Saturday, July 20, 2019

Booknotes: Pinkertons, Prostitutes and Spies

New Arrival:
Pinkertons, Prostitutes and Spies: The Civil War Adventures of Secret Agents Timothy Webster and Hattie Lawton by John Stewart (McFarland).

From the description: "Hattie Lawton was a young Pinkerton detective who with her partner, Timothy Webster, spied for the U.S. Secret Service during the Civil War. Working in Richmond, the two posed as husband and wife. A dazzling blonde from New York and a handsome Englishman, both with checkered pasts, they were matched in charm, cunning, duplicity and boldness. Betrayed by their own spymaster, Allan Pinkerton, they fell into the hands of the dictator of Richmond, the notorious General John H. "Hog" Winder."

I wasn't aware of any examples of Pinkerton intentionally ill-using any of his Civil War operatives. From what I can gather from a little online rummaging, Webster went dark in 1862 after suffering a serious health crisis of some kind (and was being nursed by his partner Lawton). Alarmed by the sudden silence of Webster and Lawton (why they didn't/couldn't send word to their boss, who knows), Pinkerton sent agents Pryce Lewis and John Scully to Richmond to find out what happened. Lewis and Scully were captured, and one way or another the Confederates learned about Webster and Lawton. Upon arrest and conviction Webster was executed and Lawton imprisoned until exchanged. I don't know if author John Stewart uncovered some new evidence of perfidy or condensing the book description resulted in an unintended mischaracterization of Pinkerton's actions. Either way, readers interested in Civil War spycraft might want to check it out.

More: "This lively history, scrupulously researched from all available sources, corrects the record on many points and definitively answers the long-standing question of Hattie Lawton's true identity."

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting slice of the war, but I wonderful how much actual firsthand evidence there is to support anything longer than a lengthy article. I would imagine a lot of this is going to have to be conjecture. I could be wrong. I don't see a bibliography.

    (The guy was hanged twice--the first time, Captain Kidd-like, something went wrong. Talk about prolonged agony.)

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