Elsie Kaufman says:

    Daniel Stashower in his new book, "The Hour of Peril" published by Minotaur Books gives us The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War.

    From the inside jacket cover: Daniel Stashower, the two-time Edgar award-winning author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl, uncovers the riveting true story of the "Baltimore Plot," an audacious conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War in THE HOUR OF PERIL.

    In February of 1861, just days before he assumed the presidency, Abraham Lincoln faced a "clear and fully-matured" threat of assassination as he traveled by train from Springfield to Washington for his inauguration. Over a period of thirteen days the legendary detective Allan Pinkerton worked feverishly to detect and thwart the plot, assisted by a captivating young widow named Kate Warne, America's first female private eye.

    As Lincoln's train rolled inexorably toward "the seat of danger," Pinkerton struggled to unravel the ever-changing details of the murder plot, even as he contended with the intractability of Lincoln and his advisors, who refused to believe that the danger was real. With time running out Pinkerton took a desperate gamble, staking Lincoln's life--and the future of the nation--on a "perilous feint" that seemed to offer the only chance that Lincoln would survive to become president. Shrouded in secrecy--and, later, mired in controversy--the story of the "Baltimore Plot" is one of the great untold tales of the Civil War era, and Stashower has crafted this spellbinding historical narrative with the pace and urgency of a race-against-the-clock thriller.

    Abraham Lincoln was traveling to Washington by train to be sworn in as President. The problem was in Baltimore. Due to the condition of the rail network back then there was the necessity of a time-consuming transfer of railcars from one station to another. This forced, extended, layover in Baltimore is Lincoln's hour of peril. He cannot count on the Baltimore police as they might be in on the plot to kill him as some of the policemen were secessionists. He cannot bring guards with him as that will draw attention to him and possible cause Maryland to join the Confederacy. So Allan Pinkerton hatches an ingenious plot to keep the President-Elect alive. Mr. Stashower gives us a brilliantly written assassination plot that is all true history. "The Hour of Peril" is a riveting page turner non-fiction thriller. I really liked this book!

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Minotaur Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  • Nell Griffin says:

    The Peril facing Abraham Lincoln was assassination in Baltimore prior to his 1861 inauguration as he made his way to the Nation's Capital. The primitive rail network of the time necessitated a time-consuming transfer of railcars from one station to another in Baltimore, during which a hostile mob could easily kill the president-elect. The local police could not be relied upon as they were riddled with secessionists. To bring along a contingent of loyal forces, possibly military, would only push Maryland into the confederacy. So, Lincoln's original plan was to travel through Baltimore openly, with no more than a handful of discreet bodyguards at his side.

    The Hour of Peril is a fine example of narrative micro-history, where a single event is examined in detail along with mini-biographies of the important players and lots of context setting. The books of Simon Winchester (e.g., Krakatoa) are good examples of the genre. Another example would serve as a suitable prequel to this book: Case of Abraham Lincoln. It covers Lincoln's emergence as a strong voice against the spread of slavery in the new Republican Party.

    The story of Allan Pinkerton and his detective agency are central to The Hour of Peril. Allan Pinkerton essentially invented the job of private detective. We also meet Kate Warne, a remarkable young woman, highly self-assured and gifted in the arts of persuasion and undercover investigation.

    Pinkerton's team uncovers enough evidence of a plot to assassinate Lincoln in Baltimore to convince the President-Elect to alter his plans and pass through Baltimore incognito and in the dark hours of the morning. Lincoln ends up taking a lot of heat for this "cowardly" act.

    Lincoln emerges from this book as a warm, wise human being. He seems to know exactly what to say in any situation, to mix humility with leadership, and to be incapable of pettiness; unlike the huge egos he would have to contend with over the next four years.

    I think anyone who likes popular history would greatly enjoy this book.

  • Antonio Cabrera says:

    2012 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which fact may help to explain why there has been SO MUCH written about Abraham Lincoln to come out this year (NOT that we've exactly had a shortage of things in prior years!)

    Among the best new "Lincoln Stuff" is, of course, Steven Spielberg's great movie which everyone will have heard of and, more likely, see, and, in books, this marvelous "new" story.

    The idea that there were plots to kill Lincoln almost from the day he started running for president has been the subject of any number of both factual and fictional drama (see: "The Tall Target", a wonderfully suspenseful film, you've probably never heard of, starring Dick Powell).

    It has NEVER, however, been told with SO MUCH accuracy... AND drama... AND suspense, before.

    Daniel Stashower, who has written some of the best "historical" mysteries of our day (featuring such notable real-life personages as Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes), AND who has an impeccable record as a biographer (Arguably the best biography of Arthur Conan Doyle; UNarguably the best biography of Philo T. Farnsworth) AND who wrote one of the great historical explorations of Crime, Literature, and Crime Literature ("The Beautiful Cigar Girl") has now combined all these abilities into one heart-stoppingly exciting true crime story that reads like the best fiction and will have you hurtling through the pages even as (SPOILER ALERT) you know the ending!

  • Desiree Byrd says:

    If you see the February 2013 issue of "Smithsonian" magazine, you will find a substantial excerpt of this book. I just ordered "The Hour of Peril", so have not read the book in its entirety, but I am impresssed thus far based on the excerpt.

  • Glen Mills says:

    Every schoolchild in America knows that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington in April 1865. But how many know that he narrowly averted assassination in February 1861, just days before his inauguration as President. This near tragedy that would have had incalculable implications for US history was prevented through the ingenious efforts of legendary detective Allan Pinkerton. It's an important but little known story of the Civil War era.

    As we learn from author Daniel Stashower, Pinkerton's agents had uncovered "the Baltimore plot," an audacious conspiracy intent on preventing Lincoln from becoming President on the eve of the Civil War. As Lincoln's train rolls inexorably toward what Stashower calls "the seat of danger" Pinkerton pulls off an ingenious feint that risks, but ultimately saves, Lincoln's life. It's a spellbinding story - even though we know in advance how it comes out. What we don't know is how the story would have come out had the plot been successful. Frankly, it's something I'd rather not think about.

    Barry Francis

  • Vincent Dennis says:

    This book reads like a good suspense thriller. Even though we know the plot to kill Lincoln at this time will not be successful, we can't help making comparisons with the later successful assassination. The research that went into this book is well evidenced in the detail of this easily overlooked footnote in history. The coming events of the Civil War and Lincoln's eventual assassination in 1865 would largely remove this incident to a side track of history. We owe much of the thanks for preserving the details of this incident to the remarkable work of Allen Pinkerton and his agents. They performed much of the undercover field work that revealed the plots to kill President elect Lincoln. The author gives Pinkerton much of the credit. He also acknowledges, however, that other independent investigations were going on to try to ascertain the degree of threat to Lincoln as he traveled through Baltimore, whose populace largely sided with the pro-secessionists of the deep South. Many threats were voiced that Lincoln would not be allowed to proceed to Washington to take the oath of office. A good overview of Pinkerton, his skilled agents and the history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency adds greatly to the the book. The author is thorough in his research and doesn't fail to give opposing views of the events that were to transpire.

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