Confederate Spies: Loreta Velazquez

This entry is part 1 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Loreta Janeta VelazquezPerhaps, the strangest spy during the American Civil War was Loreta Janeta Velázquez. Not only was she a spy during the latter stages of the war but she also served as an officer in the Confederate Army disguised as a man.

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1842, Velázquez met and eloped at age 14 with a Army officer from Texas who we know only as William. Over the next several years Loreta traveled with him from post to post.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Velázquez’s husband resigned and joined the Confederate Army. She failed to convince her fiancé to let her join him, so she acquired two uniforms, adopted the name Harry T. Buford and moved to Arkansas. There she recruited 236 men in four days, shipped them to Pensacola, Florida and presented them to her husband as her command.

Unfortunately, William was killed while demonstrating the use of weapons to his troops. Velázquez turned her men over to a friend and began to search for more things to do. She was supposed to have served in the Battle of First Manassas. She grew tired of camp life and again donned female garb to go to Washington, D.C., where she spied for the Confederacy. She claimed she met Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron. When she returned to the South, she was assigned to the detective corps. She later left for Tennessee.

In Tennessee, she fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until the surrender. She was wounded in battle, but was not exposed. She fled to New Orleans, where she was arrested, suspected of being a female Union spy in disguise. After she was released, she enlisted to get away from the city.

At Shiloh, she found the battalion she had raised in Arkansas and fought in the battle. As she was burying the dead after a battle, a stray shell wounded her. When the army doctor who examined her discovered she was a woman, she again fled to New Orleans and saw Major General Benjamin F. Butler take command of the city. She gave up her uniform at that point.

Afterwards, in Richmond, Virginia, authorities hired her as a spy and she began to travel all around the USA. At that time, she married Captain Thomas DeCaulp; he died soon after in a Chattanooga hospital. (An officer of that name is known to have survived the war). She traveled north where officials hired her to search for herself. In Ohio and Indiana, she tried to organize a rebellion of Confederate prisoners of war.

After the war, Velazquez married a man identified only as Major Wasson, and immigrated to Venezuela. After his death, she moved back to the United States, where she traveled extensively in the West, and gave birth to a baby boy. In 1876, Velazquez, in need of money to support her child, decided to publish her memoirs. The Woman in Battle was dedicated to her Confederate comrades “who, although they fought in a losing cause, succeeded by their valor in winning the admiration of the world.” The public reaction to the book at the time was mixed—Confederate General Jubal Early denounced it as pure fiction—but modern scholars have found some of it to be quite accurate.

With the release of her book, Velazquez may have married for a fourth time and is last documented as living in Nevada. The date of her death is thought to be 1897, but there is no supporting evidence for this. In response to those who criticized the account of her life, she said that she hoped she would be judged with impartiality, as she only did what she thought to be right.


Union Spies: Elizabeth Van Lew

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Elizabeth Van LewIn the shadowy intelligence war within the Civil War, Elizabeth Van Lew may have been the most effective spy that the Union had inside the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. The Richmond resident built and operated a large and effective spy ring.

Elizabeth Van Lew was born in 1818 in in Richmond, Virginia to John Van Lew and Eliza Baker, whose father was Hilary Baker, mayor of Philadelphia from 1796 to 1798. Elizabeth’s father came to Richmond in 1806 at the age of 16 and, within twenty years, had built up a prosperous hardware business and owned several slaves.

Elizabeth and her brother were dedicated abolitionists and practicing Quakers. They spent large sums of money buying and manumitting slaves. Her brother would go to the Richmond slave market and buy entire families who were in danger of being split up. He would then bring them to his home and issue their papers of manumission.

At the start of the war Elizabeth began working on behalf of the Union. Richmond was the site of the notorious Libbey Prison and Elizabeth began a regular regimen of visits there. She would  bring food, clothing, writing paper, and other things to the Union soldiers imprisoned there. She aided prisoners in escape attempts, passing them information about safe houses and getting a Union sympathizer appointed to the prison staff. Prisoners would pass her military intelligence on Confederate troop levels and movements, which she was able to pass on to Union commanders.

