By: P. K. Rose
“Black Dispatches” was a common term used among Union military men for intelligence on Confederate forces provided by Negroes. This source of information represented the single most prolific and productive category of intelligence obtained and acted on by Union forces throughout the Civil War.
In 1862, Frederick Douglass wrote:
The true history of this war will show that the loyal army
found no friends at the South so faithful, active, and
daring in their efforts to sustain the government as the
Negroes-. Negroes have repeatedly threaded their way
through the lines of the rebels exposing themselves to
bullets to convey important information to the loyal army of the Potomac.
Black Dispatches resulted from frontline tactical debriefings of slaves—either runaways or those having just come under Union control. Black Americans also contributed, however, to tactical and strategic Union intelligence through behind-the-lines missions and agent- in-place operations. Two such Union agents functioned as long-term penetrations of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s “White House” staff in Richmond, Virginia. Even such a prominent woman as Harriet Tubman, best known for her activities involving the “underground railroad,” played an important role in Union intelligence activities.