Intelligence in the Civil War


The Bureau of Military Information, the U.S. Army’s first modern military intelligence organization, was disbanded at the end of the war. In the 1880s, the first permanent U.S. intelligence organizations were formed: the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Army’s Military Intelligence Division. Both services posted attachés in several major European cities, primarily for the gathering of open-source material. But when the Spanish-American War began in 1898, some attachés ran espionage operations.


When the Army was fighting insurgents in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, Captain Ralph Henry Van Deman took charge of the Bureau of Insurgent Records and started running undercover agents. Counterintelligence had returned to the U.S. Army. Van Deman, an advocate of intelligence and counterintelligence, lobbied for his specialties throughout his career, which ended with his retirement in 1929.


In 1903, when the U.S. Army created a general staff modeled on those of European armies, the Military Information Division (MID) was, for the first time, put on the same staff level as operations and logistics. In World War I, the MID became an important component of the American Expeditionary Force. MID officers recruited 50 French-speaking sergeants who had police training. This corps of intelligence police eventually evolved into the Counter Intelligence Corps.


By the end of the war, the Military Intelligence Division had 282 officers and 1,159 civilians, including the secret MI-8 section, devoted to cryptology under Herbert O. Yardley. This time, when a war ended, military intelligence did not end with it. The MID lived on through the interwar years, expanded during World War II, and evolved into the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).


As for what happened to some of the people who had been involved in intelligence during the Civil War:


Lafayette Baker, who had led the search for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators, was fired by President Andrew Johnson. Baker had assigned agents to spy on Johnson, supposedly under orders from Johnson’s foe, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.


Luke Pryor Blackburn, the Confederate doctor who conceived of the yellow-fever plot, returned to Kentucky, where he worked tirelessly during a yellow-fever epidemic in 1878. His good deeds helped to get him elected overnor of Kentucky. On his tombstone is “Luke P yor Blackburn—the Good Samaritan.”


Details o the spy career of Elizabeth Van Lew’s maid, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, are still debated. But there was enough faith in stories of her spying in Jefferson Davis’s residence to have her inducted into the U.S. Army Intelligence Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in 1995.


After two stints in a Washington prison for her spying, Belle Boyd was paroled. In early 1864, Jefferson Davis sent her to Europe on behalf of the Confederacy. While trying to run a Union blockade, her ship was captured by a Union warship. Belle fell in love with the Union ship's captain, Sam Hardinge, who helped her proceed to England. Hardinge was dismissed from the Navy for letting a captured Confederate officer escape.He later joined Belle in England where they married. Belle Boyd wrote her memoirs and, after the war, returned to the United States where her husband died. Belle then launched a theatrical career that she pursued until her death in 1900 in Wisconsin.


Grenville Dodge became chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad and was in charge of building the portion of the transcontinental railroad from Council Bluffs to Utah.


After being freed from a Union prison, Rose O'Neal Greenhow joined Confederate propaganda agents in England and France and wrote a book about her work as a spy. In 1864, she sailed to America onboard a Confederate blockade-runner, which ran aground at the mouth of Cape Fear River, near Epilogue Wilmington, North Carolina. She left the ship in a lifeboat and was drowned when the boat swamped. She was buried in Wilmington with military honors.


After the war, Thomas Henry Hines, a member of the Northwest Conspiracy, signed an oath of allegiance to gain amnesty, returned to the United States, and practiced law in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He became the chief justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals.


William A. Lloyd, Abraham Lincoln’s contracted spy, probably would have remained unknown if it were not for an unusual court case. After Lloyd’s death, the administrator of his estate, noting that Lloyd’s contract had been lost, sued the United States government for unpaid salary. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the salary claim, saying, “Both employer and agent must have understood that the lips of the other were to be forever sealed respecting the relation of either to the matter.” The court compared the secret relationship between agent and his superior to that between husband and wife, client and lawyer, patient and physician—and “the confidences of the confessional.”


Balloonist Thaddeus S. C. Lowe moved to California after the war and built a home that included a tower and a telescope. His enthusiasm for astronomy led to another project: the building of the world-famous Lowe Observatory in Pasadena, California.


Charles Pomeroy Stone, whose gathering of intelligence helped to protect President-elect Lincoln, was promoted to brigadier general and led troops in a minor battle in October 1861 at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, 35 miles from Washington. Panicking in confused fighting, many Union troops were drowned. The Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War blamed Stone for the tragedy and had him arrested. He was held without charges for more than six months. After the war, Stone served as chief of staff in the Egyptian army for 13 years. Later, while working as an engineer, he helped to build the foundation of the Statue of Liberty. He died in 1887 and was buried at West Point.

Historical Document
Posted: Mar 21, 2007 04:14 PM
Last Updated: Jan 03, 2012 12:26 PM