Van Lew also operated a spy ring during the war, including clerks in the War and Navy Departments of the Confederacy and a Richmond mayoral candidate. It has been widely suggested that Van Lew convinced Varina Davis to hire Mary Bowser as a household servant, enabling Bowser to spy in the White House of the Confederacy

Van Lew’s spy network was so efficient that on several occasions she sent Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant fresh flowers from her garden and a copy of the Richmond newspaper. She developed a cipher system and often smuggled messages out of Richmond in hollow eggs.

Van Lew’s work was highly valued by the United States. George H. Sharpe, intelligence officer for the Army of the Potomac, credited her with “the greater portion of our intelligence in 1864-65.” On Grant’s first visit to Richmond after the war, he had tea with Van Lew. Grant said of her, “You have sent me the most valuable information received from Richmond during the war.”

When Richmond fell to the Union Army, Elizabeth was the first person to raise the American flag. Appointed by President Grant as postmaster, served from 1869 until 1877. However, many Richmond residents considered her a traitor and she eventually asked the War Department for all of her records in order to conceal the true extent of her espionage.

She petitioned the Federal government for reimbursement but was turned down. Desperately in need of money, she turned to a group of wealthy Bostonians who gladly collected money for the woman who helped so many Union soldiers during the war.

Van Lew died on September 25, 1900, and was buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond. Her grave was unmarked until the relatives of Union Colonel Paul J. Revere, whom she had aided during the war donated a tombstone. She is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.


Confederate Spies: Belle Boyd

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Belle BoydBelle Boyd is perhaps the best known Confederate spy of the American Civil War. Her career was primarily in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. In fact, the majority of her work was done in her father’s hotel in Front Royal, Virginia from the start of the war until her arrest on July 29, 1862. Contemporaries noted that “without being beautiful, she is very attractive…quite tall…a superb figure…and dressed with much taste.”

Isabella Marie Boyd was born in Martinsburg, Virginia on May 9, 1843 (several biographies say 1844), the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. She would later describe her childhood as idyllic, surrounded by siblings and cousins. She was a bit of a tomboy and reported that she climbed trees and took part in other unfeminine activities.

In 1856, at the age of 13, Belle was sent to Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore. After four years of education, her parents arranged a debut in Washington, where she filled the role of a fun-loving debutante. After this she returned to Front Royal and her parent’s hotel in the Shenandoah Valley town.

Front Royal was a small railroad town along the Alexandria, Orange and Manassas Gap Railroad. As such it became an important location for both armies to hold.

Her first encounter with the war took place in either Front Royal or Martinsburg, depending on the account. Union troops had occupied the area after an engagement at Falling Waters on July 2, 1861. Two days later Boyd Shot and killed a drunken Union soldier.

Boyd wrote in her post-war memoirs that he had “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer…we ladies were obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.”

She was exonerated by the commanding general Robert Patterson. Boyd noted that “the commanding officer…inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had ‘done perfectly right.” She was 17 years old at the time.

By early 1862 her activities were well known to the Union Army and the press, who dubbed her “La Belle Rebelle,” “the Siren of the Shenandoah,” “the Rebel Joan of Arc,” and “Amazon of Secessia.” In fact, the New York Tribune described her whole attire, “…a gold palmetto tree [pin] beneath her beautiful chin, a Rebel soldier’s belt around her waist, and a velvet band across her forehead with the seven stars of the Confederacy shedding their pale light therefrom…the only additional ornament she required to render herself perfectly beautiful was a Yankee halter [noose] encircling her neck.”

Some accounts say that she frequented Union camps seeking information on troops strengths and movements. Other accounts center much of her activity around her parent’s hotel in Front Royal. She used a slave named Eliza Hopewell as a courier to the Confederate command. Early on Hopewell was intercepted and the information was discovered in a hollowed-out watch-case. Boyd was warned that she was liable to be hanged for spying and realized that she needed a better means of communication.

