Colonel La Fayette Curry Baker

     Lafayette Curry Baker had grown up in Michigan and lived for many years out in San Francisco during the gold rush days of the 1840s.  He learned first hand law enforcement of the west, justice satisfied at the end of a rope.  When the Civil War broke out, he was rewarded a colonelship and provost marshal.
 
     As in all wars where information is so readily needed in order to defeat your enemy, the secret society of espionage and counter espionage becomes a viable tool.  Early during the War Between The States, Brevet Lieutenant General Winfield Scott had summonsed Colonel La Fayette Curry Baker to Washington City.
  
     As General George B. McClellan fell from the military hierarchy in November of 1862, the chief of the Secret Service, Mr. Allan Pinkerton had left the eastern theatre to pursue other legal endeavors in Louisiana, leaving a clear path for Colonel Bakerís rising star.
 
     His book:  ďHistory of the Secret ServiceĒ gives accounts in his own words and of his own exploits.  Characteristic of egotistical outlook upon himself, however, no historian is capable of accepting much of what he writes as historically accurate.  His life, therefore, as a Civil War spy is an enigma all to itself.
 
     In mid-July of 1861, he was introduced to allot of prominent people particular those of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  His first mission in secret service to discover what Beauregardís numbers were at Manassas.  He succeeded in getting captured and almost hung as a spy, only the Confederate Army Commander could not prove his espionage true.
 
     During the course of the four years, there is no evidence that Colonel Baker had any personal dealings with President Abraham Lincoln, however, he most certainly was at the beckoned call of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. 
 
     Under Stantonís blind eye, Baker became a law all to himself.  Establishing his office in the basement of the U.S. Treasury building, Baker would interrogate citizen and accused spy alike.  Ruthlessly brow beating them within an inch of their life and repeating the punishment as often as he preferred.
 
     With the suspension of Habeas Corpus and the Presidentís lack of knowledge to Bakerís ruthless methods, some criminals stayed in Bakerís office for weeks without warrant or affidavit. In keeping a volume of prisoners, Colonel Baker would utilize the Old Capitol Prison guarded by his own deputies and secure from any vestige of the law.
 
     Upon the night of Abraham Lincolnís assassination, Colonel Baker was in New York City and quickly called to Washington City at the personal request of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.  He was assigned to find the conspirators of this heinous crime, however, he falls away from the public eye as to what his assignment truly was.
 
     In the end, an official at the Treasury Department provides a pretty valid description of Bakerís life in the employ of the United States Secret Service: Colonel Lafayette Baker ďÖdid more to disgust good citizens and bring the government into disrepute than the strongest opponents of the (detective) system had ever (predicted).Ē 

Daniel Moran 
© 2001

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff.
He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwar2.com