Soon after the Civil War began April 12, 1861, the safety of the nation’s capital and that of President Abraham Lincoln became of national concern. In a time before the Secret Service, Washington, D.C., lacked a military presence and armory to protect the president and the city. A number of Southern sympathizers lived near the area.
James Lane of Kansas quickly responded to the need for a volunteer militia. Lane, recently elected to serve as one of Kansas’ first two senators, had just arrived in the city to begin his first term. Senators Lane and Samuel Pomeroy checked into the Willard Hotel in Washington on April 13. That evening sympathizers from both the North and the South began to clash. “I have a hundred men from Kansas in this crowd, all armed, all fighting men, just from the victorious fields of Kansas!” Lane shouted, Pomeroy later recalled. “They will shoot every damned man of you who again cries ‘Mob,’ ‘Mob.’”
In answer to the concerns, Lane and Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, an abolitionist and Lincoln’s minister to Russia, formed two volunteer units. On April 14 Lane recruited the Frontier Guard from approximately 120 Kansas men who were in Washington to make contact with the new administration. The names of only 51 of those men are known. As volunteers, the Frontier Guard and the Clay Guard members were not mustered in, nor did they receive pay.
Lane’s guard established headquarters at the Willard hotel. Within days the guard was asked to report to duty at the White House until troops could arrive from the north. Major David Hunter of General Winfield Scott’s staff told Lane they had learned that an attempt would be made to kidnap the president and overturn the government. The guard quickly moved to occupy the East Room; General Scott supplied the troops with arms. Guard members reported that Lincoln himself visited during the two weeks of their encampment in the White House. Many of the Kansas newspapers published accounts of the guard’s duty at the White House.
Such a post of honor, on such an emergent occasion—for the President had heard the rumor that day that himself and Gen. Scott were in danger of assassination from a Virginia party that night—was no ordinary compliment. Other companies, of no little notoriety and experience, were in the city, but this distinction was reserved for Kansas.
—Kansas State Journal, Lawrence, May 9, 1861
The news circulated in a few national newspapers as well.
Rumors of the invasion of Washington to-night have excited much war feeling. Whatever may be the grounds for such reports, it is certain the government is expeditiously preparing for all emergencies.
The Kansas men here, about sixty in number, have formed a company called the Frontier Guard. They have been given the post of honor in the East Room of the President’s House.”
—Providence (Rhode Island) Daily Post, April 19, 1861
Meanwhile, other Frontier Guard members, joined by the Clay Guard, were posted at the long bridge over the Potomac River near Virginia. When guard members received reports of Confederate troops in the area, they began an extensive search. They found no Confederates, but did capture a rebel flag flying at a house. They claimed it to be the first captured by Union troops.
On April 26 President Lincoln honored the Frontier Guard for its service. The president thanked the guard for the patriotic feeling which prompted the efforts. The guard was discharged May 3, 1861, after Union troops arrived.
Just four years later, on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln created the U.S. Secret Service, five days after the end of the Civil War. The agency’s role is to protect current and former national leaders and their families, along with investigating counterfeiting of currency and treasury bonds. The legislation was on Lincoln’s desk the night he was assassinated.
Entry: Frontier Guard
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: May 2011
Date Modified: May 2011
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.