tv Book Discussion on A Spy for the Union CSPAN September 7, 2014 9:15pm-10:01pm EDT
i think the railroad that originated in cheyenne, over the years it has been such an important history to cheyenne -- important industry in cheyenne and wyoming. i don't know how you could think -- look at it any other way. the importance of the railroad it still is. , we run 100 trains a day through here. >> throughout the weekend, american history tv is featuring cheyenne, wyoming. the team recently traveled there to learn about its rich history. learn more about cheyenne and other stops at www.c-span.org /localcontent.
you are watching american history tv on c-span3. >> next, author corey recko discusses the life and death of timothy webster. a former policeman turned unions by during the civil war. he was renowned as the union's top spy until he was betrayed in he was the first spy executed 1862. during the war. the museum of the confederacy hosted the event. it is about 45 minutes. >> we would like to welcome everybody to our book talk. i am kelly hancock, the manager of programs here at the museum of the confederacy. we do a number of different talks throughout the year. we have a brown bag lunch series that takes place on the third friday of the month. keep those options in mind. i am here to introduce to you corey recko.
his first book, "murder on the white sands," was published in 2007 and won an award for the double s -- the wild west history association for the best book on wild west history. in 2007. while working on the book, he began to research pinkerton's national detective agency. this led to the discovery of largely forgotten agent timothy webster. webster is the subject of the new book "a spy for the union: the life and execution of timothy webster." without further ado, i will cko to tell you all about this. [applause]
>> thank you everyone. , i would like to thank everyone here at the museum for setting this up. and allowing me to speak here. i am author of "a spy for the union: the life and execution of timothy webster." i would like to read the introduction to you which gives you an overview of his life. as a new york city police man, 1853, timothy webster was assigned to work the crystal palace exhibition. it became known as the first world's fair. he was introduced to pinkerton, a scottish immigrant who had started his own detective agency in chicago. neither man could have known the importance of the meeting at the time. in the 1850's, the detective agency laid the foundation for what would become the most famous private detective agency ever. it focused on criminal matters and was often employed by government agencies. in putting together what proved to be a team of detectives, he
-- talented team of detectives, pinkerton often employed policemen. timothy webster was one of these men. although he did not join immediately, he decided to accept the job offer after you need the best continued harassment by politicians. family toved his illinois and became one of the agency's best detective's. though quiet and reserved personally, when on a case, he used an outgoing personality to gain friends and get information he needed. he uncovered a plot to destroy the rock island bridge and investigated robberies in chicago. he also worked as a railroad detective. then everything changed. abraham lincoln was elected the president of the united states.
southern states seriously considered secession. there were threats to assassinate the president elect before he took office. luckily for the u.s., timothy webster and other pinkerton operatives foiled the plot. his service to the country did not stop there. the southern states seceded. the united states fell in the civil war. men from both sides join the military and prepared for battle. timothy webster did not hesitate when the time came to defend his country, but he was not an enemy on a bloody battlefield. he put his skill set to use as a spy. allan pinkerton was put in charge of espionage by general mcclellan. webster gathered important leading up to the campaign and became peek pretense --pinkerton's top spy trade his
work behind enemy lines included trips to confederate camps in richmond. he even acted as a courier for the confederate army and took a correspondence from a general to a colonel. the secessionists saw him as one of them. his family immigrated to the u.s. when he was young. webster was raised primarily in new jersey and married a local woman. the couple had four children. family was important to webster. his siblingse to and his father went with him when he moved to illinois. professionally, timothy webster, called the bravest, coolest man that ever lived, worked as a policeman, a private detective and served his adopted country and its most desperate hour. it is because of his brave and honorable service to the united states that he is remembered. timothy webster began his career as a new york city policeman.
and then went on to serve as a private detective and a spy. he lived a dramatic life to . there is no telling what he would have accomplished of his life had not been cut short. he was born march 22, 1822 in england. he was the fourth of seven children. two died in infancy. one at the age of two. the family immigrated to the united states when webster was a boy. they settled in princeton, new jersey. he led a typical life. at 19 years old, he married his wife. a year later, their first child, a son, was born. princeton and decided -- went to new york city and took a job for the police department.
