Skip to Content

U.S. Marshals Service


Lincoln and his Marshal

Abraham Lincoln of Antietam Battlefield, September 1862.  U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon,  who was as tall as the President, was seated at left so as not to distract from Lincoln.  Lamon acted as Lincoln's unofficial body guard.  On Thursday, April 13, 1865, Lincoln sent Lamon to Richmond, Virginia.  The next night, Lincoln went to see "Our American Cousin" at Ford's theatre.  Picture - Library of Congress

Returning from Fort Sumter, Lamon again met briefly with the governor. He urged Pickens to allow Anderson and his men to evacuate the fort unharmed. Pickens decided against Lamon's advice.
At 4:30 a.m. on April 12. 1861, the South Carolina forces began bombarding the fort. After withstanding the cannonade for 34 hours, Major Anderson surrendered his command on the afternoon of April 13. The Civil War, the supreme test of the federal system of government, had begun.

Worried that his contribution to the war as U.S. Marshal would not be enough, Ward Hill Lamon decided to do more. On the morning of April 22. 1861, he renewed his oath to "support, protect and
defcnd" the Constitution. In the summer of that first year of war. Lamon began enlisting army volunteers among loyal Virginians. He hoped to form a "Virginia Brigade" to fight in the Union Army.
President Lincoln supported the plan and Secretary

of War Simon Cameron authorized Lamon to draw on the Union Army for arms. ammunition, and other supplies. Although Lamon hoped to find volunteers
among loyal Virginians, that proved difficult because of the "demoralization of the people there" over Union defeats. In September 1861, he traveled to Pennsylvania and Illinois enlisting recruits. He returned with a command of seven hundred men. Early in the war, the "Virginia Brigade," as Lamon insisted on calling it, guarded the forts along the Potomac River. Lamon wore the rank of brigadier general. but he also retained his commission as U.S. Marshal. In addition to his other responsibilities.

Lamon took upon himself the difficult task of protecting Lincoln, who had no patience with protective measures. One story has it that on the night of Lincoln's inauguration Lamon slept, with pistols and Bowie knife, on the floor outside the new president's bedroom, his large body stretched in front of the door. The marshal also accompanied Lincoln on many of the president's trips. In November 1863, for example, Marshal Lamon escorted the President to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Lincoln dedicated the new Union cemetery.

"As God is my judge, I believe if I had been in the city, it would not have happened and had it, I know the assassin would not have escaped the town."


Lincoln objected to Lamon's constant efforts to protect him. A fatalist, the President shrugged off the idea that someone would kill him. "He (the President) thought me insane upon the subject of his safety," Lamon remembered in late April 1865, "and that I had been for the past four years insanely apprehensive of his safety." Even after attempts had been made on Lincoln's life, the President
made little effort to protect himself.

On Thursday, April 13, 1865, Lincoln sent Marshal Lamon to Union-occupied Richmond. At their final interview before Lamon's departure, the marshal begged the President to take care. The next day, Lincoln accepted an invitation to attend Laura Keene's one thousandth performance in Our American Cousins. John Wilkes Booth, who truly was insane over Lincoln's safety, also made a brief. and wholly tragic, appearance at Ford's Theater that night.

"As God is my judge," Lamon lamented. "I believe if I had been in the city, it would not have happened and had it, I know that the assassin would not have escaped the town." After Lincoln's assassination, Lamon performed one last duty for his murdered friend. He and his deputies arranged the last rites, taking Lincoln's remains home to Springfield for the funeral.

Less than two months later, Lamon resigned his commission as United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.

Excerpt from Frederick S. Calhoun, United States Marshals and Their Deputies, 1789-1989

  is an official site of the U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justicee