A Community for Abraham Lincoln & American History — For Collectors, By Collectors. More About Us.

Feature Articles

Who Were the Lincoln Life Guards?

December 1, 2020

Even with the internet and access to vast reams of information, it is not always possible to locate the answers to questions one may have. The best one can do is piece together pieces of the puzzle and make educated guesses based on the available evidence.

Lincoln Life Guards ribbon.
Lincoln Life Guards ribbon (maker’s stamp on reverse)
Philadelphia Lincoln Reception ribbon

That seems to be the situation in the case of a group called the “Lincoln Life Guards”. A while back we came across a horizontal blue silk ribbon with gold-stamped lettering that read “Lincoln Life Guards”. It was made in Philadelphia and was found along with a similar blue silk ribbon issued for the reception to President-Elect Lincoln at Independence Hall on February 22, 1861. In raising the flag at Independence Hall in celebration of Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln made the famous comment that he would “rather be assassinated on this spot” that give up the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Lincoln had been alerted by Winfield Scott and Alan Pinkerton to an assassination plot that was afoot, so his comment was rooted in reality. Because both blue silk ribbons were made in Philadelphia and were found together, we assumed that the “Lincoln Life Guards” ribbons were worn by a phalanx of self-appointed security guards whose task was to make sure Lincoln made it through the “City of Brotherly Love” safely.

Another piece of the puzzle was recently located. It is a signal cannon measuring 18″ in length and weighing about 30 pounds. The far end of the cannon is inscribed “Lincoln Life Guard of 2nd Ward. Presented by Capt. Isaiah Pascoe”. The near end is stamped “Lincoln & Hamlin”. The original owner was Theodore Michener of Philadelphia and it descended in his family. We were provided with the following information about Pascoe. He was born in England and emigrated to the United States sometime in the 1840’s. In the U.S. census for 1860, he is listed as being 57 years old, married with one child. His occupation was agent for the Balbo Smelting Company of Philadelphia. Given his age, it comes as no surprise that Pascoe did not serve in the Union army during the Civil War. The “Campaign Dial” newspaper of October 9, 1864 lists him as one of three parade marshals in the Second Grand Division of the “Grand Demonstration, Mass Meeting and Torchlight Procession” at Independence Square that took place Saturday evening, October 8th. The “Second Grand Division” included the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 26th wards of Philadelphia. In 1865, it is learned that Pascoe received a pardon for some unspecified offense. Beyond that, his life is a blank.

Lincoln Life Guard 2nd Ward presentation signal cannon.

The signal cannon has two metal rollers painted red. The metal frame or carriage was originally painted orange, but subsequently painted over in black. It is missing a screw-in component in the knob which, we believe, might have been a locking mechanism. The receptacle for the wick was removed at some time and placed on the other side and the resulting hole plugged. The barrel itself was flipped over to conceal the political messages. It has since been flipped back into its original orientation.

Family history indicates the signal cannon was fired at the inauguration of President Lincoln on March 4, 1861. This is entirely plausible. The “Lincoln Life Guard 2nd Ward” may have taken a short excursion train ride to the Capital for the event and brought their cannon with them. This is the first political signal cannon we have seen, although Stephen Douglas partisans used one to “signal” his arrival in various towns during the series of debates with Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois Senatorial canvass of 1858.

It would appear that the names “Lincoln & Hamlin” were stamped on the barrel at the time of its presentation. Since Pascoe was an agent for the Balbo Smelting Company, the cannon was almost assuredly produced at their factory in Philadelphia. Pascoe may have served in the British military but, given his age (the Napoleonic Wars were over before he reached his majority), his designation as “Captain” may be associated with a “Wide Awake” club he belonged to. The “Wide Awakes” were organized along military lines and had captains and lieutenants in their ranks. When founded in Hartford on March 3, 1860, the avowed purpose of the club was to provide security for Republican candidates for office. Accordingly, a Wide Awake chapter called the “Lincoln Life Guard” may have been created during the election of 1860.

Hopefully, more pieces of the puzzle will surface in years to come. As of this writing, we believe the “Lincoln Life Guard” was a chapter of the Wide Awakes. The cannon was made and presented by a Captain in that organization for use at political parades during the campaign of 1860. Members of the “Lincoln Life Guard” were in attendance when Lincoln raised the flag at Independence Hall. They also travelled to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration and brought their “toy” with them.

– Donald Ackerman