Outside the Vermilion County Museum Society, the Lamon House and perhaps the
Danville Public Library, not much is known about Ward Hill Lamon in
Danville, an Illinois town that touts its links with more famous people such
as Donald O'Connor (no relation to the author), Gene Hackman, and Jerry and
Dick Van Dyke.
Yet, O'Connor claims, "Lamon, as Abraham Lincoln's friend
and personal bodyguard, is one of Danville's least known famous
Lamon, who grew up in the West Virginia area where the author lives,
moved to Danville, Ill., in 1847. His original intent was to study to become
a medical doctor under his cousin Dr. Theodore Lemon, who spelled his name
with an "e" even though his two other brothers who lived in the Danville
area spelled their last name with an "a."
Finding the competition too much in the medical field with several
doctors already practicing in Danville, Hill (which is what everyone called
him) read law for O.L. Davis instead. Davis helped loan Lamon the money to
attend the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Lamon obtained a license to
practice law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in March 1850 and soon after
that obtained a license to practice law in Illinois.
Lamon's first assignment was on the 8th Judicial Circuit. There he became
a colleague and then a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Their friendship led to
their law partnership, announced in the Danville Citizen newspaper, which
stated: "Lincoln and Lamon, attorneys at law, having formed a
co-partnership, will practice in the Courts of the Eighth Judicial Circuit
and the Superior Court, and all business entrusted to with promptness and
fidelity. Office on the second floor of the Barnum Building, over Whitcomb's
store, Danville, November 10, 1852. Abrem Lincoln, Springfield W. H. Lamon,
The partnership lasted for four years, until Lamon was elected the
prosecuting attorney for the circuit. During their four years together,
Lamon and Lincoln defended 114 cases.
In February 1861, following Abraham Lincoln's election as president of
the United States, Lincoln invited Lamon to go to Washington with him. On
the train ride to Washington, several of Lincoln's cronies from Illinois
appointed Lamon to be the newly elected president's personal bodyguard.
Not long after that, Allen Pinkerton, a detective, came on board the
train with the news that his agents had uncovered a sinister plot to
assassinate the president-elect when the train reached Baltimore, Md.
Pinkerton insisted Lincoln change his plans. Lincoln chose Ward Hill Lamon
to sneak him into Washington. Lamon and Lincoln moved through Baltimore in
the middle of the night, and the president reached Washington unharmed.
In Washington, Lamon was appointed U.S. marshal of Washington, D.C., and
served at Lincoln's discretion. Lincoln sent by Lamon to Charleston, S.C.,
to check out the situation at Fort Sumter just prior to the start of the
Lamon also was often called upon by Lincoln to entertain him. Lamon
played the banjo and sang silly little songs that gave the president moments
of gaiety and laughter in the midst of his struggles with a war. It even
brought a smile on the face of a man who was often morose and melancholy.
Lamon, who often slept on the floor outside the president's bedroom in
the evening, was constantly warning Lincoln of plots to kidnap, harm or even
kill him. The president regarded Lamon's warnings as both foolish and
ridiculous. At the time, anyone had direct access to Lincoln. People could
even enter the White House unannounced to speak to him. At any one time,
Lamon had over 80 threats to investigate regarding the president.
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Lamon accompanied the president on a trip to Sharpsburg in
October 1862, following the battle of Antietam. Lincoln reportedly
went to congratulate the troops of the Army of the Potomac, but
actually went to prod Gen. McClellan to take action.
In November 1863, when President Lincoln was invited to give
brief remarks to dedicate the national cemetery in Gettysburg, it
was Lamon who was asked by Judge Wills to organize the entire event,
including the procession. He had similar experience in organizing
the first inaugural event in Washington in 1861. Lamon was also the
master of ceremonies at the Gettysburg event and introduced Lincoln
when it was time for the president to give his brief remarks.
Lamon, who was 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, carried an arsenal of
weapons with him at all times, including two Colt .44 pistols, two
bowie knives, brass knuckles, a blackjack and a cane with a sword in
the handle. He was not at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865.
Following the president's assassination, Lamon was in charge of
the Lincoln funeral and the train ride, following the route of the
1861 trip, to take the body back to Springfield.
Lamon also published a book entitled "The Life of Abraham Lincoln
-- From His Birth to His Inauguration as President." The book,
originally published in 1872, is out of print. It was reprinted in
1999 by the University of Nebraska Press. Robert Todd Lincoln, the
president's son, was highly critical of sections of Lamon's book.
Lamon insisted the information was accurate, but that the country at
that time "demanded the life, not of a man, but of a God."
A second book, about the Lincoln presidency, that Lamon was
perhaps the best person to write, was never written, due to the
criticism Lamon received on the first book.
Lamon mourned the death of his friend the rest of his life. He
also felt very guilty that he had not been at the theater, where he
might have saved Lincoln.
Lamon died in Martinsburg, W.Va., in 1893 and is buried in
Gerrardstown, W.Va., within a couple of miles of Bunker Hill, W.Va.
(formerly Virginia), where the cabin he grew up in still stands.
O'Connor, who is a Northern Illinois University graduate, worked
about 2 1/2 years researching his book on Lamon.
The author will be in Danville during the weekend "Arts in the
Park" festivities of June 22-24, giving presentations on Ward Hill
Lamon and signing his new book. He will also appear at a "meet the
author" event at the Danville Public Library on Friday afternoon.
For information, contact Alan Woodrum at the Lamon House or call
The new book retails at $13.95 and may be purchased at the
Vermilion County Museum Society (Tuesday-Saturday) or at the Lamon
House (Sundays) in Danville. Copies of the book may also be
purchased online at
O'Connor is also the author of "The Perfect Steel Trap: Harpers
Ferry 1859." The book was named a finalist in the 2006 Best Book
Awards by USA Book News.
[Text from file received
from Bob O'Connor]