Year
1861
Month Day
February 23

Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C.

On February 23, 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington, D.C., amid secrecy and tight security. With seven states having already seceded from the Union since Lincoln’s election, the threat of civil war hung in the air.

Allen Pinkerton, head of a private detective agency, had uncovered a plot to assassinate Lincoln when he passed through Baltimore on his way to the capital. Lincoln and his advisors disagreed about how to respond to the threat. Some, including Pinkerton, wanted Lincoln to slip secretly into Washington, which would mean skipping an address to the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg. Lincoln did not want to appear cowardly, but felt the threats were serious.

Lincoln agreed to the covert arrival. With Pinkerton and Ward Hill Lamon, his former law partner, Lincoln slipped out of the hotel in Harrisburg on the evening of February 22. He wore a soft felt hat instead of his customary stovepipe hat, and draped an overcoat over his shoulders and hunched slightly to disguise his height. The group boarded a sleeper car and arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the night. They slipped undetected from the Calvert Street station to Camden station across town. There, they boarded another train and arrived without incident in Washington at6 a.m. On the platform, the party was surprised when a voice boomed, “Abe, you can’t play that on me.” It was Congressman Elihu B. Washburne, a friend of Lincoln’s from Illinois. Washburne escorted Lincoln to the Willard Hotel.

A myth arose that Lincoln had dressed as a woman to avoid detection, but this was not the case. He did draw considerable criticism in the press for his unceremonious arrival. Northern diarist George Templeton Strong commented that if convincing evidence of a plot did not surface, “the surreptitious nocturnal dodging…will be used to damage his moral position and throw ridicule on his Administration.” Lincoln later regretted the caper and commented to a friend: “I did not then, nor do I now believe I should have been assassinated had I gone through Baltimore…” Regardless of how he had arrived, Lincoln was safely in Washington, ready to assume the difficult task ahead.

READ MORE: The Grisly Murder Trial That Helped Raise Abraham Lincoln's National Profile

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

It’s a tie for Song of the Year at the 20th annual Grammy Awards

Music fans might expect that the songs up for Best Song consideration at the 1977 Grammy Awards included songs that have stood the test of time, like Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” Elvis Costello’s “Allison,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl” or Bob Marley’s “Jammin'”. In actuality, the ...read more

Children receive first polio vaccine

On February 23, 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, receive the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. Though not as devastating as the plague or influenza, poliomyelitis was a highly contagious ...read more

U.S. flag raised on Iwo Jima

During the bloody Battle for Iwo Jima, U.S. Marines from the 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment of the 5th Division take the crest of Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest peak and most strategic position, and raise the U.S. flag. Marine photographer Louis ...read more

Eric Heiden speed skates into Olympic history

On February 23, 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden wins the 10,000-meter race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, setting a world record with his time and winning an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the games. Heiden had been training as a speed skater since the age of ...read more

Woody Guthrie writes “This Land Is Your Land”

Folk singer Woody Guthrie writes one of his best-known songs, “This Land is Your Land.” Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, in 1912, Guthrie lived and wrote of the American West, a place of hard-working people and harsh environments rather than romantic cowboys and explorers. Though he ...read more

W.E.B. Du Bois is born

On February 23, 1868, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois is born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A brilliant scholar, Du Bois was an influential proponent of civil rights. Du Bois’ childhood was happy, but during adolescence he became aware of a “vast veil” separating ...read more

Convicted murderer gets spared from death when gallows malfunction

On February 23, 1885, a 19-year-old man named John Lee is sent to the gallows in Exeter, England, for the murder of Ellen Keyse, a rich older woman for whom he had worked. Although he insisted he was innocent, Lee had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. However, ...read more

Formula One champ kidnapped

On February 23, 1958, five-time Formula One champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina is kidnapped in Cuba by a group of Fidel Castro’s rebels. Fangio was taken from his Havana hotel the day before the Cuba Grand Prix, an event intended to showcase the island nation. He was ...read more

Friedrich von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolf Gerhard August, Freiherr von Steuben, a Prussian military officer, arrives at General George Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge on February 23, 1778 and commences training soldiers in close-order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the ...read more