by Al Benson Jr.
Nathaniel Weyl wrote an informative book back in the early 1950s called The Battle Against Disloyalty. There was a good deal of information in it about different eras in this country but there was one chapter, chapter six, that caught my attention. It was titled “Stanton’s Secret Police.”
Since I have, of late, been reading some books dealing with the Soviet Secret Police, the dreaded KGB, which is supposed to have been “disbanded” but has really gone through little more than a name change, I found this of interest. Weyl draws parallels between Stanton’s Secret Police, or the military Secret Service, and the Soviet secret police.
Weyl noted, on page 67, that: “In the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, the United States War Department bore some traces of resemblance to the Soviet secret police. Its leaders were zealots who believed that, if the end didn’t justify the means, nothing else could.” In other words, they were what I have called “Yankee/Marxists.” Weyl continued: “Wherever possible, they operated in secrecy through military, rather than civilian courts. Guilt by association became a fundamental axiom; perjury was richly rewarded; when political exigencies dictated it, even the President of the United States was arraigned on spectral evidence…During the war years, General La Fayette Curry Baker was chief of the military Secret Service…In February, 1862, Baker’s Detective Bureau was transferred from Secretary of State Seward to War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton. Promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Baker was clothed with almost limitless powers as special provost marshal of the War Department. In Washington he used the methods that had proved so successful in his vigilante days, disregarding due process of law, habeas corpus, or any of the other constitutional frills that normally prevent the imprisonment of Americans at the whim of the military.”
Baker wrote a book about his “exploits” which many have noted is short on fact and long on self-congratulations. Weyl described him as: “An enormously vain and unscrupulous person, Baker was also a congenital liar, intriguer, and twister. A talented counterspy, he was a wretched administrator.” Weyl noted of Edwin M. Stanton that: “The ultimate plans of Stanton cannot be fathomed, but the trend he represented was totalitarian.” And Baker was a willing part of all that.
The site http://www.civilwarbummer.com had an interesting article, posted on April 24, 2013 that dealt with Stanton and his secret agents. It stated: “When news spread of his heroic exploits, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton recruited Baker to be the head of the Union Intelligence Service. Stanton then gave him a job as head of the National Detective Police. In this capacity, Baker operated essentially as the head of a secret police, seeking out and punishing any activity he deemed corrupt or rebellious. Most of Baker’s time was spent tracking down deserters from the Union Army. He also went after profiteers but only to line his own pockets. Baker arrested and jailed those who refused to share their illegal spoils from selling government supplies. Baker violated constitutional rights without fear or reservations since he was wholly backed by Stanton. He routinely made false arrests, conducted illegal searches without warrants, and blackmailed government officials into making endorsements of his almost non-existent espionage service. No one misused his authority or office more than Lafayette Baker. He developed a reputation for arresting and punishing suspects, ‘without warrant, or the semblance of law or justice.’” At one point, Baker discovered severe corruption in the Treasury Department, and it has been claimed that the only reason he bothered to bring it out into the open was that he didn’t get a cut. One official from the Treasury Department stated plainly that: “Baker became a law unto himself. He instituted a veritable Reign of Terror.
In a classic pre-NSA caper, Baker was eventually caught tapping telegraph lines between Nashville and his boss, Stanton’s, office. This earned him a demotion and he was shuttled off to New York to be placed under the jurisdiction of Charles Dana, Assistant Secretary of War and friend of Karl Marx. You can read about Mr. Dana in the book Lincoln’s Marxists. He had quite a leftist career, so typical for many in the Lincoln administration.
However, immediately following the Lincoln assassination he was called back to Washington and started working on the case. Within a mere two days all the conspirators except Booth and Herold were in custody. The civilwarbummer article noted: “Within two days, all of the conspirators were in custody. Somehow Baker know exactly where he could find the alcoholic George A. Atzerodt whose nerve had failed him when it came time to kill Vice-President Andrew Johnson. He also knew that Seward’s would-be assassin, Lewis Paine, could be found in the Washington, D.C. boarding house of Mary Surratt. Colonel Baker knew to arrest Edward Spangler, the carpenter at Ford’s Theater. ..Lafayette Baker had all the answers within forty-eight hours, including the escape route taken by John Wilkes Booth and David Herold.” I find that an amazing amount of detective work to have completed in just two days, and apparently the writer of the article felt the same.
Almost makes you wonder if he didn’t have some kind of advance information about all this.