the trouble in new york at the time was the old department was not large enough or effective enough to police the large, growing metropolis. the department reorganized and modeled themselves after london's successful department. in 1853, he was assigned to work the crystal palace exhibition. what became known as america's first world's fair. it was well policing at the crystal palace he was introduced to pinkerton. if the job was offered, webster turned it down. the english born webster served at a time when xenophobia ran high. it was the rise of the know nothing party. just a general feeling against foreigners at this time. because of this, an investigation was begun by an alderman into the number of
foreigners in the new york city department. the alderman requested the chief, also a native of england, send a report on how many foreign-born officers were in the department. of the 1400 officers, there were 477 foreign-born officers. alderman briggs charged perjury claiming there were at least 600. while it may not seem like a big difference, it was to briggs, who began a year-long investigation into perjury trying to get him removed as chief of police. this is the new york city hall where most of the hearings took place. of the officers called to testify, one was timothy webster. he was repeatedly called. each time, he showed disdain for the investigation and refused to cooperate. i would like to read an example
of his testimony. mr. timothy webster, lieutenant of police, made his appearance and was sworn in. briggs, preparing to administer the oath, asked webster, you do solemnly swear you will answer all questions? responded webster, i solemnly swear the evidence i will get them -- give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me god. put your hand on the book. you do swear the evidence will be the truth? webster said, i decline to answer any questions put to me by this committee. ignoring his statement, briggs began the inquiry by asking, what is your name? webster sat silent. the clerk spoke up. you can give us your name, can't you? webster gave no answer. timothy webster, is that your
name? that is the name on the subpoena i received, webster responded. briggs asked if he had been questioned on his native country. what country are you native of? decline toy donna -- answer any question the committee puts to me. i wish that to be understood. he was called two more times and gave similar answers. the investigation led nowhere. the chief retained his position. it may have soured webster on the idea of being a police officer in new york. shortly after the investigation, he disappeared from the record of new york and reappeared in the record of the pinkerton detective agency of chicago. what effect the investigation
had is unknown. to be close to the agency, webster moved his family to illinois. the northwest police agency, founded by pinkerton, we change -- would later change its name to pinkerton detective agency. it went on to become the most famous private detective agency ever. at the time, it was still a growing regional agency. unfortunately, many of the records -- most of them from webster's time -- were destroyed in the great chicago fire of 1871. little is known of what he did as an operative. what is known as he displayed cunning and leadership skills. he took on a variety of interesting cases like tracking a forger and even jumped off of a moving train in michigan to keep up with a man. he investigated grave robberies in a chicago cemetery. he worked to find those behind an attempt to burn down the rock island railroad bridge. i would like to speak to you
about the latter of these two cases. the history of grave robbing dates back to the 19th century. as medical schools needed cadavers to study, antiquated laws left them unable to obtain the body they need. -- the number of bodies they needed. because of this medical schools , often turned to resurrectionists who were grave robbers. one example of this happened in october of 1857. bodies incovered four the chicago cemetery had been removed. when the undertaker or grave digger discovered this, he bypassed the city sexton, the man in charge of the cemetery. in this role he had some legal powers, which gave him the power to arrest people. that violated regulations.
that gave him a friendly relationship with the police. that may explain why the alderman went to the detective agency instead of the police. pinkerton assigned timothy webster to leave the thenational league -- lead surveillance. they staked it out and found nothing. on november 5, he only had four operatives available. they arrived at 10:00 on an unusually dark night. it is probable the grave robbers were already there because no one was seen entering the cemetery. but between 11:30 and midnight, a body was seen traveling away. two of the operatives -- one of whom was most likely webster, but we don't really know -- two -- because they are identified in letters. but two operatives follow the
buggy at a distance they would not be seen. they followed it through the chicago streets and crawled at times to remain unseen. as the buggy turned a corner, it increased its speed. one of the operatives ran out and grabbed to harness in the back. the buggy was forced to stop. the operative ran back to the side of the road as one of the men exited the buggy. they could smell the corpses inside the buggy, so they moved in and arrested what turned out to be the city sexton. as one operative held him, the other drew his gun on the men inside the buggy. at this time, the horse backed off. the operative got his leg caught in the wheel of the buggy. as he went to remove his leg, the other took off running. the operatives chased the other two, fired a few shots but were , unable to catch them.
