Cypriano Ferrandini

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155 Years Ago: Tuesday, February 19, 1861

In Baltimore, Maryland, representatives from each county have gathered for a second day of discussing the possibility of secession. In the end, they fall short of planning any action. The final recommendation is that if Virginia secedes, then Maryland should follow.

Pinkerton detective Harry Davies is officially invited to join his new Southern friend Otis Hillard in the meeting of “Southern patriots,” led by Cypriano Ferrandini. In return, Davies must swear an oath of loyalty, which he agrees to. That evening, Hillard takes Davies to the home of one of the members. They are taken into a large drawing room, where twenty men are waiting. Ferrandini is dressed in black from head to toe, and leads Davies in swearing an oath to the cause of Southern freedom.

As the men discuss plans for Lincoln’s stop in Baltimore, Ferrandini draws a long, curved blade from beneath his coat and brandishes it high above his head. “Gentlemen, this hireling Lincoln shall never, never be President!” The men roar in approval. As the cheers subside, Ferrandini asks his followers: “Who shall assume the task of liberating the nation of the foul presence of the abolitionist leader?”

Paper ballots have been placed into a wooden chest on a table in front of Ferrandini. One ballot is marked in red to designate the assassin. The room is darkened, so that no one except the person who draws the marked ballot knows who the chosen one is. Everyone pledges to secrecy. Ferrandini tells his followers that the identity of the “honored patriot” will be protected until the last possible instant.

When Davies and Hillard leave the meeting, Davies confides in Hillard that his own paper is blank, and he feigns disappointment. Davies expresses concern that whoever did have the marked ballot will lose his nerve. Hillard explains that a safeguard has been put in place: Ferrandini had anticipated this possibility, and had put in not one, but eight, red marked ballots. This way, even if one or two men choose not to act, at least one of the others will be certain to strike the fatal blow.

After parting with Hillard for the evening, Davies immediately goes to detective Allan Pinkerton’s office and gives his account of the evening’s activities. After careful surveillance these past few weeks, Pinkerton declares that “My time for action has now arrived.”

The man Pinkerton is determined to protect, U.S. President-elect Abraham Lincoln, makes his way by train from Albany to New York City, New York. It is another day of multiple train stops, short speeches, greetings, and other events. He and his family will spend the night in the Astor House. It is next door to St. Paul’s Church, where George Washington attended service after he was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

155 Years Ago: Sunday, February 17, 1861

1855 to 1865 Source: Library of Congress

1855 to 1865
Source: Library of Congress

In Montgomery, Alabama, the Provisional President-elect arrives at the new capital of the Confederacy by train. Jefferson Davis had been appointed into the position by the Confederate Congress, and has an impressive resume: A West Point graduate, a veteran of the Black Hawk and Mexican-American Wars, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, former U.S. Secretary of War, and a former U.S. Senator from Mississippi. He will be sworn in tomorrow.

In Baltimore, detective Allan Pinkerton is finally seeing the pieces coming together. The city, with it’s population over more than 200,000, is the country’s fourth largest city and a major port. Maryland has a large amount of anti-Northern sentiment; the Maryland legislature is still debating whether to join the Confederacy.

Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant who had been the first official detective for the city of Chicago, had started his own detective agency in Chicago. At the request of Samuel Morse Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, Pinkerton had come to Baltimore the first week of February to uncover any potential threats against U.S. President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who is to arrive in the city on February 23. He and his operatives take rooms at a boarding house near the Camden Street train station. Pinkerton creates a cover identify: John H. Hutchinson, a Southern stockbroker who is new to town. He even secures offices in a large building at 44 South Street, where he befriends businessman James Luckett. During a discussion about Lincoln’s journey, Luckett states that “He may pass through quietly, but I doubt it.” Taking advantage of the opportunity, Pinkerton pulls out his wallet and gives him $25 towards the “patriotic cause.” He also warns Luckett to “be cautious in talking with outsiders.”

Pinkerton’s ploy worked, and Luckett soon tells him about a handful of “Southern patriots,” led by Captain Cypriano Ferrandini. Ferrandini is an immigrant from Corsica, and is a barber whose shop is is the basement of Barnum’s Hotel. Luckett informs him that Ferrandini has a plan: That he will see to it that Lincoln never reaches Washington, and never becomes President. “Every Southern Rights man has confidence in Ferrandini,” he told a stunned Pinkerton.

Pinkerton has been working to piece together reports and rumors. So far, he has determined that a vast crowd will meet Lincoln at the Calvert Street depot. Only a small force of police will be stationed, and when the President-elect arrives someone will create a disturbance; while the police are dealing with that, it will be an easy task for someone to shoot the President and even escape. There is a man by the name of Otis Hillard, who is one of Ferrandini’s followers. Pinkerton believes that Hillard knows the key details that he is missing. It is Pinkerton’s good fortune that one of his detectives, Harry Davies, has already become good friends with Hillard during their short time in the city. It is time for Davies to take his friendship even further with Hillard, and attempt to join Ferrandini’s group.

In Buffalo, New York, it is a day of rest for Lincoln. He attends a local Unitarian church with former (13th) President Millard Fillmore. After going back to the American Hotel for Mrs. Lincoln, Fillmore takes them to his home to dine. That afternoon, Lincoln returns and receives friends; he does not give any speeches. After supper with his family, he attends a service by an Indian preacher, Father John Beason.

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