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Allan Pinkerton

By John T. Marck

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland on August 25, 1819. As the founder of the most famous detective agency in America, as well as the one who organized the Federal Secret Service, Pinkerton believed himself to be the greatest detective ever. However, his demonstrated performance during the Civil War was not exactly as he believed his reputation to be. As one who was assigned to assist the Union as a detective/spy, Pinkerton actually was, at least, partially responsible for the Union loss in the Peninsula Campaign. It was Pinkerton that advised Major General George B. McClellan inaccurate information concerning the strength of the Confederate army. His overrated estimates was one of the reasons that McClellan hesitated in his attack of Richmond. Although one of McClellan's major faults was his propensity to procrastinate, at this in this instance, it was not entirely his fault.

However, in spit of the fact that Pinkerton was a lousy spy, he did process other outstanding qualities as a detective relate to police and protection work. When he came to America in 1842, he worked in an exemplary manner by catching a counterfeiting gang in Illinois, giving rise to his promotion as a deputy sheriff of Cook County, Illinois. Eight years later, in 1850, Allan formed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. As the head of his detective agency, he took an assignment to guard President Lincoln in 1861 when Lincoln traveled to Washington, D.C.

As a result of his reputation, Pinkerton as selected to coordinate the Federal Secret Service, as well as conduct intelligence reports for McClellan when he was in command of the Department of the Ohio. In this capacity assisting McClellan, as said, when Pinkerton and his men spied on Confederate troops, they were untrained in this type of operation, and thus relieved on word from frightened citizens and escaped slaves in determining the enemies strength. Consequently, in one report to McClellan, Allan Pinkerton, who signed reports under his pseudonym of "Major E.J. Allan," advised that the Confederates had between 180,000 and 200,000 troops, when in fact they actually had less than 70,000. McClellan who procrastinated as a rule anyway, missed another opportunity by believing Pinkerton's information. Upon McClellan being relieved of command after the Battle of Antietam, Pinkerton's reputation as a spy went with him.

Accordingly, Pinkerton returned to his detective agency, and built himself the reputation as Americas's most distinguished detective. In spite of Allan Pinkerton's egotistical demeanor that he maintained until his death, his agency is probably best remembered for their work in breaking up labor unions and strikes in the 1870s. Additionally, he was quite unpopular in the South. First for having spied on the Confederate troops, then after the war as the one when in search of Jesse James, shot and killed Jesse's eight-year-old brother as well as wounded Jesse's mother when he bombed their home. His actions against the Younger Brothers did not help his character as well. Also after the war, Pinkerton was hated in the North, as his interests were in the "big money," and his support of the railroads and major industrial corporations, and against the labor movement and unions.

Pinkerton was known by the nickname "The Eye," which today has become to mean all detectives as "private eyes." During his life he wrote several books that were quite popular.

Allan Pinkerton died on July 1, 1884.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.