day, the operative set in the buggy and let the horse take him where it may -- it took him to the livery stable. they found a medical student named york. york was also arrested. in the end, all charges against york were dropped. quinlan was found guilty of two charges and fined $500. that closed the book on the case. but resurrectionists continue to operate in chicago and elsewhere as antiquated laws failed to keep up with the needs of medical schools. at this time, the country was being divided. there was the slave issue dividing north and south. another north and south issue had to do with the railroad industry versus the steamboat industry. as the rock island bridge was being built between iowa and
illinois, which would allow trains, instead of crossing the passengers over the river by ferry, the bridge would eliminate that need. but some did not support the bridge. those whose life and economy depended on the steamboat industry fought the bridge. many of those lived in st. louis. despite the opposition, the bridge was completed. shortly after the bridge's completion, a steamboat crashed into the pier of the bridge. as the ship was sinking and cattle were swimming and drumming, a section of the
bridge collapsed. there were cheers from the shore and the steamboats on the river which showed how people felt about the bridge. the owner said the rock island bridge company, saying the bridge was an obstruction of the river. both men would be connected to other operations in detective webster's life. the trial ended with a hung jury, 9-3. as it was in the courts, some sought a quicker method to get rid of the bridge. there may have been an attempt to bring down the bridge in 1858. whether this was real or there were just threats, this brought the pinkerton detectives in. the detectives discovered combustible materials on the bridge. the agency was hired to guard the bridge and find those plotting to destroy it. timothy webster was at the head of the investigation.
under an alias he was named , superintendent of the bridge. under him was a group of uniformed guards. the records of the investigation have not survived, so we don't know if webster took a supervisory role or more active role in trying to find the culprits. while superintendent, he moved at least part-time to davenport. he lived in the house on the pier of the bridge. he had a family back in illinois. it is likely he took many train trips to visit his family. even so, he made a big impact on the davenport community, even being asked to run for office. the investigation eventually focused on two men. one had been hired by the st. louis chamber of commerce, which mostly consisted of taking affidavits.
the other was an attorney in these cases. in chicago, two years after arrived, someone was arrested at a hotel in chicago. they needed to get him to where the warrants were issued. timothy webster, still posing as a superintendent, invited chadwick to the rail depot. he told him he had some paper he wished he would say. when he arrived, webster said he had forgotten the papers on the train. they went on the train to see them. by the time chadwick arrived, the paper was a warrant for his arrest. the train was already on its way to chicago. the first trial of these two men had ended in acquittal. more charges were brought. by that time, they were dropped. that was following his civil war service. the bridge was allowed to stand. it allowed railroads to reshape
the nation. this is one of his detective books from his work as a labor spy. the work was simple. he would ride the rails and pay with marked bills. among some, it is what they are known for. had webster continued on the path he was on, he likely would have headed up one of the branches of the agency to open in the coming years. but unfolding events changed the future. shortly after abraham lincoln's election in 1860, allan pinkerton received a request to investigate secessionist threats to destroy the bridges between washington, d.c., and new york city. webster took a group of operatives to maryland. pinkerton was posing as a stockbroker and took an office
next to a secessionist. through him, he learned of a have ahat claimed to plan to assassinate lincoln as he passed through baltimore. at the time, the way it was set up was lincoln would arrive on one train in baltimore and have to cross the city openly in a carriage to get to the train take him to d.c. which now seems like a horrible idea. in baltimore, which was split on the issue of secession, this was a really bad idea. alsoer operative discovered plans to attempt to assassinate lincoln and dependent of pinkerton. webster joined a local militia and learned that they had
similar plans to assassinate lincoln. because of this, his itinerary changed. he was sneaked through baltimore on a night train. he received much criticism for this, but as we saw how easy it was for somebody to assassinate lincoln, it was clear why it was necessary. , another group with new york detectives joined the militia as spies to try to find out what was going on. years after the incident, the new york chief of police asked one of the men to relate his experiences as a spy. i would like to read a bit of the book. this includes quotes from officer samson. samson turned 34 in 1861. he said they had been spies.
