Lincoln Leaves Harrisburg, Enters Washington Incognito

Friday, February 22, 1861

President-elect Lincoln got up early for a flag-raising ceremony outside Independence Hall – before leaving on a trip to Pennsylvania’s capital. In a speech to a welcome from the president of the Philadelphia Common Council, Lincoln said: I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. (Great cheering.) I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and adopted that Declaration of Independence–I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army, who achieved that independence. (Applause.) I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land; but something in that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. (Great applause.) It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. (Cheers.) This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence.”

Lincoln aide John Hay reported on the trip to Harrisburg that took much of the morning: “All along the route from Philadelphia, and especially at Lancaster, receptions seemed more the result of curiosity than enthusiasm. Even at Harrisburg, not one man in a hundred cheered.
“The crowds everywhere were uniformly rough unruly, and ill bred. Mr. Lincoln was so unwell he could hardly be persuaded to show himself.
“Harrisburg is swarming with soldiery, some of whom came from Philadelphia, and there are hardly enough persons out of uniform to balance the display. The corps of Zouaves elicited special attention. Colonel [Ephraim] Ellsworth was in his glory to-day.
“The Jones house, where the party stopped, was fairly mobbed. The arrangements there were unprecedentedly bad; some of the suite and party were unaccommodated with rooms; several in one bed, and others had no rooms at all. The crowd, and the fatiguing ceremonies of the day, and the annoyances and vexation at the badly conducted hotel, proved too much for the patience of the party, who vented their disgust loudly. The committeemen did nothing, and were in every one’s way. Completely exhausted, Mr. Lincoln retired at 8 o’clock, and Mrs. Lincoln, on account of the crowd, disorder, confusion, want of accommodation, and her own fatigue, declined to hold any reception.
“A drunken, fighting, noisy crowd infested the city all the evening, cheering, calling for ‘Old Abe,’ and giving him all sorts of unmelodious serenades. No terms are too severe to characterize the conduct of the crowd about the hotel and the arrangements there.”

Early that evening, Lincoln and Ward Hill Lamon sneek out of the Harrisburg activities for a special train to Philadelphia where he was secreted into a train for Baltimore. Ward Hill Lamon later recalled: “At the moment for the departure of the Baltimore train drew near, the carriage paused in the dark shadows of the depot building. It was not considered prudent to approach the entrance.
“We were directed to the sleeping-car. Mr. Kenny ran forward and delivered the ‘important package,’ and in three minutes the train was in motion. The tickets for the whole party had been procured by George R. Dunn, an express agent, who had selected berths in the rear of the car, and had insisted that the rear door of the car should be opened on the plea that one of the party was an invalid, who would arrive late, and did not desire to be carried through the narrow passage-way of the crowded car. Mr. Lincoln got into his berth immediately, the curtains were carefully closed, and the rest of the party waited until the conductor came round when the detective handed him the sick man’s ticket. During the night Mr. Lincoln indulged in a joke or two, in an undertone; but with that exception the two sections occupied by us were perfectly silent. The detective said he had men stationed at various places along the road to let him know if all was right; and he rose and went to the platform occasionally to observe their signals, returning each time with a favorable report.
“A thirty minutes past three the train reached Baltimore. One of the spy’s assistance came on board and informed him in a whisper that ‘all was right.’ Mr. Lincoln lay still in his berth; and in a few moments the care was being slowly drawn through the quiet streets of the city toward what was called the Washington depot. There again was another pause, but no sound more alarming than the noise of shifting cars and engineers. The passengers, tucked away on their narrow shelves, dozed on as peacefully as if Mr. Lincoln had never been born, until they were awakened by the loud strokes of a huge club against a night-watchman’s box, which stood within the depot and close to the track. It was an Irishman, trying to arouse a sleepy ticket-agent comfortably ensconced within. For twenty minutes the Irishman pounded the box with ever-increasing vigor, and at each blow shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Captain! it’s four o’clock! it’s four o’clock!’ The Irishman seemed to think that time had ceased to run at four o’clock, and making no allowance for the period consumed by his futile exercises, repeated to the last his original statement that it was four o’clock. The passengers were intensely amused; and their jokes and laughter at the Irishman’s expense were not lost upon the occupants of the sections in the rear.
“In due time the train sped out of the suburbs of Baltimore, and the apprehensions of the President and his friends diminished with each welcome revolution of the wheels. At six o’clock the dome of the Capitol came in sight, and a moment later we rolled into that long, unsightly building, the Washington depot. We passed out of the car unobserved, and pushed along with the living stream often and women toward the outer door. One man alone in the great crowd seemed to watch Mr. Lincoln with special attention. Standing a little to one side, he looked very sharply at him, and as he passed, seized hold of his hand, and said in a loud tone of voice, ‘Abe, you can’t play that one me!’ We were instantly alarmed, and would have struck the stranger had not Mr. Lincoln hastily said, ‘Don’t strike him! It is Washburne. Don’t you know him?’ Mr. Seward had given to Mr Washburne a hint of the information received through his son; and Mr. Washburne knew its value as well as another.
“The detective admonished Washburne to keep quiet for the present, and we passed on together. Taking a hack, we drove toward Willard’s Hotel. Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Washburne, and the detective got out in the street, and approached the ladies’ entrance, while I drove on to the main entrance, and sent the proprietor to meet his distinguished guest at the side door. A few minutes later Mr. Seward arrived, and was introduced to the company by Mr. Washburne. He spoke in very strong terms of the great danger which Mr. Lincoln had so narrowly escaped, and most heartily applauded the wisdom of the secret passage.’
“It now soon became apparent that Mr. Lincoln wished to be left alone. He said he was ‘rather tired;’ and, upon this intimation, the party separated. The detective went to the telegraph-office and loaded the wires with despatches in cipher, containing the pleasing intelligence that ‘Plums’ had brought ‘Nuts’ through in safety.”

Illinois Congressman Elihu Washburne later recalled the arrival of President Lincoln’s controversial arrival in the nation’s capital: “There has been a great deal printed in the newspapers about Mr. Lincoln’s arrival in Washington and about the ‘Scotch cap’ and ‘big shawl’ he were through Baltimore, etc., etc., most of which is mere stuff. I propose now to tell about his arrival at Washington, from my own personal knowledge — what I saw with my own eyes and what I heard with my own ears, not the eyes and ears of some one else.
“As I have stated, I stood behind the pillar awaiting the arrival of the train. When it came to a stop I watched with fear and trembling to see the passengers descend. I saw every car emptied, and there was no Mr. Lincoln. I was well-nigh in despair, and when about to leave I saw slowly emerge from the last sleeping car three persons. I could not mistake the long, lank form of Mr. Lincoln, and my heart bounded with joy and gratitude. He had on a soft low-crowned hat, a muffler around his neck, and a short-bob-tailed overcoat. Any one who knew him at that time could not have failed to recognize him at once, but I must confess, he looked more like a well-to-do farmer from one of the back towns of Joe Davies County coming to Washington to see the city, take out his land warrant and get the patent for his farm, than the President of the United States,
“The only persons that accompanied Mr. Lincoln were Pinkerton, the well-known detective, recently deceased, and Ward H. Lamon. When they were fairly on the platform and a short distance from the car, I stepped forward and accosted the President: ‘How are you, Lincoln?’
“At this unexpected and rather familiar salutation the gentlemen were apparently somewhat startled, but Mr. Lincoln, who had recognized me, relieved them at once by remarking in his peculiar voice:
‘This is only Washburne!’
“Then we all exchanged congratulations and walked out to the front of the depot, where I had a carriage in waiting.”