Boyd supposedly spied on a council of war held by General James Shields at the hotel in mid-may 1862. She was reported to have hidden in a closet and listened through a knothole. Realizing the importance of the information Boyd rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Col. Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates.

She then returned to town and when the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson’s men, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt. She urged an officer to inform Jackson that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.”

Jackson did and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.” For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.

Belle Boyd’s career came to an abrupt end on July 29, 1862 when her Union officer lover gave her up to the authorities. She was transported to Washington and jailed in the Old Capitol Prison. She was held for a month and exchanged at Fortress Monroe on August 29th. She was later arrested and imprisoned a third time, but again was set free. Other accounts say that she was arrested six or seven times by Union authorities.

Arrested again in July 1863, Boyd was not a model inmate. She waved Confederate flags from her window, she sang Dixie, and devised a unique method of communicating with supporters outside. Her contact would shoot a rubber ball into her cell with a bow and arrow and Boyd would sew messages inside the ball. In December 1863 she was released and banished to the South.

She sailed to England on May 8, 1864 as a Confederate courier but was arrested yet again. She finally escaped to Canada with the help of a Union naval officer, Lieutenant Sam Hardinge, and eventually made her way to England where she and Hardinge were married on August 25, 1864. In England she became an actress.

She returned to the United States after her husband’s death in 1866, a widow and a mother at 23. By then she had written her memoirs Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison some of which was exaggerated. Boyd continued her stage career after her return. She billed her show as “The Perils of a Spy” and herself as “Cleopatra of the Secession.”

On November 11, 1869. She married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. After a divorce in 1884, Boyd married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.

While touring the United States (ironically, she had gone to address members of a GAR post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin) on June 11, 1900. She was 56 years old. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers.




Union Spies: Harriet Tubman

This entry is part 4 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Harriet Tubman, circa 1885Harriet Tubman had a career that started a dozen years before the Civil War and continued throughout it. After the war she was active in the women’s suffrage movement in New York until illness overtook her. This remarkable African-American is a legend in annals of human freedom.

She was born Araminta Harriet Ross in about 1820 to slave parents, Harriet (“Rit”) Green and Ben Ross. Rit was owned by Mary Pattison Brodess (and later her son Edward). Ben was held by Anthony Thompson, who became Mary’s second husband, and who ran a large plantation near Blackwater River in Madison, Maryland. Like most slaves of that era, she had no real idea of her birth year and other years have been given for it.

Tubman was hired out at about 5 or 6 years old as a nursemaid to a woman we only know as “Miss Susan” for her infant. She was ordered to keep watch on the baby as it slept; when it woke and cried, Tubman was whipped. She later recounted a particular day when she was lashed five times before breakfast. She carried the scars for the rest of her life. She found ways to resist, running away for five days, wearing layers of clothing as protection against beatings, and fighting back.

Over the years Tubman was brutalized by beatings and whippings. On one occasion she suffered a severe head injury that caused seizures and spells of unconsciousness for the rest of her life. After her head injury, Tubman began having visions and potent dreams, which she considered signs from the divine. This religious perspective instructed her throughout her life.

In 1840 her father was was manumitted, freed from slavery at the age of 45, as stipulated in a former owner’s will, though his real age was closer to 55. He continued to work as a timber estimator for the same family that had held him as a slave. Although Tubman later found out that the same stipulations had been made for her mother and her children in the same will, their owners simply ignored the will. They were powerless to enforce the will.

When Tubman owner died in 1849, Tubman and two of her brothers escaped before their owner’s widow could sell them. On September 17, 1849, the three left the plantation that they had been rented to but her brothers forced her to return with them. Shortly afterward, Tubman escaped by herself with the help of the Underground Railroad. Her final message to her mother was “I’m bound for the promised land”.

