The American Civil War was a period of great turmoil and conflict in the life of the United States. Great battles were waged and numerous lives were lost, all in the name of the ideology of each side in the conflict. However, as the war saw the shifting of the life of a nation, one man established one company that rose through the years to play a significant role in the shaping of the history of the United States. The paper seeks to discover the role of Allan Pinkerton in molding American history, the agency he founded, and where this company is at this present time.
As Abraham formally took office as President, the United States was on the verge of imploding. The initial sounds of gunfire on the battlefield sounded the possibility that the fledgling nation was being torn apart. Lincoln knew he had to keep the United States intact, even if this desire is translated to marching on the South with guns, canons and bayonets to quash the rebellion. Lincoln believed that the Southern rebels must realize the hollowness of their cause, aggressively advocating for the maintenance of the unity of the nation.
One of Lincoln’s first acts as Chief Executive was to recruit two men to serve in Washington. Lincoln believed that these two men would be able to help him overcome the “storm” and aid him in guiding the nation through this trial. One of these men, George Brinton McClellan is an alumnus of the well-known West Point military school, also an American hero in the Mexican War, and in peacetime, and the head of the Illinois Central Railroad company.
Lincoln asked McClellan to lead the Army of the Potomac to guard the city. The other man tasked by Lincoln to help him during this trial was a Chicago detective of Scottish roots that has proven his fidelity, courage, and innovativeness by foiling a murderous scheme against the President even before Lincoln took office. That man was Allan Pinkerton.
Lincoln wanted Pinkerton to head a “secret service” in the nation’s capital. It was widely believed that Washington was flooded with “moles” that were on the payroll of the Signal Bureau, the espionage agency of the Confederacy, the rival government of the Union. In the report of Allan Axelrod, in his work The War between the Spies: a history of espionage during the American Civil War (1992) stated that Washington was teeming with spies and Confederate collaborators that were eager to provide intelligence to the Confederacy. However, when Lincoln had the two men face the Cabinet, the two experienced the procrastinations of General Winfield Scott, who served in the capacities of Commander in Chief. Scott wanted another person to lead the proposed Secret Service, a former lawyer from Ohio, Lafayette Baker. Nevertheless, Lincoln insisted that Pinkerton, whom Lincoln believed he owed a favor to, should be named to the position.
During the time that Pinkerton and Lincoln waited for the decision of the Cabinet, McClellan recruited Pinkerton to be his personal spy. Welcoming McClellan’s offer, Pinkerton bought several agents to Washington; among these agents were Timothy Webster and Kate Warne. Pinkerton located Warne and Webster at strategic places for the two to collect intelligence for the Northern war effort.
Warne, for her part, usually posed as a Southern coquette and befriended the other Southern belles who told her in liberal fashion on the movements of their husbands’ and boyfriend’s regiments. For his part, Webster retained his involvement with the “Knights of the Golden Circle” that created an intelligence pipeline to divulge Confederate spying activities in Northern cities. Using a diverse range of methods, Pinkerton and his agents discovered that intelligence was not difficult to find.
Sauntering around Southern towns and cities and charming the Southern soldiers in the city in the focal point in the South allowed these Northern spies to gain valuable intelligence as to the movements of the Southern regiments, the identities of the officers who led the Army, and the operatives and the “runners.” In addition, these methods also allowed Northern spies to establish Southern fortifications and the size and cannons of the artillery units in the area (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
One of the agents recommended by Kate Warne was one young lady, Elizabeth Baker. Though Baker was born in Richmond, Virginia, Baker was staunchly Union in belief. Baker begged Pinkerton to allow her to help in the cause of the Federal government in whatever manner possible. With the recommendation of Kate, Pinkerton deployed her to a special commission.
There were news that the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond was building a ship that could sail under water; the new ship was called as a submarine. The design of the vessel was geared to destroy the Union ships that were blockading the entry to the James River, prohibiting commerce from entering or leaving the city. With the entry to the river effectively blocked, the town was deprived of much needed supplies and provisions.
Should the submarine prove devastating to the interests of Union, Pinkerton needed to establish that one, the vessel is real, and if possible, secure a drawing of the vessel. Baker used her charms to secure the drawings of the vessel and presented the drawings to the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. As a result of her efforts, the Confederacy was never able to lift the river blockade (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
Pinkerton Security Agency: after the War
Formed by Allan Pinkerton in the 1850s, the “Pinkerton National Detective Agency”, or the “Pinkertons”, is a private sector security and detective corporation based in the United States. Pinkerton gained acclaim when he claimed to have stopped a conspiracy to murder then President-elect Abraham Lincoln. In turn, Lincoln later on recruited Pinkerton’s agents as the President’s personal bodyguards during the Civil War era. Pinkerton’s personnel performed a wide range of duties for the President, ranging from providing security services to military contracting services in the private sector.