he said he had been asked searching questions about davis. it was an alias. his wife had sent him a letter. it had a new york postmark, which aroused suspicion. samson recalled he was once asked many questions with regard to the letter. where it came from and what it was about. he explained it as well as he could. he knew it was time to leave the national volunteers. he explained the danger they faced. they were loud in the threats itors.t trader the desperados of the company were in a majority. the men left for washington quickly. leaving everything behind in taking on new wardrobes for disguise. sampson said i remember a heavy cloth cap with a band of fur. softe it away and donned a slouch hat.
they went to their hotel room to discuss the situation. after a while, they left their rooms to look over the main hall in the hotel. in the lobby were several of the national volunteers. they were examining the register. samson recalled, i cursed my stupidity in not having thought to change my alias. he watched as one of the man turned and whispered to his associates. then they all walked out. the new york detectives did not know what to do. he hoped they would not be spotted. they became separated. samson tried to figure out a way out of the city. at that moment, a man in a large overcoat got his back directly to sampson. suddenly, in a low tone, the man spoke. " for god sake's, come out of this." he was startled but realized he should not move.
both men stood still. with his back to the stranger, samson replied, i do not recognize you. samson remembered, the man's hand moved behind him as though bidding me to follow. he didn't know if he was trying to help him or get him alone so he could murder him. when the stranger walked out of the hotel, samson followed. he remembered, i followed him very closely. my steps almost blocking his. i carried a pistol and knew how to use it. i made up my mind at the movement, i would shoot. on pennsylvania avenue, in a quiet voice, the man said my god, where is washington going? why tom? captain walling was the reply. frightened by the mention of the new york city chief of police, samson gave no reply. as they walked he was unable to , get a view of the stranger's face. he described the man. my companion had on a great coat with the collar turned over his
nose. a heavy cap was drawn over his eyes. samson feared the worst and kept his hand on his pistol. the man spoke again. tom, for god's sake, tell me who is with you. he asked about the cap. he knew i had exchanged my cap for a hat. he must have followed me from baltimore. i caught him by the arm, spun him around. that flung open his cap. -- his coat and cap his face was revealed. he looked calmly at me. very slowly, his face came back to me. is that you, tim? know tim webster? samson was overjoyed to see his old friend, timothy webster. he had been on the force less than four years and knew him to be a man of exceptional honesty and courage.
relieved samson told webster how , close he had been to shooting him. you will never know how near you came to being killed. for the last five minutes, my finger has been on the trigger of my pistol. webster was in no mood for smalltalk. it is to save you from death i have followed you. your life is not worth a cent. there are 20 men after you. i suspect we are being watched. i may not be suspected because i'm with them. they shall not kill my old friend if i can help it. he helped the two men out of the city. later, he made a verbal report to pinkerton. he reported that he returned from washington and made a verbal report in relation to e.tective tom samson and devot they were both much frightened after receiving news and left their hotel without paying their bill or getting their baggage.
they made a quick retreat thanking him for his information. he called on judd at his room. detectives being discovered. shortly after this -- this is tom samson, the detective in his later years when he relayed this story, and this is the hotel where much of it took place -- shortly after this incident, abraham lincoln was inaugurated. the country fell into civil war. allan pinkerton was placed in charge of the secret service. for general george mcclellan. his main tasks he thought would be to defend cincinnati in an attack. timothy webster went into the field in kentucky and tennessee. they wanted to find out the troop numbers and the intentions
of the enemy. supply information. and the general feeling of the south for the war. webster's first trip was to memphis. his next trip was to memphis another tennessee cities. he returned with detailed reports. mcclellan became major general of the army. that shifted the goals. now he was starting to plan an offensive on richmond. timothy webster made his next residence in baltimore. in a state that stayed with the union but had southern sympathizers. while here, he contacted people he had met earlier and acted as a courier. he would bring messages to friends and family who live in the south and reply back up north. this provided a perfect cover for webster to move behind enemy lines without being suspected of anything serious. -- nefarious. he did such a good job, he was also being watched by the baltimore provost marshal. they thought he was a southerner
working for the southern cause. this led to a raid on miller's hotel. the hotel where webster was staying. he was arrested and his quote wife was arrested. all the letters he was gathering for his next trip south were confiscated. once it became clear who he was, they set up a fake escape. it would not be known he was just let go. the newspaper reported escape of the prisoner. it was rumored yesterday that the man webster, who was arrested under the charge of transporting letters, had succeeded in making his escape. he was removed from the police station and placed in the carriage under charge of the special detective officer and driven towards fort mchenry.
