Espionage in the American Civil War Essay

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Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs, NC

Term Paper

INTELLIGENCE IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR:
THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTELLIGENCE IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR AND THE EFFECTS OF THE ESPIONAGE SYSTEM ON THE WAR

Lauren E. Caulder
HIS 318-C
Fall 2011

Espionage at the commencement of the American Civil War was not an organized system; however the war necessitated the development of more structured intelligence systems for both the Union and the Confederacy. By the middle of the war the dimensions of the espionage system had augmented significantly. Thus espionage came to play a critically important role that affected general’s decisions in both the North and the South, ultimately affecting the outcome of the Civil War as a whole.
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In fact, Pinkerton’s agency and espionage tactics formed the basis for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The Bureau of Military Information (BMI), founded by General Hooker in 1863, was directed by George Sharpe. A vast collection of reports from the BMI were discovered at the National Archives in 1959 by Edwin Fishel. These reports disclosed that, in contrast to Pinkerton’s system, Sharpe’s unit used a host of sources in gathering intelligence, including cavalry, spies, balloonists, Signal Corps observers, scouts, and interrogations of prisoners and deserters. By merging the information gathered from all of his sources, Sharpe was able to provide Hooker with a comprehensive description of enemy standing. General Grant, who initially placed minimal importance upon intelligence gathering, came to view intelligence as a vital tool and depended upon Sharpe’s reports and the activity of the BMI to provide him with secret information. In fact, “the BMI became an integral part of Grant’s successful campaign to neutralize the Shenandoah Valley and to stretch Lee’s manpower to the brink of collapse.”
Confederate espionage definitely had the advantage at the outbreak of the war. By early 1861, the Rebels had already established a spy ring in the Yankee political and military capital, Washington, D.C. The Confederacy benefitted largely from its numerous individual operatives. Though the South made efforts to establish a regulated
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