The Underground Railroad was an informal, but well-organized, system was composed of free and enslaved blacks, white abolitionists, and other activists. Most prominent among the latter in Maryland at the time were members of the Religious Society of Friends, often called Quakers. A journey of nearly 90 miles, her traveling by foot would have taken between five days and three weeks.

When she crossed into Pennsylvania, Tubman later recalled her feelings. “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Upon reaching Philadelphia, Tubman considered her own circumstances and that of her family. “I was a stranger in a strange land,” she said later. “[M]y father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were [in Maryland]. But I was free, and they should be free.”

Within a year she began her career as Moses, named by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, an allusion to the prophet in the Book of Exodus who led the Hebrews to freedom from Egypt. Over the course of her career in the Underground Railroad, Tubman rescued some 70 slaves in about 13 expeditions, including her three other brothers, Henry, Ben, and Robert, their wives and some of their children. She also provided specific instructions for about 50 to 60 other fugitives who escaped to the north.

In 1858, Harriet Tubman met and joined with John Brown. She recruited supporters who for an attack on slaveholders. Brown referred to her as  “General Tubman”. However, for one reason or another she was not present when Brown attacked the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

At the start of the war, Tubman joined a group of abolitionists who made their way to Port Royal, South Carolina. The area had been seized by Union troops and was used as a base of operations for the blockade fleet. Tubman served as a nurse in the hospital, preparing remedies from local plants and aiding soldiers suffering from dysentery. She rendered assistance to men with smallpox; that she did not contract the disease herself started more rumors that she was blessed by God.

After the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Tubman began leading a band of scouts in the area around Port Royal. Her Harriet Tubman, Union scoutgroup, working under the orders of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, mapped the unfamiliar terrain and reconnoitered its inhabitants. She later worked alongside Colonel James Montgomery, and provided him with key intelligence that aided the capture of Jacksonville, Florida.

On June 2, 1863, Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. Along with Montgomery, she led a force on an assault on a collection of plantations along the Combahee River. More than 700 slaves were freed during the raid.

For two more years, Tubman worked for the Union forces, tending to newly liberated slaves, scouting into Confederate territory, and eventually nursing wounded soldiers in Virginia. She also made periodic trips back to Auburn, New York, to visit her family and care for her parents. The Confederacy surrendered in April 1865; after donating several more months of service, Tubman headed home.

After the war Tubman suffered financially for her service to the Union. She did not receive a pension until 1899. In her later years she worked for the women’s suffrage movement alongside alongside women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland.

The woman named Moses who helped her people to freedom died on March 10, 1913 surrounded by family and friends. Her last words were “I go to prepare a place for you.”



Confederate Spies: Rose O’Neal Greenhow

This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Rose O'Neal Greenhow with her daughter RoseOne of the most renowned Confederate spies of the early Civil War years was Rose O’Neal Greenhow of Washington, D.C. Mrs. Greenhow who was 48 or 49 when the war began (her birth year is given as 1813 or 1814), was a Washington socialite who moved in the very highest circles of society.

Rose Greenhow’s early life was not the easiest. She was born at Port Tobacco, Maryland as as Maria Rosetta O’Neal. Both of her parents died by the time that she was a teenager. She was invited to live with her aunt, Maria Ann Hill, who ran a stylish boarding house at the Old Capitol building in Washington.

Through the assistance of her aunt, Rose met a number of personages and frequented capital society. In 1935 she married Dr. Robert Greenhow. He taught her history and gave her access to government documents through his work in the U.S. Department of State.

The Greenhow’s had eight children but only four of them lived beyond infancy. Soon after her namesake last child was born, her husband died. Meanwhile one daughter moved West and another died.

Rose Greenhow’s sympathies were always with the Confederacy due to her friendship with John C. Calhoun. Soon after the war began, she was recruited by then-Union officer Thomas Jordan. He supplied her with a 26-symbol cipher for creating encoded messages. Jordan resigned his U.S. Army commission in May 1861 and received a captain’s commission in the Confederate States Army. He would end the war as a brigadier general after which he joined the Cuban Liberation Army.