At the height of its renown, the Pinkerton Agency had more agents on its payroll than the current rolls of the United States Army, and was the largest law enforcement private sector entity in the world at that time. Fearing that the agents and the agency itself can be employed as a private army, the state of Ohio banned the agency (Princeton, n.d., p. 1).
More popularly known as the “Pinks,” these private lawmen were present in almost all areas in the United States. The “Pinks” were so meticulous in overseeing crime trends that at times these lawmen came into conflict with innocent people. For instance, since criminal elements were involved in illegal horse racing by the latter half of the 1800s, the “Pinks” regularly checked the license and permits of all race tracks in the United States. All racehorses that were entered in the races were extensively recorded and detailed to the last hoof.
The identities in the grandstands in the tracks were thoroughly investigated; if the agents suspected that the horse owner “threw” a race, the identities of the owners would easily be traced. In the course of time, the “Eye,” or the term that Pinkerton came to be known, was often attributed to having an uncanny ability to establish the identities of the guilty parties long before the police were even able to come up with a list of leads in a case. Pinkerton laughed at suggestions that he had mysterious powers and explained his “powers” to his vast experience. Pinkerton avers that each criminal has marks, and owing to experience, Pinkerton is able to tell not only the identities of the parties in a crime, but also the probable avenues that the criminals will dispose of their ill-gotten wealth (Spartacus, 2014, p. 1).
In a time when America’s local and state governments, and even cities, were “burdened” with ill-equipped and ill-trained law enforcement personnel, Pinkerton agents traditionally took on the toughest tasks, with the cases addressed by the agents ranging from financial and property crimes to government subversion conspiracies to murder. It is also said that the agents of Pinkerton never failed to catch the culprits in all the cases assigned to them.
Regarding the boast of “always getting their man,” James Horan, in his work Desperate Men: the James Gang and the Wild Bunch (1962), wrote on the notoriety of Pinkerton, not to the police, but to the criminal elements in the United States. Horan wrote:
“Allan Pinkerton was well known to the members of the 19th century underworld. They knew he was incorruptible and so was his agency. They were also well acquainted with Pinkerton’s tenacity; if necessary, he would chase you to the ends of the earth (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
At the end of the American Civil War, Pinkerton returned to Chicago to restart his agency. George Bangs and Francis Warner, Pinkerton’s controllers, had run the daily affairs of the company in the time of the Civil War. During that time, the two had overseen the opening of two additional Pinkerton offices, in New York and in Pennsylvania, respectively. With the Confederacy effectively crushed, Pinkerton directed his efforts in hunting down swindlers, frauds, “con men,” and other criminal elements that proliferated in America’s cities and rural towns (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
In the 19th century, labor disputes erupted in the US labor front. Capitalists hired out Pinkerton’s agency to penetrate labor unions and in their capacity as guards, to fend off agitators and suspicious or alleged union members from getting into the factories. One of the well known strike breaks was the 1892 Homestead Strike. Pinkerton’s operatives were mobilized to implement the “strike breaking” mandate of one Henry Clay Frick on the orders of American corporate icon Andrew Carnegie. The brutal confrontation between the strike breakers and the factory workers resulted in several deaths for the strikers as well as the breakers (Princeton, n.d., p. 1).
The guild struck not only for improved wages, but also for a stake in the new direction being taken by America’s industrial sector. Even though Carnegie publicly displayed a pro-labor stance, Carnegie staunchly refused to have any other party in his company. Frick, Carnegie’s partner in the business, called up the Pinkertons in an effort to quell the strike. However, the sheer violence that the strikers met the contingent forced the Pinkerton guards to surrender four times, and four times that the strikers shot down the flag. The carnage horrified Carnegie; however, Carnegie went forward. In the end, the union gave in; three hundred of the workers were reemployed, the others were blacklisted (PBS, 2009, p. 1).