he had been previously ordered to that post. when the vehicle arrived within a short distance of the main gate, before the officer could seize him, was beyond his grasp. it is not known which direction he took. but he will scarcely be able to escape the city. he is a citizen from kentucky but has resided in baltimore. this report no doubt raised the opinion of webster among his secessionist contacts. webster made multiple trips to richmond picking up an impressive amount of information. he carried official documents for the confederate general. personal messages and received passages across enemy lines. as far as the confederates were concerned, he was one of them. during his first trip, webster met with military officers and government officials.
he picked out information on rebel troop numbers, defense fortifications, and their plans. returning north, something unexpected happened. he was asked to carry important documents to the kernel on the other side of the chesapeake eight. he undertook the mission across the dangerous water at night. he further endeared himself to the enemy. as far as they were concerned, he was one of them. this is one of webster's reports . with the detail, it is fair to ask how accurate the reports were. much of the criticism has been focused on allan pinkerton for supplying over inflated troop numbers. the fault did not live with webster that the numbers that reached mcclellan were exaggerated. webster's reports, though not perfect, were fairly accurate and by far the most accurate that pinkerton was receiving.
it seems pretty clear that the operatives themselves were not the reason that mcclellan got inflated troop numbers. it appears that mcclellan not only knew the numbers were inflated but requested it. the logic behind this was twofold. it was thought that the numbers from operatives would never be complete. the numbers were increased to account for the unaccounted troops. the problem was the numbers were, if anything, already too high. increasing the number only made the problem worse. the other reason for the increase was that mcclellan never wanted to get caught facing more troops than he expected. the third rationale was to rationalize more troops in his requests. the fact he used pinkerton's numbers and letters to his wife
shows he likely convinced himself that the troops actually existed. it was during a mission that timothy webster's health became an issue. the 39-year-old had to sleep on the ground after crossing the chesapeake bay one cold winter night. this led to him contracting rheumatism, which is a generic term for any ailment that affects the joints. this is something webster suffered from for the rest of his life and for days kept in bed ridden for days at a time. his next mission south, because of rheumatism, he went with patty lewis posing as his wife. this was supposed to be a short mission. after not being gone long pinkerton panicked, not knowing , where they were. he said two operative south to find them. the problem that pinkerton had in selecting these operatives as -- is he had been using them in other capacities in washington .
there was a senator, jackson morton, whose wife was suspect ed of sending messages to the confederates. it is these two men who went up to find webster. they have searched that family home. they searched for webster. they found him in the monumental hotel on capitol square. the fences around the washington monument. the hotel no longer exists. they found him in the monumental hotel. detectiveebster was a . with the detective was chase morton, the son senator jackson morton. the home i have searched in washington. chase immediately recognized them. the men were arrested and sentenced to death. john scully, a catholic requested to see a priest for , confession before his execution. the father urged him to confess.
