Lafayette C. Baker

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Lafayette C. Baker
Lafayette Curry Baker.png
Lafayette C Baker
Allegiance United States
Service Union Army

Born (1826-10-13)October 13, 1826
Stafford, New York
Died July 3, 1868(1868-07-03) (aged 41)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cause of
death
Meningitis
Buried Forest Hills Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nationality American

Lafayette Curry Baker (October 13, 1826 – July 3, 1868) was a United States investigator and spy, serving the Union Army, during the American Civil War and under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Early life[edit]

Baker was born in Stafford, New York on October 13, 1826.[1] He became a mechanic, moved to Michigan in 1839, returned to New York in 1848, moved to California in 1853, and was a San Francisco vigilante in 1856.[1] He moved to the District of Columbia in 1861.[1]

American Civil War[edit]

Baker's exploits are mainly known through his book A History of the Secret Service which he published in 1867 after his fall from grace.[1][2] During the early months of the Civil War, he spied for General Winfield Scott on Confederate forces in Virginia. Despite numerous scrapes, he returned to Washington, D.C., with information that Scott evidently thought valuable enough to raise him to the rank of captain. As Provost Marshal of Washington, D.C. from September 12, 1862 to November 7, 1863, Baker took charge of the Union Intelligence Service from the Scottish-American detective Allan Pinkerton.[1] He was appointed colonel of D.C. Cavalry, May 5, 1863.[1]

Baker owed his appointment largely to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, but suspected the secretary of corruption and was eventually demoted for tapping his telegraph lines and packed off to New York.

Lincoln assassination investigation[edit]

Baker was recalled to Washington after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. Within two days of his arrival in Washington, Baker's agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed by Sgt. Boston Corbett. Baker received a generous share of the $100,000 reward offered to the person who apprehended the president's killer.[3] President Andrew Johnson nominated Baker for appointment to the grade of brigadier general of volunteers, April 26, 1865, but the United States Senate never confirmed the appointment.[1] Baker was mustered out of the volunteers on January 15, 1866.[1]

Firing; death[edit]

The following year, Baker was sacked from his position as government spymaster. President Johnson accused him of spying on him, a charge Baker admitted in his book which he published in response. He also announced that he had had Booth's diary in his possession which was being suppressed by the Department of War and Secretary Stanton. When the diary was eventually produced, Baker claimed that eighteen vital pages were missing. It was suggested[by whom?] that these would implicate Stanton in the assassination.[citation needed]

Baker died in 1868, reportedly from meningitis.[1]

Murder conspiracy theory[edit]

As it was scarcely eighteen months after his explosive allegations, some[who?][when?] suggested he was killed by the War Department to silence him. Using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer to analyze several hairs from Baker's head, Ray A. Neff, a professor at Indiana State University, determined that Baker was killed by arsenic poisoning rather than meningitis. Baker had been unwittingly consuming the poison for months, mixed into imported beer provided by his wife's brother Wally Pollack. The Lincoln Conspiracy by Balsiger and Sellier in 1977 cites a diary Baker's wife kept which chronicled several dates Pollack brought Baker beer; they correspond to the gradually elevated levels of toxin in the Baker hair samples Neff studied. Wally worked for the War Department, though whether he acted on orders or alone has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, Neff's studies, along with the information chronicled in Baker's diary, set forth an alternate history of the Lincoln assassination, one distinct from the chronology most commonly promulgated by mainstream U.S. historians.

Interment[edit]

Baker is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1][4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8047-3641-1. p. 588.
  2. ^ Eicher, 2001, p. 588 states that Baker was "prone to fabrication.'
  3. ^ North & South - The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society, Volume 11, Number 1, Page 44, "Lafayette Baker and Civil War Security in the North", accessed April 16, 2010.
  4. ^ Find-a-grave states Baker is buried in Forest Hills Memorial Park Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania in an unmarked grave which can be found behind the Hanover-Kensington Memorial plot. Find A Grave

References[edit]

  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8047-3641-1.
  • Linedecker, Clifford L., ed. Civil War, A-Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002. ISBN 0-89141-878-4.

External links[edit]