Military Intelligence 1861-63 (Part I)

Civil War, fact and myth,
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Intelligence 1861-63


And these results-his "medium" or "general" estimates-were not the most revealing transparency in Pinkerton's reporting. His very reliance on gross estimating suggests a shallowness of which no well-intentioned intelligence chief, even of limited intellect, would be guilty. His language alternates between puerile nonsense and a labored vagueness which it would be hard for anyone to achieve if he had a supportable thesis to present. Finally, there is his logic.
It is best illustrated by his continual insistence on the existence of considerable numbers of unknown forces, over and above those covered in his "general estimates." His point of departure in this argument was the number of regiments and brigades that he had identified. Early in McClellan's campaign that number was mucks smaller than the number the Confederates obviously had. This meant, Pinkerton argued, that the general estimates must also be much too small.6 Later on he purged his reports of this non-sequitur only to replace it with another. When he had identified four times as many regiments, he again said the general estimate must be well below the true figure-this time because organizational specifics indicated so large a number of regiments.
This line of reasoning led him, by the time his O/B chart was fairly complete, into an even more absurd position. Saying that there was a substantial number of additional troops in units not part of the known enemy force was tantamount to saying there were additional divisions 7--perhaps even another entire army--in the enemy lines, from which he had never had a single prisoner or deserter and about whose existence he had never received a breath of rumor-while the divisions he did have represented were well filled out with regiments and brigades.
McClellan, Pinkerton Assessed
If any belief in Pinkerton's estimates remained after the method of arriving at them was understood, it must have been destroyed by this display. The question arises how McClellan could have tolerated such a sorry intelligence job. There is no answer until it is remembered that he was constantly insisting on his need for more men and
6 At a time when his general estimate of the enemy in McClellan's immediate front was 100,000-120,000, Pinkerton had identified about 50 regiments. In equating the strength of these 50 to the 100,000-120,000 total, he was saying in effect that the Confederates had 2000 to 2400 men per regiment-double the T/O strength and 4 to 6 times the actual strength.
7 Lee did not organize his army into corps until the fall of 1862.


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:08 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 09:03 AM