Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 11 Num. 20 ======================================= ("Quid coniuratio est?")
In 1863, Colonel Lafayette C. Baker (later promoted to Brigadier General) was in charge of Union counter-intelligence, heading the National Detective Bureau. In 1866, when President Andrew Johnson discovered that Baker's Detective Bureau had the White House under surveillance, Baker was dismissed. Baker feared (with good reason) for his life, and died under suspicious circumstances in 1868. (Details are in Anatomy of an Assassination by John Cottrell. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1966.) An inventory of Baker's possessions showed he owned bound volumes of "Colburn's U.S. Magazine" for the years 1860 to 1865 -- with one exception: the volume for the first half of 1864 is not listed in the inventory. Read on, for why that is important.
Documented in Cottrell's book is the following sworn testimony by one William Carter, who knew Baker and visited him a few days before his death:
[Baker] did say some things which made me wonder. When I came into the room he had a stack of books by his bed and he had one open and was making marks in it. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "I'm writing my memoirs." I asked him [again,] to make sure that I had heard him right and he said it over again. Then I said, "But, General, them books is already wrote." And he said, "Right, they are going to have to get up early to get ahead of old Lafe Baker." And then he laughed. I picked up one of the books and looked at it, and I saw that he was writing cipher in it.
Please note that when Ray Neff, a research chemist, came across a bound volume of "Colburn's U.S. Magazine" at a used bookstore 92-years after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, none of the information in the preceding paragraphs had yet come to light.
The bound volume of Colburn's magazine which Neff chanced upon was for the latter half of 1864. Note that, as mentioned, Baker's inventory shows that he lacked the bound volume for the first half of 1864.
Months after purchasing the volume, Neff was idly thumbing through it. He noticed a series of numbers and letters written in the margin. Mr. Leonard Fousche (a professional cryptographer) and Neff's wife helped him decipher the messages.
Ray Neff noticed that the bound volume was discolored in several places. After spreading tannic acid over one of these, it revealed a signature; Baker had apparently used some sort of "invisible ink" method to conceal his name, "L.C. Baker." A handwriting expert later declared the signature to be genuine.
Here is what the de-ciphered messages said:
I am constantly being followed. They are professionals. I cannot fool them. In new Rome there walked three men, a Judas, a Brutus and a spy. Each planned that he should be the king when Abraham should die. One trusted not the other but they went on for that day, waiting for that final moment when, with pistol in his hand, one of the sons of Brutus could sneak behind that cursed man and put a bullet in his brain and lay his clumsey [sic] corpse away. As the fallen man lay dying, Judas came and paid respects to one he hated, and when at last he saw him die, he said, "Now the ages have him and the nation now have I." But, alas, fate would have it Judas slowly fell from grace, and with him went Brutus down to their proper place. But lest one is left to wonder what happened to the spy, I can safely tell you this, it was I.
-- Lafayette C. Baker
It was on the tenth of April, sixty-five, when I first knew that the plan was in action. Ecert [Major Thomas T. Eckert, in charge of military telegraph headquarters at the War Department] had made all the contacts, the deed to be done on the fourteenth. I did not know the identity of the assassin, but I knew most all else when I approached E.S. [Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War] about it. He at once acted surprised and disbelieving. Later he said: "You are a party to it too. Let us wait and see what comes of it and then we will know better how to act in the matter." I soon discovered what he meant that I was a party to it when the following day I was shown a document that I knew to be a forgery but a clever one, which made it appear that I had been in charge of a plot to kidnap the President, the Vice-President being the instigator. Then I became a party to that deed even though I did not care to.
On the thirteenth he discovered that the President had ordered that the Legislature of Virginia be allowed to assemble to withdraw that state's troops from action against the U.S. He [Stanton] fermented immediately into an insane tyrade [sic]. Then for the first time I realised his mental disunity and his insane and fanatical hatred for the President. There are few in the War Department that respect the President or his strategy, but there are not many who would countermand an order that the President had given. However, during that insane moment, he sent a telegram to Gen. Weitzel countermanding the President's order of the twelfth. Then he laughed in a most spine chilling manner and said: "If he would to know who recinded [sic] his order we will let Lucifer tell him. Be off, Tom, and see to the arrangements. There can be no mistakes." This is the first that I knew that he was the one responsible for the assassination plot. Always before I thought that either he did not trust me, for he really trusted no one, or he was protecting someone until it was to his benefit to expose them. But now I know the truth and it frightens me no end. I fear that somehow I may become the sacrificial goat.
There were at least eleven members of Congress involved in the plot, no less than twelve Army officers, three Naval officers and at least twenty four civilians, of which one was a governor of a loyal state. Five were bankers of great repute, three were nationally known newspapermen and eleven were industrialists of great repute and wealth. There were probably more that I know nothing of.
The names of these known conspirators is presented without comment or notation in Vol one of this series. Eighty-five thousand dollars was contributed by the named persons to pay for the deed. Only eight persons knew the details of the plot and the identity of the others.
I fear for my life, L.C.B. [Lafayette C. Baker]
Ray Neff had come across the volume from the latter half of 1864. De-ciphering Baker's message, it's learned that the names of the members of Congress, military officers, bankers, newspapermen and others could be found in Volume One. But as pointed out at the beginning of this issue of Conspiracy Nation, when Baker had died an inventory of his possessions showed that particular volume to be missing.
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