Kathleen Faulkner

Allan Pinkerton: Much More than Meets the “Eye”
Americans frequently associate the name “Pinkerton” with security, home
protection, and the Secret Service. While he did contribute significantly to these
areas, Allan Pinkerton did not always serve as a detective. His journey from the
life of a craftsman to the upper realm of corporate espionage management was
unexpected and unique, stemming from a combination of hard work and
Not A Military Failure
Though scholars have offered explanations for Pinkerton’s
incompetence, the common assumption that Pinkerton was a
complete Civil War failure is a myth. While “as an intelligence officer
Pinkerton was altogether as sorry a performer as reputed,” he made
considerable contributions in the area of counterintelligence. His
success should be measured by the “decline of quality and
timeliness of information that the Confederates were able to get out
of Washington,” his “success in keeping track of the composition of
Confederate forces.” 4
Background/historical context
Glasgow, Scotland
Allan Pinkerton was born in the Gorbals of Glasgow, Scotland, the
youngest of William’s Pinkerton’s eleven children. His parents raised
him with traditions and morals prompted by “the People’s Charter,”
ideals that strongly supported equality, democracy, and workers
rights. Thus, from his early days and into adulthood, Pinkerton was
an unabashed, vocal advocate for these Chartist issues, a dedication
that was made apparent by his support of the abolitionist John
Brown. In addition, Pinkerton was trained in a field of skilled labor,
apprenticed and later working as a cooper. He therefore was no
stranger to hard work or the struggles of middle class life.
Counterintelligence: organized activity of an
intelligence service designed to block an enemy's
sources of information, to deceive the enemy, to
prevent sabotage, and to gather political and military
Scouts and Guides for the Army of the Potomac
Berlin, MD, October 1862
Why He Succeeded
His strengths, his talent of noticing the little things, of piecing
together a puzzle to solve a crime, qualities that would support a
counterintelligence effort, seem to be inherit. His childhood
principles continued to guide him; his dedication to worker freedom
and commitment to perseverance propelled his career past normal
bounds. He had a knack, a gift; but he did not waste it. With the
influence of his original craftsman training, he was able to conjure
the dedication to pursue his true passion. He had remarkable
intuition, and paired with his self-confidence and relentless drive, he
was an unstoppable force in the detective world.
Movement into Detective Work
Kane County, Illinois
Army of the Potomac Campaign Map:
Williamsburg to White House
In 1842, Pinkerton moved to America, where he initially worked in
his craft. His legendary jump into detective work occurred while he
was collecting wood to make his barrels. He stumbled upon
evidence of counterfeiters, patiently waited for them for days, and
eventually caught them red-handed. He was offered part-time duty
as a county sheriff, from which he quickly climbed through the
ranks, eventually opening and operating his own detective agency. 2
“Eye that Never Sleeps,”
Chicago Daily Tribune, 1890
Work with General McClellan
His repute earned him the top intelligence position under General
George McClellan, where he was “assigned to find out the strength
of the Confederate Army which General Johnston had waiting in
Virginia.” Unfortunately, he did not seem to possess the knack for
army estimations and battle plans like he did for civil crime
detection. According to the war reports, he grossly over exaggerated
the enemy’s power, and that false information, combined with
McClellan’s infamous reluctance to attack, proved a disaster for the
Allan Pinkerton to Abraham Lincoln
Monday, June 2, 1862 `
“ Four months [after McClellan’s army
embarked at Alexandria for the Peninsula in
March and April 1862], a spy obtained a
correct though incomplete list of the units that
had left. Four months later, however, a pair of
spies who got into Washington and out again
gave information about Pope’s army that was
not only incomplete but in error on every
major point that it touched. And by the spring
of 1863 Southern espionage directed at the
enemy capital was faring even worse. One spy
could get no closer than Baltimore.” 5
Allan Pinkerton on Horseback
Portrait of General George B. McClellan
Hunt, America’s First Private Eye, 1; McKay, The First Private Eye, 5, 18, 23, 25; Death of the Great Detective, 2
Crissey, Eye that Never Sleeps 2, 4; McKay, The First Private Eye, 10; Hunt, America’s First Private Eye, 2.
Lloyd, “Lincoln and Pinkerton,” 372, 373; Fishel, “Mythology of Civil War Intelligence,” 351.
Lloyd, “Lincoln and Pinkerton,” 374; Fishel, “Mythology of Civil War Intelligence,” 349; Fishel, “Pinkerton and McClellan,” 115.
Fishel, “Mythology of Civil War Intelligence,” 349-350.
1. George M Bernard, "Allan Pinkerton, Chief of McClellan's Secret Service, with his Men Near Cumberland Landing, Va.," May 14, 1862, from National Archives Military History, Pictures of the Civil War.
2. "Campaign maps, Army of the Potomac Map No. 2 Williamsburg to White House," map, from Baylor Digital Collections, The "War of the Rebellion Atlas.”
3. Alexander Gardner, "Allan Pinkerton on Horseback," September 1862, from The Library of Congress, American Memory.
4. "Glasgow Maps and Orientation," map, World Guides: City Guides and Travel Information.
5. Allan Pinkerton to Abraham Lincoln President, June 2, 1862, in The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.
6. "Scouts and Guides for the Army of the Potomac," October 1862, The Civil War Home Page.
7. "Portrait of General George B. McClellan," Civil War Photos
8. “Eye that Never Sleeps,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 30, 1890. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune (1849-1988)
Kathleen Faulkner
First Year Writing Seminar: Civil War Through Biography

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