Conspiracy theory 5: analyzing the letter

Previously: LTC Edward Wright, friend and aide to McClellan, had traveled to D.C. to receive a message from Allan Pinkerton: Wright and McClellan's small circle of friends were under observation for plotting the assasination of Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton said. Their arrests would would be triggered by any move to execute their plot. It would also follow any protest or commotion made by McClellan in reference to the upcoming election, the results which were already rigged. If GBM kept quiet, he and his friends would be spared arrest (and presumably execution). The threat came in the midst of military trials of the Sons of Liberty and foreshadowed those executions.

"Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview" has a certain resonance. McClellan contracted for Pinkerton's and Lincoln's services at the Illinois Central, GBM personally directing their activities. Pinkerton's involvement with Lincoln's security appears to flow from this comity.

The Civil War reader has no idea of how "thick" Pinkerton, Lincoln, and McClellan were; a small digression may help with this. On April 15, 1861, Baldy Smith wrote GBM to tell him the rumor that Lincoln was going to make the civilian Mac a brigadier in the Regular Army. He advised his friend to get the highest volunteer commission first to leverage himself up in any federal negotiations. By April 18 (see his letter to Robert Patterson) McClellan had accepted a state level engineering staff position under Patterson. The same day he told Fitz John Porter of a feeler put out inviting his command of the Pennsylvania Reserves. On April 19, Baltimore rioted. Pinkerton's trusted agent, Timothy Webster, was by Lincoln's side. In his biography of Webster Pinkerton wrote that immediately after the riots Lincoln told Webster, "take these telegrams, and when you have reached a point where communication is possible, send them to General [sic] McClellan at Columbus, Ohio; they are important and must be sent without delay. Also telegraph to Mr. Pinkerton at once; his services are, I think, greatly needed by the government at this time." As Washington is cut off, Lincoln has Pinkerton and GBM in his thoughts at the same time. Moreover, by April 23, we see offers of major generalcies gushing in all at once from Republican governors: from Morgan (NY), from Curtin (PA), From Dennison (OH).

There is another phrase that resonates in Wright's recounting of the Pinkerton interview: "it was with a desire to befriend McClellan and save him from possible trouble that he [Lincoln] had employed him [Pinkerton] in the matter."

Here "befriend" refers to an estrangement. I don't know if Lincoln considered McClellan, his employer, a friend after sharing rooms (and beds) with him in country inns throughout Illinois as they plied railroad cases in county seats but by 1861, Lincoln habitually and publicly referred to McClellan as "George" and even "our George." I don't know of any cabinet officer or politician outside Lincoln's small circle of pre-election friends referred to by their first names; certainly no general ever after received this treatment. In the same vein, I once tried to tally the number of visits (drop-ins) Lincoln made on McClellan at home and gave up in discouragement. There were so many.

And so this "befriending" has meaning. It also has context.

There were several presidential-tinged overtures to bring McClellan back into active duty that occured on May 1, 1864 (Montgomery Blair to SLM Barlow); July 21 (Francis Blair Sr. to GBM); July 31 (Lincoln and Grant, confirmed by Cameron). IIRC Cameron also approached McClellan about his restoration before the spring 1864 campaign even started.

If we interleave these McClellan-related dates with the government's progress in its Sons of Liberty investigation, we get some interesting results. Perhaps I'll table these incidents at the end of this series. There are two more remarkable dates we should consider.

The first is well known: it is the confrontation after Lincoln levels treason accusations against McClellan on the morning of March 8, 1862. (McClellan: "It is difficult to understand that a man of Mr. Lincoln's intelligence could give ear to such abominable nonsense.") The second date occurs on September 23, 1864. McClellan's political manager wrote to him:

"Lincoln pretends to have a letter of yours to himself, written in 1861, I believe, in which you advised him to assume dictatorial powers, arrest members of Congress &c &c. This story is likely to hurt us very much in certain quarters. Have you a copy of any such letter and if, not can you give me the substance."
McClellan answered,

"I have carefully thought over the matter & cannot think of anything I ever wrote or said that could be tortured into giving Lincoln the advice in question. You may be sure that it is a lie out of the whole cloth."
And so, we see Lincoln on this emotional see-saw. He recruits McClellan, he confronts McClellan; he credits treason, he cultivates friendship. On the verge of arresting him, if we credit Pinkerton, he sends an olive branch.

Two days after the election, Simon Cameron feels compelled to send Lincoln the strongest letter possible to prevent the restoration of McClellan to command.

So questions arise.

(1) Did the McClellan Minute Men or Sons of Liberty, in arrest, confinement and under interrogation, fabricate implications? Even if they did, it seems impossible that they would come up with precise circle of men surrounding candidate McClellan (Wright, Curtis, Belmont, etc.).

(2) Was this intimidation a Stanton scheme? Sears in his GBM biography says McClellan thought so but gives no evidence. Actually, McClellan is on the record before the election as saying that Stanton had lost all discretion and was being directed by Lincoln from day to day; furthermore, Pinkerton did not have a Stanton connection and if he worked for Stanton at all during the war it was temporarily.

The Wright letter describing the Pinkerton meeting has an internal coherence that invites credibilty among those familiar with the Lincoln-McClellan-Pinkerton relationship.

It seems to me - I'm speculating - that the Sons of Liberty cases opened the door to a general crackdown on the political opposition and this Wright incident was part of that. We'll see more of this next with the arrest of a lieutenant governor.

"Mr. Lincoln knew of this interview"
"The McClellan interest"

Rosecrans discovers a plot
Conspiracy theory
General Wool writes a letter

p.s. My reference to LTC Wright as the son of the General appears to be erroneous. Bill Bergen writes:
In yesterday's post, Conspiracy theory 4, you state that Edward H. Wright was Horatio Wright's son. As the reigning expert on Horatio Wright, I can tell you that Horatio had only two daughters and no sons (though one might have died in infancy). If you have info to the contrary, I'd love to see it.

It appears true, though I have never been able to confirm it, that the two Wrights were related. There is a single reference in one article I found that mentioned Horatio and a William Wright, a Senator from NJ, were cousins. Here is his info:


I gathered from some context or another that the senator was Edward's father or uncle. That this letter is written from NJ, and not CT or DC, the two places Horatio called home, lends some credence to that theory.

One of the few of Horatio Wright's non-military letters that is in the public domain is to Edward Wright. Here is a synopsis of that:


Having read the whole letter, the reference to McClellan is to Arthur McClellan, G.B.'s younger brother, who was a long-time VI corps staff officer and a source of some controversy. In Sears' book of McClellan letters, there is a early fall 1864 missive from GB to Arthur saying that if he were to be restored to command of the army he would take the VI Corps' staff as his own. He tells Arthur to give his regards to Wright and Getty.

I have a few other pieces of evidence that hint at a Horatio-GB close relationship, but nothing definitive.
Top: McClellan and Pinkerton from The Spy of the Rebellion.