On July 9, 1861, and July 16, 1861, Greenhow passed secret messages to Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard containing critical information regarding military movements for what would be the First Battle of Bull Run, including the plans of Union General Irvin McDowell. Assisting in her conspiracy were pro-Confederate members of Congress, Union officers, and her dentist, Aaron Van Camp. Confederate President Jefferson Davis credited Greenhow’s information with securing victory at Manassas.

Greenhow’s spying career was shortlived. On August 23, 1861 Allan Pinkerton, head of the recently-formed Secret Service, apprehended Greenhow and placed her under house arrest. Leaked information was traced back to Greenhow’s home, and upon searching for further evidence, Pinkerton and his men found maps of Washington fortifications and notes on military movements.

On January 18, 1862, Greenhow was transferred to Old Capitol Prison. Her daughter, “Little Rose”, then eight years old, was permitted to remain with her. Greenhow continued to pass along messages while imprisoned. She was said to have sent one message concealed within a woman visitor’s bun of hair. Passers-by could see Rose’s window from the street. The position of the blinds and number of candles burning in the window had special meaning to the “little birdies” passing by. Greenhow also on one occasion flew the Confederate Flag from her prison window.

Rather than continue her incarceration, the Union government deported her to Richmond, Virginia where she was hailed as a heroine by Southerners. Jefferson Davis welcomed her home and enlisted her as a courier to Europe. From 1863 to 1864, Greenhow traveled through France and Britain on a diplomatic mission for the Confederacy. While in Britain, Greenhow wrote her memoirs, titled My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, which sold well there.

In September 1864, Greenhow left Europe to return to the Confederate States, carrying dispatches. She traveled on the Condor, a British blockade runner. On October 1, 1864, the Condor ran aground at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina, while begin pursued by a Union gunboatUSS Niphon.

Fearing capture and further imprisonment, Greenhow fled the grounded ship by rowboat. A wave capsized the rowboat, and Greenhow, weighed down with $2,000 worth of gold in a bag around her neck from her memoir, royalties intended for the Confederate treasury, drowned.



Union Spies: Philip Henson

This entry is part 6 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Philip HensonUnion intelligence gathering during the American Civil War was not centralized as it is today. Very often, each major commander had his own spy or spies that concentrated on gathering intelligence in their particular area of operations. Philip Henson was just such a spy for General Ulysses S. Grant when he commanded operations in the Western Theater. (This is the only known picture of this daring spy.)

Henson was a native of Blount Springs, Alabama where he was born on December 28, 1827. He traveled widely accompanying his father, a Federal Indian Agent, on his travels to Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. At the start of the war Henson was a storekeeper in Corinth, Mississippi.

Alabama Governor A.B. Moore and Montgomery Mayor A.J. Noble appointed him Captain of the State’s Militia and the Confederacy’s Postmaster General, John Henninger Reagan selected him for the position of Field Supervisor in the Confederate Post Office Department.

His Post Office job required Henson to travel widely throughout the Southwest. During one of these trips he met with former Texas Governor Sam Houston who was a staunch Unionist. Houston persuaded Henson to become a spy for the Union Army. He had him travel to Illinois and meet with a little-known Union general by the name of Ulysses Grant.

Henson swore an oath of loyalty to the Union, because, as he’d attest to whenever asked about it, “I believed in it”. Thus began a twenty-five year relationship between the two men that would see them move together from Civil War battlefields to the White House.

Henson’s first opportunity to assist Grant was when he met with Confederate General Leonidas Polk, the “Fighting Bishop”. Polk thinking that Henson was a loyal Confederate confided in him that Confederate Generals Gideon Johnson Pillow and John Buchanan Floyd were in command of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, respectively. Henson immediately advised Grant of Polk’s admission that two “political” generals were in charge of defending the two key forts.

