Military Intelligence 1861-63: Part II

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Intelligence 1861-63

it looks a little over-sharp, may be exactly what a psychologist would expect to find; but it is something that the abundant legacy of Civil War history has not previously been made to demonstrate.26
Clearly, Civil War intelligence was not the pale, irrelevant stuff that the literature reflects (and here we are speaking of the whole literature, not merely that of the horseflesh and magnolia blossom school). Yet one may fairly ask whether its story is more valuable than any other piece of antique intelligence history.
It is in one way-in what might be called Intelligence's public relations. The Civil War remains our most profound national experience. It is disturbing that a collection of myths 27 has been permitted to usurp the place of intelligence in the history of a struggle so important and so well documented-to usurp without even filling it, leaving millions of words of campaign narrative that explain critical decisions weakly if at all.
Will the story, once set right, necessarily establish that intelligence contributed substantially to the result? At this distance, Northern might looks so overwhelming that one is tempted to believe the end would have been the same, and would have come as quickly, if the Union armies had made no organized intelligence effort at all. Yet the fact remains that a rebellion which holds at the start a big and integral territory is quite likely to prevail, even in the face of greatly superior might. The American rebellion of 1861 was such a one. And the outcome was touch and go up to the autumn of 1864; the Confederacy's defeat could not be foreseen until the Northern anti-war element lost at the polls that November, thanks largely to the Federals' battlefield successes of the months immediately preceding.
The contribution of intelligence to the 1864 victories is missing here, and until it is supplied we cannot represent that this was another American war in which intelligence had as much to do with the outcome as in, say, the Second World War. But there were at
26 One commander who may have shown two or all three skills is Grant.   He seems to have been well informed from his Vicksburg campaign onward, and his ability to use intelligence sometimes appears to belong in the same class with Lee's.   But this study has not yet touched his history in detail.
27 For a catalog of these myths set against the corresponding realities see the author's "Mythology of Civil War Intelligence" in Civil War History, X 4 (Dec. 1964), pp. 344-367.


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:09 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 10:53 AM