Spies and Spymasters of the Civil War

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Hippocrene Books, 1994 - History - 244 pages
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Although documentation shows that the American Civil War was conducted in large part by amateurs, the activities of spies gained some unprecedented sophistication thanks to new technology - photography, telegraphs, and even hot air balloons. Donald E. Markle details the rapid advances in methods of covert communication via newspaper and telegraph, and their effects on the war front. Enemy newspapers, for instance, became a coveted asset for the spy. Spies often acted as newspaper couriers for their governments, or even provided a "clipping service" to swiftly convey information aiding military strategists and their supporters. In some rare but very effective cases, spies listened in on enemy communications and even acted as telegraphers for the enemy, distorting messages. Such activities prompted both the Union and Confederate forces to encode messages and develop cryptography skills.
Markle brings to light the extensive participation of women in Civil War espionage. For the first time during an American war, women with a desire to take an active part in the war effort (in areas besides nursing) were able to spy on the enemy by relaying daily reports from the battlefields. This new phenomenon is due in part to the rapid movement of information; for the first time during a war, the civilian population received timely news of their armies, their losses, their victories, and their struggles.
Information conveyed by both the Union and the Confederate spies was, inevitably, not always accurate. Markle details some of the havoc wreaked by the misinformed. Generals Van Dorn and Price, for example, experienced such misfortune when they were considering an attack on Corinth, Mississippi, in the fall of 1862. Based on the information of one of their spies, General Van Dorn grossly underestimated the number of Federal troops he faced. This miscalculation lead to a Confederate rout with a loss of over 5,000 of his 25,000 troops.
Markle examines the spies' overall impact on the outcome of the Civil War, as well as on the modern world of intelligence. Some of the risky spying methods conducted during the Civil War could only have been productive in that era. Others laid the groundwork for the sophisticated techniques of the 20th century. His account also carries most of the stories beyond the Civil War itself, and describes the difficulties and experiences of spies trying to acclimate to normal life, finding that some did and some did not.

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User Review  - bostonian71 - LibraryThing

The writing isn't the smoothest, and the book's a bit repetitive at times, but it does have some very interesting anecdotes about Civil War espionage. Also, I paid only a dollar for it, so this was a pretty good deal. Read full review

Spies and spymasters of the Civil War

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Written by an intelligence professional, this treatment of Civil War espionage reflects his background; he frequently interjects his opinions and provides deep detail for operational topics. Although ... Read full review


Chapter f Civil War Spy Chiefs
Chapter l Intelligence Courier Systems
Chapter Secret Organizations

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About the author (1994)

Donald E. Markle is an alumnus of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. A veteran of 34 years in the U.S. Department of Defense Intelligence, Markle has given numerous lectures on the topic of espionage in the Civil War. He resides in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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