Pinkerton Pledges Life

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6 P.M. Apl. 23.  New Orleans La Apl 19. 1865
Hon Edwin M Stanton Secretary of
War Washn D C This
mornings papers contain the deplorable
intelligence of the Assassination of
President Lincoln & Secy Seward –
Under the Providence of God
in Feby Eighteen sixty one
I was enabled to –
save him from the fate
he has now met How
I regret that I had
not been near him previous
to this fatal act I
might have been the means
to arrest it – If I
can be of any service
Please let me Know the

service of my whole force
or life itself is at
your disposal & trust you
will excuse me for impressing
upon you the necessity of
great personal caution on your
own part at this time –
The nation cannot spare you –
E.J. Allen

Five days following the assassination of President Lincoln, this urgent message was sent to Secretary of War Stanton by E.J. Allen. This the pseudonym of Allan Pinkerton, the detective turned head of the Union Secret Service and a spy.  Writing from Louisiana, where he was investigating fraud in supplies purchased by the US Government, Pinkerton refers in the telegram to his role in interrupting an assassination plot in 1861.  The plot sought to prevent Lincoln from reaching Washington DC for his first inauguration by assassinating him in Baltimore during a train stop. Pinkerton and Lincoln passed through Baltimore safely by switching the time of his arrival.

Pinkerton now wishes he could have been there to “arrest” the most recent plot. This turned out to be one of his greatest regrets. Interestingly, Pinkerton repeats the erroneous information the Seward was also killed. Although severally wounded, that was not the case. Pinkerton’s sentiment that the “nation cannot spare” to lose Stanton was no doubt shared by many. Pinkerton underscores his thoughts by unconditionally pledging his “whole force or life” in service to Stanton, and presumably, the Nation.


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Weapon used by Lewis Powell, a Rio Grande Camp Knife, in assassination attempt on William Seward, April 14, 1865.  The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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