A group of 25 men, under the command of Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty took out after Booth and Herold, but the overall command of this group ended up being divided between two other men—Baker’s cousin, Luther B. Baker, and Colonel Everton Conger. The article noted that: “Luther Baker was an enforcer who had carried out several of Lafayette Baker’s dirty deeds. Colonel Everton Conger also worked for Baker’s Intelligence Service and was willing to go to any lengths for his supervisor.” This group rode straight (no hunting or having to look around) to the farm where Booth and Herold were in a tobacco barn. Herold surrendered but Booth refused, and was subsequently supposedly shot in the back of the head. Conger searched the body of the supposed Booth and came up with, among other things, a leather-bound diary. He had been told by Lafayette Baker to specifically look for the diary. You have to wonder why and you also have to wonder how Baker even knew of its existence.
Conger took the personal effects, diary included, to Baker, who then wanted Conger to go with him when he turned over Booth’s effects to Edwin Stanton. Apparently, Baker wanted two witnesses to the fact that he turned over all of Booth’s effects to Stanton and that Stanton was “the final and only despository of this evidence.” Baker later claimed that someone had “cut out eighteen leaves” from the diary. Stanton claimed he didn’t remove any of the pages. It has been speculated that the missing eighteen pages included the names of those who had financed the “Lincoln conspiracy.”
What happened afterward depends on which sources you believe. One source I read said Baker was called before a Congressional committee when it was found out that a diary had been taken off Booth’s body. This was when Baker mentioned the eighteen missing pages. Stanton was then called before the committee and said he never removed any pages and Stanton was forced to hand over the diary. Another source I read awhile back said that Stanton had destroyed the written material (evidence) from Booth’s body, that it had, in fact, ended up probably in his fireplace. I supposed whoever might have the diary could disprove that one.
Another blog, http://ersjdamoo.wordpress.com for March 6, 2013, gives a little different spin to this. It says: “By 1864, Edwin Stanton was forced to banish Col. Baker to New York City. But Baker, within a year, returned to the forefront via a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, which allegedly ‘was Baker’s bid to recoup his fortunes. First, elimination of the President, which a large clique in the War Department desired, then a swift ‘solution’ to the crime’ via the subsequent ‘trial’ of patsies Mary Surratt, Louis Paine, Dr. Samuel Mudd, etc.”
Now, fast-forward to the twentieth century. A lot has been written about the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath and needless to say, the historians are, as usual, in wild disagreement with one another, to the point where name calling has almost become a fine art.
Over the years I have read Eisenschiml’s book Why Was Lincoln Murdered? and I have also read most of his second book In The Shadow of Lincoln’s Death which I have a copy of. Although some current historians have tried to savage Eisenschiml, he asked a lot of questions that I have never seen satisfactorily answered. I’ve also read Theodore Roscoe’s The Web of Conspiracy which deals with the assassination. And I’ve read The Lincoln Conspiracy which is a book that leaned heavily on those written previous to it for information. Another one I have heard of but have not read, one that has been panned by contemporary historians is one by Ray Neff and Leonard Guttridge called Dark Union. Dr. Neff was an emeritus faculty member of Indiana State University.
A brief biography of Dr. Neff appeared on http://library.indstate.edu in which his and Mr. Guttridge’s book, Dark Union, was mentioned. It said: “His and Mr. Guttridge’s conclusion that the assassin Booth had survived and escaped captivity after murdering President Lincoln is controversial and has been largely dismissed by mainstream historians.” All the more reason for some of this to be checked out. After all, it has been “mainstream” historians who have told us that Oswald was the lone assassin of John F. Kennedy, all based on the Warren Commission Report, which even those not versed in any of this have sense enough to realize is balderdash. And then, do you “remember the Maine” the ship the Spanish supposedly blew up that got us into the Spanish-American War. Establishment “history” was a little bit off there, too. And establishment “historians” also told us that Roosevelt did not know about Pearl Harbor before it happened. Several books have now been written that show that this was all so much hogwash. Of course Roosevelt knew. It was his ticket to get us into World War 2 so we could help out his buddies in Red Russia. The “establishment” version of “history” is usually some pat little story that never really happened and is tossed out there so the gullible will be enthralled into never asking any questions about what really did happen.
The fact remains that Edwin Stanton and Lafayette Baker ran a secret police organization in this country during the War of Northern Aggression is something the “historians” need to start looking at rather than denying it and trying to smear those who write about this. You almost have to wonder if the Bolsheviks in 1917 and thereafter used what happened in this country in the 1860s as a pattern for what eventually morphed into the KGB—you know—that “disbanded” organization that really isn’t (quite) disbanded.