Military Intelligence 1861-63: Part II

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Intelligence 1861-63


results of great impact, and of a kind not ordinarily expected. In espionage, the shortfall is exemplified by Pinkerton's evidently barren penetration of Richmond, normal good performance by the farmerspy who told Hooker the way to the enemy rear, and surprise successes by Harrison and by Pope's spy, neither of whom could have been expected to move with enough speed and luck to save an army in the way they did. Signal interception, after a slow start,23 leaped to an extraordinarily fruitful performance in the deception that opened the way for Hooker's march to the enemy rear (for all that the plant seems to have been thrust at Lee with too obvious a generosity).
The bread-and-butter sources-interrogation, cavalry, etc.-followed the same pattern.   Interrogation, at least as a source of O/B information, certainly fell short under Lee.   It achieved good standard results,. not only for Babcock but even for Pinkerton. Two of its greatest successes, however, were in much more vital matters-uncovering the Confederates' movement to Pennsylvania and showing, at Gettysburg, what the result would almost certainly be if Lee continued attacking, as he did. Cavalry, ordinarily the main reliance on the march and in close action, often did produce according to expectations, as for Lee at Chancellorsville and for Pope until he wore out his mounts; but it performed over its head in numerous captures of important dispatches, most notably Stuart's theft of Pope's entire files; the frequency and importance of these captures was abnormal. And newspaper intelligence, though ordinarily a yawn-producing activity on account of the masses of error, bluster, and planted information that it had to deal with, had its day in that one authoritative disclosure about Hooker's strength, though the validity of this was not apparent to Lee until their main encounter was over.
Each different type of intelligence thus enjoyed at least one fine hour; all were indispensable. Conclusion: it took all kinds, and the greater the total effort, the greater the scope for serendipity-which was the most beneficient supplier of all.
23 Flag signaling made it possible for enemy correspondence to be intercepted in far greater quantities and with much more ease than ever before in the history of warfare. (It was overwhelmingly the main medium of Civil War intercept, though in the general literature of the War virtually all cited incidents of interception and cryptanalysis involve telegraph or courier dispatches.) Little capital appears to have been made of these opportunities in the earlier campaigns, not because ciphers were unusually secure but precisely because they were insecure: commanders were cautious about putting valuable secrets on the air.


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:09 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 12:41 PM