Stanton, Lafe Baker, And The Diary

by Al Benson Jr.
Member, Board of Directors, Confederate Society of America

Many who have commented on the Lincoln assassination and its aftermath have observed Stanton’s criticism of Abraham Lincoln. One blog I have gone over, http://www.civilwarbummer.com has noted that “Regular association with the President did not eliminate Stanton’s propensity to disagree or even to sharply criticize the President.” Lincoln was aware of most of this and just kind of sluffed it off.

The bummer blog stated that: “All of the central figures in military and government had individuals gathering surreptitious information to further their knowledge of the civil conflict, Lincoln had Ward Hill Lamon, General McClellan employed Allen Pinkerton and Stanton utilized the services of Lafayette C. Baker.” The last two listed as informants were truly lousy choices. Pinkerton had been a socialist in Scotland before escaping to America and had been a supporter of terrorist John Brown. Donnie Kennedy and I dealt with him somewhat in Lincoln’s Marxists. McClellan deserved better. The other one, Lafayette Curry Baker, was a real piece of work. He had been a vigilante in the California gold fields before the War of Northern Aggression. Once the Northern aggression started he scuttled back to the East Coast, wangled an appointment with General Winfield Scott, and started doing espionage work for the North. On his first two missions into Richmond, he was captured twice, once by the Confederates and once by his own side. It has to be embarrassing getting captured by your own people. These sortees gained him no real information, but he returned to General Scott, full of tales of his derring do and bravery, along with “fabricated Confederate intelligence.” You could always trust Lafe Baker to be a self-promoter, even if he had to stretch the truth a might. After all this. Stanton cabbaged onto Baker and made him the head of the Union Intelligence Service and gave him a job as head of the National Detective Police.

The bummer blog also noted that: “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.”

Baker was accused of using brutal interrogation techniques against Confederate spy Belle Boyd, yet for all the inhumanity of his treatment toward her, Boyd, to her credit, did not confess, and in 1863 she was released.

Baker finally overplayed his hand, and someone caught him tapping telegraph lines between Nashville and Stanton’s office. You didn’t tap Stanton’s telegraph lines. That was enough to get him demoted and sent to New York, where he was put under the control of Charles A. Dana, the Assistant Secretary of War–another real winner! Donnie and I dealt with him in Lincoln’s Marxists  too! They never taught you in your “history” books, that Dana was the one that hired Karl Marx to write for Horace Greeley’s  newspaper. You didn’t really need to know that, lest you be tempted to ask questions about the connections between these 19th century Leftists and how they all promoted one another.

Interestingly enough, when Lincoln was assassinated, Stanton grabbed Baker and hauled him back to Washington. It seems that this situation merited someone that was really lowdown and dirty, and Lafe Baker fit the bill on both counts.

At that point, Lafe Baker performed an amazing feat of “detective” work. The bummer blog tells us that he “…arrived on April 16th and his first act was to send his agents into Maryland to pick up what information they could about the people involved in the assassination. Within two days, all of the conspirators were in custody. Somehow, Baker knew 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 Payne, 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.” All in forty-eight hours, is that amazing detective work or what? The qualifier here being the “or what?”

After talking with Stanton, Baker sent a 25-man cavalry detachment, supposedly under the command of Lt. Edward Doherty, but really under the command of Luther Baker and Col. Everton J. Conger, to pursue Booth. Interestingly enough, they knew right where to go. They made a bee-line for Garrett’s farm, where they found Herold and Booth (or somebody) in the tobacco barn. The rest is “history” depending on who you believe.

One of the things they took off the body of whoever was in the barn with Herold was a leather-bound diary. “It was the diary that most interested Conger, an object he had been expressly directed by Lafayette Baker to look for.” How do you suppose Baker knew enough to look for a diary? Another of those nagging questions nobody ever bothered asking. Did Baker know Booth well enough to know he kept one? That possibility opens up a can of worms.

So Conger turned over Booth’s personal effects to Lafe Baker. And then the Bummer blog noted: “Baker sat silently before Conger, then told his subordinate to witness the fact that he was going to count the exact number of pages in the diary. Then he studied the diary at great length, making notes. Baker then told Conger that he would accompany him to see Stanton…It was obvious to Conger that Baker had wanted him present when he turned over Booth’s effects to the Secretary of War, so that it could never be said he tampered with anything and that Stanton was the final and only depository of this evidence…Baker was dismissed as head of the secret service on February 8, 1866. He claimed that President Andrew Johnson had demanded his removal after he discovered that his agents were spying on him. Baker admitted the charge but argued that he was acting under instructions from the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.” I hope President Trump doesn’t think anything new is being done to him, because it’s really the same old game that has gone on for at least 150 plus years.

In early 1867, Baker published a book called History of the Secret Service. In it, among other things, he revealed that a diary had been taken from Booth, which resulted in a Congressional committee looking into Lincoln’s assassination and Stanton was forced to hand over Booth’s diary. “Stanton and the War Department were forced to hand over Booth’s diary. When shown the diary by the committee, Baker claimed that someone had ‘cut out eighteen leaves.’ When Stanton was called before the committee he said he didn’t remove any pages from the diary. Speculation grew that the missing pages included the names of people who had financed the conspiracy against Lincoln. It was later revealed that Booth had received a large amount of money from a New York based firm to which Stanton had connections.”

Lafe Baker died in 1868–18 months after he testified before Congress. There were some suspicious souls that thought he had been killed by the War Department because, after all, dead men tell no more tales. Based on the actions of Stanton, Baker, Conger, and the rest, don’t you wonder where they got that idea? The question emerges, which of these sterling individuals was the biggest liar? You can bet there is a big fight for first place! You can bet on one sure thing here–we the public have not been told one tenth of what really went on here.

Believe it or not, there is still more.

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