Espionage during the War - Civil War Spies

in War

“History is written in blood.
There is no future without pain.
Freedom is gained through war, and war is freedom.”

Truer words were never said, and innumerable Nations who have gained their freedom through wars and battles will accept this. War is pain, be it with anyone. However when there is internal strife within a nation, when brother turns on brother, then that is the worst kind of conflict- Civil War.

Now, in these wars, more important than the actual warfare was Intelligence. Intelligence about the opposition- their plans, secret encampments, hideouts, stratagems, et al.  This is where the Spies came in.  Wars were won on tactics and knowledge, rather than on brute force. The spies used to infiltrate the opposition and gather the information to the best of their ability, for their respective factions.

The American Civil War constitutes one of the grisliest and most horrific parts of American history, with tremendous losses, before peace ensued. Both, the Confederate and the Union factions had their spies infiltrate each other’s troops and obtain as much information as possible, as even the slightest advantage was worth many lives.

The Confederate Spies were mainly involved in intercepting communications such as letters, important messages, etc, but they also ran an espionage and counter espionage operation, focused mainly in the north, Washington being the place of prime importance.

Some of the notable confederate spies were Aaron Van Camp, William Norris, Antonia Ford, John Beall, among others. These spies led double lives, crossed borders at great personal risk, just for the sake of their leaders (Though some were motivated my greed and the romance and adventure).

The Union too had their fair share of spies, which were quiet successful, and also led to the formation of the American Secret Service as we know it today. The foundation of this huge organization was laid in that time itself. However, unlike the Confederates, the Union Spy Network was decentralized, with different spies reporting to different heads of organizations. Examples being- William Lloyd spying for Abraham Lincoln in the south, Lieutenant General Winfield Scott’s security and intelligence was handled by the capable Lafayette Baker, Hattie Lawton-who discovered the Baltimore assassination plot, and more. These names have been immortalized in history simply for the sheer scope of their bravado, courage and cunning. The effective manner in which they crossed enemy lines and gleaned details of importance is unparalleled.

Another name worth of note here is Sharpe. George Sharpe. He used unconventional means (such as papers, POW’s, local residents) to get all kinds of information, and was successful at it, making him somewhat of a hero among the Union.

Slaves and smugglers provided some of the most vital bits of information to the Union, hoping for a better future. Information obtained through such sources was termed as ‘Black Dispatches’, such was the atmosphere during those times.

Even female spies played an influential role in the war, gathering useful information, as men were susceptible to a woman’s words, and wouldn’t be that suspicious of them, as the concept was relatively new. Among them Pauline Cushman and Elizabeth Lew are well known.

Whoever they be, the majority of these are some of histories nameless figures, forever shrouded in mystery, playing the game on both the sides of the board. They are Spies.

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Henri Lind has 64 articles online

For more info about Civil War Spies, visit Civil War Spies website.

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Espionage during the War - Civil War Spies

This article was published on 2011/07/25