Previously: Booth shoots Lincoln and breaks leg in escape.Stanton goes to Seward’s house when he hears of the stabbing. Someone tries to shoot Andrew Johnson. Gabby runs away from the basement in the rain. Lincoln friend Ward Lamon tries to find him.
Finally, his train pulled into Baltimore station, and Lamon dashed to a carriage, shouting at the driver-for-hire, “To Fort McHenry! Fast!” He shoved a fistful of bills into the driver’s hand and took his seat inside. The horses lunged forward down the street to Point Whetstone, the peninsula sticking out into harbor. Lamon braced himself as the wheels bounced along the rough, deep trenches, splashing mud everywhere.
How ironic that Stanton would have chosen Fort McHenry for the place to enslave Lincoln, Lamon thought. American soldiers had repulsed the British in 1814 from this historic fort. The military converted it into a prison at the start of the Civil War. Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, paving the way for the arrest of the mayor, the police marshal, a former Maryland governor, a congressman and even the grandson of Francis Scott Key for being Confederate sympathizers. They never had trials. The government just locked them away. Like Stanton locked away the president. But tonight was the last night, Lamon vowed.
He hoped Stanton instructed the prison officials to give Lincoln better treatment than most prisoners received. Reports said the prison denied inmates bedding, chairs, stools, washbasins and eating utensils. The food was usually rancid. Even Stanton would have made sure Lincoln spent the last two and a half years in quarters suitable for the president of the United States.
Lamon’s carriage pulled up to the Fort McHenry compound gate. A soldier in a raincoat stepped through the puddles to stick his head under the canopy.
“Who goes there?” he asked.
“Ward Lamon, personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln and the Federal Marshal of the District of Columbia!”
“What is your business, sir?”
“Just let me in, dammit!”
The sentry blinked a couple of times and stepped back, allowing the carriage to pass onto a wide gravel road. Lamon tapped the driver’s shoulder and pointed to the right at a two-story building which had a wide covered verandah on three sides.
The driver pulled the carriage as close to the verandah as possible before Lamon leapt out and stormed across the porch. Several guards were huddled against the wall trying to stay out of the rain. He barged through the door into a small reception area. A second lieutenant sat at desk writing in a large ledger.
“I want to see the president of the United States of America!”
The officer looked up, nonplussed, and returned his attention to his work. “I believe he resides in Washington City, sir.”
“You know that’s a lie!”
The second lieutenant turned toward the door behind him. “Captain, I think this is a matter for you to handle.”
As a portly, graying man entered the room putting on his captain’s jacket, he asked, “Lt. Mayfield, what is going on here?”
Lamon stopped himself and realized he must have sounded like a madman. A Federal Marshal must behave as a gentleman at all times, he lectured himself. Looking down at the desk, he forced himself to smile at the younger officer.
“I’m sorry, Lt. Mayfield. I should not have spoken to you like that. I hope you can accept my apologies.”
“I am a junior officer,” Mayfield said without emotion. “No apologies are necessary.”
“What is this—I believe you said your name was Ward Lamon?” the captain asked as he finished buttoning his jacket.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Lamon backtracked into civility. “And I have the honor of addressing…?”
“Captain Thomas Dunne, assistant commandant of Fort McHenry,” the officer replied. “And I know who you are, sir. You are the great friend of our president. Your loyalty to Mr. Lincoln has been reported by the newspapers.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Commandant General Walker is not here at this time. Perhaps I may be able to assist you. Did I understand you correctly? You think Mr. Lincoln is here at Fort McHenry?”
“If you know who I am then you must understand,” Lamon explained, trying to speak in a softer tone. “You do not have to lie—“he stopped, correcting himself again. “You do not have to continue the subterfuge. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton personally told me President Lincoln had been put under secret military protection after threats had been made on his life. I only found out today that he was here at Fort McHenry.”
“And when did Secretary Stanton tell you this?” Dunne asked in a calm voice.
“It was September of 1862.”
Mayfield put his quill pen on the table and stood.
“And he has been here ever since?” the captain continued.
“You know very well—“again Lamon stopped himself in mid-sentence. “Yes, sir. That is correct, sir. Perhaps the Commandant did not share this information with you. Perhaps he felt the fewer people who knew of Mr. Lincoln’s presence here the better.”
“I have the complete confidence of General Walker, sir,” the colonel replied. “Nothing goes on here at Fort McHenry without my knowledge, sir.”
“The war is over, sir. There is no need to protect the president. That is my job. I am here to return the president to Washington City.” Lamon felt his hands trembling. “Please, sir, tell me which building Mr. Lincoln is in.”
“Captain Dunne,” Mayfield interjected, “should I—“
Dunne put his hand up in front of the second lieutenant. Lamon took this as a sign to silence the junior officer, and tantamount to acknowledging they knew Lincoln was on the premises.
Lamon lunged toward the younger officer. “You know!” Lamon grabbed his collar. “Tell me, dammit! Tell me where the president is!”
“Guards! Guards!” Mayfield yelled.
“Mr. Lamon! Control yourself!” Dunne ordered in a firm voice as the guards ran through the door. Lamon turned and threw a couple of wild punches at them before escaping outside into the rain. Looking around, he spotted a row of barracks across the wide gravel path. Splattering through puddles, he ran into the first barracks and past the guards.
