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New book highlights Danville man who was Lincoln's personal bodyguard

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[June 20, 2007]  CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- A new book entitled "The Virginian Who Might Have Saved Lincoln" has just been published by Charles Town author Bob O'Connor, a native of Dixon, Ill. The book's subject, Ward Hill Lamon, was a Danville, Ill., attorney who rode the 8th Circuit and was a law partner and personal bodyguard of Abraham Lincoln.

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 celebrities."

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, Danville"

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 Civil War.

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 217-442-2922.

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, or

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]

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