AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

Union

Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton was the founder of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. In early 1861, while employed by the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, Pinkerton discovered and thwarted a plot (the "Baltimore Plot") to assassinate President-elect Lincoln. Working for General McClellan, Pinkerton organized a secret service for the Department of the Ohio and the Army of Potomac. Pinkerton's successes came primarily in the counterintelligence field, and his exploits in the realm of positive military intelligence collection are not highly regarded. Pinkerton's work in military intelligence ended with McClellan's dismissal following the Battle of Antietam in November 1862. O'Toole, Encyclopedia, pp. 372-373. See also, Edwin C. Fishel, "Myths That Never Die," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 2, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 27-58.

Bonansinga, Jay. Pinkerton's War: The Civil War's Greatest Spy and the Birth of the U.S. Secret Service. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2012.

The comment by Peake, Studies 57.1 (Mar. 2012), that "Pinkerton was not the Civil War's greatest spy, nor did he have anything to with the U.S. Secret Service" says all the reader needs to know.

Brown, George W. Baltimore and the Nineteenth of April, 1861. Chicago: U.S. Publishing, 1895. [Petersen]

Cuthbert, Norma B., ed. Lincoln and the Baltimore Plot, 1861, from Pinkerton Records and Related Papers. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1949. [Petersen]

Fishel, Edwin C. "Pinkerton and McClellan: Who Deceived Whom?" Civil War History 34, no. 2 (1988): 115-142.

Foreman, Allan. "A Bit of Secret Service History." Magazine of American History 12, no. 4 (1884): 323-331. [Petersen]

Horan, James D.

1. The Pinkertons: The Detective Dynasty that Made History. New York: Crown, 1967.

2. and Howard Swiggett. The Pinkerton Story. New York: Putnam's, 1951.

This is a history of 100 years of the Pinkerton Agency, from its founding in Chicago in 1850, to the then-present. There is a chapter on the Baltimore Plot and one on Pinkerton's work with McClellan during the Civil War.

Morn, Frank. "The Eye that Never Sleeps": A History of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Mortimer, Gavin. Double Death: The True Story of Pryce Lewis, the Civil War's Most Daring Spy. New York: Walker, 2010.

According to Peake, Studies 55.2 (Jun. 2011), the author shows that it was John Scully not Lewis who gave up Union/Pinkerton spy Timothy Webster to the Confederates. This work "sets the record straight in an important Civil War intelligence case." It is "[w]ell written and soundly documented." Miller, Library Journal, 24 Jun. 2010, says that this is "a very good read but a work of marginal utility. Mortimer relies on the sometimes dubious memoirs of the principals, overstates the significance of private spies in wartime intelligence gathering, and stumbles on some contextual facts." To Deeb, New York Journal of Books, 17 Aug. 2010, this is "a very interesting read."

Mortimer, Gavin. "The Eye That Never Slept." BBC History Magazine 11, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 46-48.

This is a brief overview of the career of Allan Pinkerton.

Ormont, Arthur. Master Detective: Allan Pinkerton. New York: Julian Messner, 1965. [Petersen]

Pinkerton, Allan. The Spy of the Rebellion: History of the Spy System of the United States Army During the Late Rebellion. New York: Carleton, 1883. Hartford, CT: M.A. Winter & Hatch, 1883. The Spy of the Rebellion; Being a True History of the Spy System of the United States Army During the Late Rebellion. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

This is Pinkerton's autobiography. The author of the introduction to the 1989 reprint, Patrick Bass, plainly states that Pinkerton had a tendency to play somewhat loosely with the facts. Part of this tendency was related to the ability (or lack thereof) of anyone to remember events accurately 20 years after the fact. But it was also connected to Pinkerton's desire to defend his and his agency's war work against critics of the time. Bass believes, however, that the value of Pinkerton's account goes beyond basic facts and can be found in the "indefinable 'feel' for the milieu that it imparts." (p. 21) Fishel, Secret War, p. 55, refers to this work as Pinkerton's "mainly ficticious memoirs."

Sabine, David B. "Pinkerton's 'Operative': Timothy Webster." Civil War Times Illustrated 12, no. 5 (1973): 32-38.

Wheeler, Richard. A Rising Thunder: From Lincoln's Election to the Battle of Bull Run -- An Eyewitness History. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. [pb] 1995.

Surveillant 4.4/5 notes that the author's coverage of Allan Pinkerton will be of interest to Civil War intelligence scholars.

Return to Union Table of Contents