The Homestead Strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, matched one of the most powerful companies in the United States, the Carnegie Steel Company, against one of the most tenacious trade guilds, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. A labor picket in 1889 secured the union a greatly beneficial three-year agreement. Three years later, Andrew Carnegie wanted to break the power of the guild; Henry Clay Frick, Carnegie’s plant administrator, increased the production quotas of the facility, and when the unions protested the new orders, Frick started locking the workers out of the facility.
After an all day struggle, the guards deployed by Frick surrendered and were coerced to “run the gauntlet” through the crowd of strikers. After the “dust of battle” settled, nine picketers and seven Pinkerton guards died in the fracas, and a good number of strikers were wounded and the other Pinkerton guards were seriously wounded (Foner, Garraty, 1991, p. 1).
The Homestead Strike was not the only “corporate” action conducted by the Pinkerton Agency. Franklin Gowen, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, met with Pinkerton in 1823. Gowen had extensive investments in the Schuykill County coal mines; Gowen feared that the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association and the Shenandoah affiliate of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, run by John Sine and the Roman Catholic Church respectively, would drive down profits at the mine.
Pinkerton sent James McParland to Schuykill; McParland took on a false identity, James McKenna, and in time was able to join the two groups. After some time, McParland reported to Pinkerton that a number of the members of the Hibernians were also active in the Molly Maguires, a secret organization established in Ireland. John Kehoe, one the Maguires’ leaders, became skeptical of McParland; McParland was tipped off of Kehoe’s plan to have him killed and fled Schuykill. From 1876 to 1877, McParland served as the primary prosecution witness against Kehoe and the Maguires. At the end of the trial, 20 members of the Maguires were executed after being held guilty by the courts for the crime of murder. Those that were sentenced to death included Kehoe, who was found guilty in a murder case that occurred almost 14 years ago.
Allan Pinkerton died on the 1st of July, 1884. When Pinkerton passed on, his two sons, Robert and William, inherited and operated the agency and appointed McParland and Charlie Siringo as the heads of the agency’s Western headquarters, while the two sons ran the company from the agency’s newly opened Denver offices (Spartacus, 2014, p. 1)
Surveying the life and accomplishments of Pinkerton and the agency that he formed from its inception as well, this can be compared to studying the rise of the United States during the last 150 years. Pinkerton crossed paths with a number of the nation’s most revered figures in its history, and Pinkerton left an indelible imprint in the lives of each, and guided the course of the history of the United States as it is now known (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
The conventionalities that Pinkerton practiced were zealously practiced by his sons; these were best essayed in a letter sent to Superintendent George Bangs on the 21st of December 1868 that mainly focused on Pinkerton’s crusade against criminality. The contents of the correspondence, quoted in the work of Horan’s Desperate Men, definitively displays a “man equipped with an indomitable and enormous tenacity. A man, too, who once he has begun to fight will never yield and though beaten to his knees will continue to bring the war to the enemy (Geringer, 2014, p. 1). When William and Robert assumed the responsibility of running their father’s business, these kept faithful to the ideals advocated by their father but looked to expand the company beyond the borders of the United States. Robert passed on in 1907, followed by William in 1923. Robert’s son, Allan, a veteran of the First World War, followed in the footsteps of his father and uncle until his death in 1930. After Allan’s death, the agency became a publicly listed company.
During the last 75 years, the agency found that its “manhunt” services were less needed, what with the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the development of local police agencies; by the middle of the 1900s, Pinkerton agents were spending less time on the road hunting for criminals than investigating fraud and offering 24 hours security services for major corporations, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. The transatlantic trade relationship that Robert and William envisioned was actualized with the merger of the company with Securitas AB. With state of the art technology at its disposal, the company that was founded by a barrel maker 150 years ago is now a major partner in the world’s largest protection company with more than 32 locations across the world (Geringer, 2014, p. 1).
Foner, E., and Garraty, J.A. (1991) “Homestead strike.” Retrieved 1 November 2014 from <http://www.history.com/topics/homestead-strike
Geringer, J. (2014). “Allan Pinkerton and his detective agency: we never sleep.” Retrieved 1 November 2014 from <http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/cops_others/pinkerton/6.html
PBS (2009) “Strike at Homestead Mill” Retrieved 1 November 2014 from <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/sfeature/mh_horror.html
Princeton University (n.d.) “Pinkerton National Detective Agency” Retrieved 1 November 2014 from <http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Pinkerton_National_Detective_Agency.html
Spartacus Educational (2014) “Pinkerton Detective Agency.” Retrieved 1 November 2014 from <http://spartacus-educational.com/USApinkertonD.htm