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'The Hour of Peril' review: Saving Lincoln

"The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Muder Lincoln Before the Civil War" bu Daniel Stashower (Minotaur, January 2013). Photo Credit: Handout

THE HOUR OF PERIL: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower. Minotaur Books, 368 pages, $26.99.


Today's political conflicts pale when compared with the danger faced by Abraham Lincoln on his way to Washington, D.C., for his first inauguration in 1861.

He had to travel through Baltimore.

The city was filled with Southern sympathizers who plotted, secretly and in the open, against Lincoln. In some cases, they called for his assassination.

You can read all about it in Daniel Stashower's "The Hour of Peril," an in-depth look at the short period between the election and the March inauguration.

The well-researched book covers the obstacles Lincoln faced on that journey and introduces Allan Pinkerton, the Chicago detective whose job was to keep him safe.

When Samuel Felton, president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, "whose track formed a crucial link between Washington and the North," hears rumors of potential danger to the president-elect by the destruction of bridges or rails, he asked Pinkerton to find out whether the threats were real.

Stashower makes a solid case that there were real threats to Lincoln's safety on the planned trip between Springfield, Ill., and Washington. In meticulous detail, he shows there were multiple warnings about the potential for an attack, or attacks, along with Pinkerton's own investigations.

Lincoln had known Pinkerton when the former was a lawyer for the Illinois Central railroad, so when Pinkerton told him that "if he kept to the published itinerary, 'an assault of some kind would be made upon his person,'" Lincoln took him seriously.

Pinkerton safely escorts the disguised Lincoln through Baltimore before the inauguration, thwarting the threatenedplans.

Winner of the Edgar and Agatha awards for his mysteries, and the Raymond Chandler Fulbright Fellowship in Detective Fiction, Stashower also is a journalist whose work has appeared widely.

"The Hour of Peril" takes a while to get to Lincoln's fateful evening in Baltimore, but the buildup is worth it. No matter that you know how it ends, the tension is palpable.

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