scully gave in to this and confessed. he not only confessed to being a spy, but told that timothy webster and lewis were also spies. the result was that timothy webster was arrested. so was patty lewis. price lewis also confessed. his lifeds throughout he only confessed to being a spy and never said timothy webster or patty lewis were spies. the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. his sentence commuted from debt to a few years in prison which seems unlikely if he only confessed to that, but he was also called as a witness at a court-martial. whether it was one operative or two that turned on him, the fact that he was arrested because of
the confession and sentenced to death. police went out to the general in charge of him. and plead with jefferson davis not to execute him. the north or south had not executed spies. in the north, when spies were arrested, they were held for a short time and released. in many cases, they returned to spying. but winder and jefferson davis ignored these pleas. this was a testament to his skills as a spy. he had fooled them so completely. he had even carried personal messages from winder to his son. the men were fooled, they were embarrassed, and they wanted revenge. timothy webster was going to pay for deceiving them. in 1862, still suffering from rheumatism, he was helped up to the scaffolding. the first attempted not succeed. -- attempt did not succeed.
the noose was around his neck too loose and he crashed to the ground below. the second time, it was choking him. when the truck was wrong, he became the first spy executed in the civil war. death, a pinkerton operative went to richmond to retrieve his body. he found it after three days. webster returned to illinois where he was laid to rest next to his son, who had died in the war from wounds in battle as a union soldier. on the other side of that stone as his father who died in 1860. in a moment, i will take questions. if anybody wants to purchase any books, i have them for $35. i will be at the table in the back afterwards. i have a few copies of my first book, "murder on the white sands," which is about a new mexico lawyer who disappeared with his son near the white sands.
their bodies were never found. the man who killed billy the kid investigated the murders. if anybody wants to contact me, you can visit my website. coryrecko.com i have bookmarks with that web address as well. feel free to take any questions? one. >> what is the practical effect -- we know the effect of his work with the lincoln inauguration train. that is pretty well established. with this by working richmond, did that have a practical effect on operations? >> unfortunately, no. because of the inflated numbers we talked about. not only webster, there were a lot of spies bringing in important information. but because military espionage was so new, commanders did not know how to use this information.
because in mcclellan's case they inflated numbers, all it did was help scare him away. it scared him away from his target of richmond. that was not the fault of webster. the end result was it was not very helpful because of how the used the data. >> [indiscernible] was he involved in giving troop estimates? >> he was. that was a big part of it. he made contacts along the way. surprisingly, with no one suspecting, would ask, how many troops are coming from here? he got all kind of information from different officials. they were happy to see him because he brought letters from loved ones. they were telling him everything he wanted to know. any more questions? yes. >> i had always questioned the competency of the pinkerton
group. i think it had a lot to do with the over inflation of the troop numbers. if i heard you correctly, that was more mcclellan -- >> at the very least, mcclellan knew of the overestimates. we don't have their personal conversation to know exactly how that decision was made. but it appears that pinkerton was doing it because he was requested to do so by mcclellan. that pinkerton defended the numbers many years, too. he admired mcclellan. because of his admiration for mcclellan, whatever mcclellan said was true, he bought into. which was obviously a mistake. there are also mathematical errors in some of the reports. his work as a private detective,
he was like no other. he did a superb job running the detective agency. his work as a spymaster, that probably left something to be desired. more questions? >> what part of richmond did the execution take place in? atthe execution took place the time it was camp lee. before there was camp lee, there were fairgrounds. i have been there. it has been enough years ago i cannot think of the name of it. there is an open field by the science museum. i have been to the area. but it has been a few years. i've been researching this book since 2000. it was a public execution.
more questions? >> thank you very much. >> thank you. [applause] >> you are watching american history tv all weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. with congress returning monday, here is a message to congress from one of this year's student cam competition winners. >> water makes up 75% of our bodies. take water weight and humanity would pairs within a week. water is the most vital substance to the human body. it is because of humans that andly 50% of all lakes rivers are unsuitable to use due to pollution. in the u.s.,
we have learned to take water for granted. bottled walter, and flush toilets reinforce the same unlimited is an resource. step outside to the local diminishing the condition tells a different story. it kills marine life, destroys and disrupts a fragile food chain and animals are not the only ones that effects of egative water pollution. congress, in 2014, you must federal funding to waste water treatment agencies across the country. is life blood of our nation tainted with the negligence of generations. and it must stop here. >> join us wednesday during washington journal for the theme the 2015 c-span student cam documentary competition. each week, ari