Military Intelligence 1861-63: Part II

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Intelligence 1861-63

ended in Pennsylvania; the Federals now held the Mississippi to its mouth. From then on the most the Confederates could hope for was to keep armies in the field until the North should tire of the war.
Some Generalizations
Though the events covered here represent only about a quarter of the major campaigns of the war, several instructive points can be drawn from them;
The importance of the contingent factor,22 and of having the intelligence resources to deal with it. This is an unsurprising discovery, the more so when one is aware of the Civil War commander's preference for tactical over strategic intelligence.   Yet it is striking to see the principle at work.   Two battles-First Bull Run and C:hancellorsville-were decided, so far as intelligence decided them, by information obtained during the action, and arising out of it. The principle was also at work at Gettysburg (though the intelligence obtained on the battlefield was of less profound influence than the advance information that put the Federals on Cemetery Ridge ahead of the enemy).
Equally striking is what happened when the principle was not observed. A whole series of examples is available, for not until the Pennsylvania campaign did the Federals consistently keep their intelligence abreast of the action. Lee often divided his army-so often as to make it seem a habit; at the beginning of the Seven bays, before Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, and during the fight at Chancellorsville.   He took these risky actions, and won battles by them, in the knowledge that Union generals would probably lack either the facilities or the aggressiveness to discover his dispersion in good time, or would be unlikely to call him fully to account if they did make a timely discovery.   Even when dispersion led him into a losing battle at Antietam, the loss was not due to tactical reconnaissance by the enemy. Not until Gettysburg did the Northern army display enough vigor in discovering his positions to inspire any great fear of the consequences of dispersion.
"It takes all kinds." Each type of intelligence-espionage, intercept, interrogation, etc.-sometimes produced about as expected and sometimes fell short.   Each also produced windfalls-discoveries and
22 "[The] contingent factor is three times as ponderable in close action as the preconceived plan."---D. S. Freeman in Civil War History, 1, No. 1 (March 1955), p. 13.


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:09 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 09:07 AM