American Civil War was a very harsh time in U.S. History. Although this arose a
need and time for spies on either side, it was still bloody and hard fought.
The spies during this time period are very interesting and had very important
impacts on the War. Among these spies were women and even African Americans.
This was no regular war but, a war between seven states (The Confederacy) and
the U.S. Government. Spies were needed for gathering critical intelligence and
risked their lives going behind enemy lines.
At the beginning of the Civil War,
neither the Union nor the Confederacy had a military intelligence network.
Early on, the Confederacy started setting up a spy network in Washington D.C.,
South of the Mason Dickson Line. Virginia being full of Southern Sympathizers,
John Letcher, former congressman and governor of Virginia at the time, set up
an intelligence Network inside of the capital. Very little is known about the
Confederate Secret Service Bureau due to the burning of many files by
Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Even so, there were still
some very resourceful networks of spies along the “Secret Line.” The line ran
from Washington to Richmond. It had to cross two rivers, the Potomac and the
Rappahannock. They also had many spies and sympathizers that carried
information along the secret line.
Most Confederate Spies of the Civil War
were Southern Sympathizers with little to no experience in the Military, they
just loved the South. Although the Confederate Signal Corps did have an Agency
that ran espionage and counter-espionage missions, the main focus was
communications and intercepting Union movements or messages. One resound
Confederate spy, by the mane of Rose O’Neal Greenhow was credited for providing
information that won General P.GT. Beauregard the victory at the First Battle
of Bull Run. She was put in charge of the intelligence operations in Washington
along the Secret Line.
The Union, on the other hand, relied on
different tactics to gather information. During the first several months of
Civil War the head of the Department of Ohio, General George B, McClellan was
summoned to Washington D.C., by President Abraham Lincoln. General George B,
McClellan hired Allan Pinkerton, a former Chicago Police Officer, who at that
time owned his own Detective Agency “Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency”, to
be in charge of Intelligence for the Army. Pinkerton called his operation U.S.
Secret Service even though he only worked for Gen, McClellan. The fact is, the
Union did not have a centralized government intelligence agency. Several
Generals hired their own agents. Even Lincoln himself hired his own agents.
Although Pinkerton was an incredible
undercover agent, most of the information he provided to Gen. McClellan was
highly miscalculated, sometimes up to three or four times over calculated.
Pinkerton, using the alias E.J. Allen, set up a counterespionage network within
Washington, he also sent several agents to Richmond to integrate.
Due to being credited for the victory at
the Battle of Bull Run, Greenhow was one of the first that Pinkerton set his
sights on. Pinkerton was not the only
agent credited with providing valuable information for the Union. Lafayette C.
Baker was another intelligence officer, who worked for former General in Chief
Winfield Scott and then later for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Baker had a
notorious reputation for rounding up Suspected Southern Sympathizers and being
too extreme in his means of interrogation. Several articles have pegged him as
a man who was committed to the Law of the Land. He was later accredited for
leading the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Southern sympathizer,
who shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln.
One of Pinkerton’s agents, Timothy
Webster, who was sent down to several Confederate states including Mississippi
and Kentucky to collect information. During this time, he integrated very well
with several very important people. So close, in fact, that he was offered the
position of Colonel of the Second Arkansas Regiment. He gracefully declined
telling his friends that he was rather, heading towards Richmond. With verification
of his pure loyalty to the Confederates cause, he attracted the attention of
Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin recruited Webster to
be a part of the Secret Line. Thus making him a double agent. Sadly though,
African Americans were also used as
couriers during the Civil War. “Black Dispatchers” was the term used during
this time to describe the African American men and women who risked their lives
to bring information back to the Union from the Confederacy. They were among
the most productive at gathering information because they blended in. Even the
well know Harriet Tubman was an intelligence agent. The Union used these spies
to infiltrate Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s White House staff. The
Union offered them asylum if they made it to the north
Spies were needed to gather critical