“Mr. President! Mr. President! Where are you?” Something was terribly wrong, he told himself. Wiping raindrops from his face, Lamon ran down a long hall, looking through the bars at the inmates whose dull eyes stared vacantly back at him.
“Sir, you must come with us,” one of the two guard said who came up behind him.
Swinging around Lamon shoved the first guard into the second as he ran back down the hall. “No! I must find the president!”
Just as Lamon opened the door to the courtyard, the guards from the other building barged through and knocked him to the floor. He looked up to see their rifles pointed at him. Dunne and Mayfield knelt beside him.
“Your penchant for hard liquor is as well-known as your loyalty to the president,” Dunne whispered into his ear. “I shall dismiss your behavior as the result of too much whiskey. Leave calmly, and we shall consider this incident at an end.”
Exhausted but out of options Lamon cried, “I cannot have failed the president so completely!”
“You have not failed the president,” Dunne corrected him. “You may have failed yourself, but you have not failed the president. Do you understand?”
Lamon stared at the captain and then swallowed hard. “Yes, I must control my drinking.”
The officers stood.
“Guards, will you be so kind as to escort Mr. Lamon to his carriage?” Dunne asked.
They wrenched Lamon up and shoved him through the door.
Dunne added, “And please make sure he makes it safely out the front gate.”
Lamon did not resist as the guards pushed him into the carriage. As the driver turned the team around, the Lamon looked at the five-pointed star building in the distance, the site of the 1815 battle that saved the nation. How could he have been so wrong? How could he have been so gullible to believe all the lies?
“Where do you wish to go, sir?” the driver asked, bending over to the inside of the carriage. “The train depot?”
“No,” Lamon replied. “To the nearest tavern.”
At the dimly lit bar a block from the train station, Lamon sipped on a glass of whiskey and considered what had happened. Obviously, the Lincoln imposter had lied to him. Lincoln was not in Baltimore. The only reason to send Lamon to Baltimore was to get the woman impersonating Mary Todd Lincoln back to her home. Of course, Stanton would have never shared the location of the president with a mere imposter. Lamon berated himself for not thinking clearly.
But if Lincoln were not at Fort McHenry, then where was he? Taking another sip of whiskey, he considered the possibilities. Perhaps the president did not leave Washington City at all. Perhaps he did not even leave the Executive Mansion. What if Lincoln and his wife had been somewhere in the building the entire time? Lamon felt his arm being jostled.
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” a man said, breathing hard.
The Lamon noticed the crowd milling. “What’s going on?”
“The word just came in from the telegraph office. The president has been shot.”
“The president?” Lamon stood and threw some coins at the barkeeper. Pushing his way through the tavern door, he ran down the street to the telegraph office where men and women gathered in the rain.
“Let me through! I’m the president’s friend!” he shouted as he shoved to the front of the mob. He stopped short as he saw a clerk hold up a hand-lettered sign scrawled with a charcoal stick on a piece of paper, which was quickly disintegrating in the rain.
“President shot at Ford’s Theater.”
Another clerk came out the door with another sign and held it up.
“President near death.”
“No! No!” rumbled from the depths of the soaked crowd.
“No! Hurrah! Hurrah! The tyrant is dead!” other voices screeched.
“The South is avenged!”
From the back came a loud cry, “Damned rebels! Hang ‘em all!”
“Damn all you rebels!”
Men began attacking each other, falling down and rolling in the mud. Women hit at them with their umbrellas.
A clerk thrust a third sign into the air.
“Attempt made on life of Vice-President.”
A knot formed in Lamon’s stomach. All this was his fault. He should have never submitted meekly to the orders of Stanton. He should have known Stanton was lying to him from the very beginning. If he had only stayed vigilant, Stanton and Baker would have never gotten their hands on Lincoln in the first place.
Another clerk lifted a sign.
“Secretary of State almost stabbed to death.”
Lamon could take no more. He turned and made his way back through the crowd and down the street to the train station. Inside the depot, he stamped his feet and shook his shoulders, trying to toss the raindrops from his body. Lamon walked to the window where he bought a ticket on the next train back to the Capital. He felt exhausted, hopeless. He wanted a drink. He wanted to sleep. He wanted things to be different. But all he could do was wait for the train to come, and after an eternity it did come, finally. He found his seat in the passenger car, and he stared out the window, not even having the energy to tap on it as he had done on the trip to Baltimore.
He was defeated. Lamon sacrificed everything in his life he held dear, his wife and daughter, for the President and now the President—his long-time friend– was near death. He had failed all of them. Failed.
Wrinkling his brow and narrowing his eyes, he paused. But was Abraham Lincoln? He gasped at the audacity of the thought. The signs at the telegraph office said the President was shot. Perhaps it had been the imposter who was shot. After all, the imposter said he had to stay so the people could see their president.
If the Lincoln look-alike had gone to Ford’s Theater to be seen by the people then the assassin could have shot him instead. However, if that were so, then where was Abraham Lincoln? What had Edwin Stanton done with him?
Reinvigorated, Lamon pounded his fist against the glass pane. He still had a chance to redeem himself. If he could not save the president, he could at least bring Edwin Stanton to justice.