Grant realizing that he was dealing with amateurs immediately attacked Fort Henry with his naval and army forces. The fort fell after a brief struggle. He then marched to Fort Donelson where after a significant action delivered the first of his famous “Unconditional Surrender” demands. The Confederate suffered 13,846 total casualties out of a force of 16,171, including 327 killed, 1,127 wounded and 12,392 captured/missing.

Henson was responsible for introducing Grant to the Southern Unionists Andrew Jackson Hamilton and Charles Christopher Sheats, known as “The Mossbacks of Nickajack”, resulting in the enlistment of over 2,000 loyal Alabamans and Tennesseans in the legendary 1st Alabama Cavalry US Volunteers.

In 1863 Henson traveled to Vicksburg, Mississippi where he convinced Confederate General John C. Pemberton (the CSA commander of the city) that he would be an asset. Henson gave Pemberton misinformation about the inhumane treatment Confederate prisoners of war were supposedly receiving from their Union captors.

Pemberton had him speak to units throughout the fortress city. During these trips Henson was able to gather intelligence on the Confederate defenses. Grant was able to use the information to crack the formidable Confederate defenses and force the city’s surrender in July 1863.

In 1864 Henson was arrested by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and imprisoned. Henson was able to escape from prison after more than six months and escape to Union lines where he was reunited with Grant. Forrest was to call Henson “The most dangerous spy operating within the Confederacy”. For his contributions to the war effort Henson would receive brevets for the rank of Major.

After the war Henson remained in Grant’s service. After the assassination of President Lincoln, Grant asked him to conduct a “confidential and discrete” investigation to discover any and all details of Lincoln’s death. It was a task that continued during Grant’s Presidency and resulted in brevets for the rank of Lieutenant Colonel being bestowed upon him. Ultimately, it took over twenty years to complete.

Upon the election of U.S. Grant to the U.S. Presidency (1869–1877), Henson became the first Special Secret Service Agent of the United States of America, serving until Grant’s death in 1885. Henson died in Paris, Texas at the home of his eldest son, Phillip Edgar, a well-known cotton dealer, at 10:15 P.M. on Tuesday evening the 10th day of January, 1911.


Confederate Spies: Henry Thomas Harrison

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Henry Thomas HarrisonPerhaps, the best known Confederate field spy was Henry Thomas Harrison. Due to the book The Killer Angels and the movie Gettysburg, based on that book, Harrison has become known throughout the land as General James Longstreet’s field spy. However, he preferred to be called a scout. Many historians credit him with giving Longstreet the information that convinced Lee to converge on Gettysburg.

Henry Thomas Harrison was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1832. He was an actor who did not get many important parts because of small stature. At the start of the war he joined the 12th Mississippi Infantry at Corinth as a private.

By September, Harrison had become a scout/spy for General Earl Van Dorn near Manassas, Virginia. On April 30, 1862 Harrison was back in Corinth where he requested equipment for service there from a General Gordon (probably George Washington Gordon). In January 1863, Harrison was sending reports from Holly Springs, Mississippi to Maj. Gen. William W. Loring about the movements of Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee.

On February 20, 1863 Harrison reported to Secretary of War, James Seddon, for service as a secret agent. On March 7th, he was assigned to General Longstreet, he is dispatched to spy for General D. H. Hill in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Almost immediately Harrison was arrested by Union troops near New Bern, North Carolina and accused of spying. He was jailed for about a month until Harrison convinced them that he was an innocent civilian who was only trying to avoid conscription.

Released from jail, he immediately reported to General Longstreet who was in Franklin, Virginia. Longstreet sent Harrison to Washington in order to track the movements of the Army of the Potomac. This was to begin the most impactful phase of Harrison’s service.

Tracking the Union Army progress in their pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia, Harrison was able to gather information on the size and routes of the enemy army. On June 28th, Harrison made his report to Longstreet at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. By then the large Union Army was around Frederick, Maryland and marching North. He also reported that Joe Hooker had been replaced by Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade.

Harrison’s information was plausible enough for Lee to halt his entire army. Harrison reported that the Union had left Frederick, Maryland, and was moving northward, which was true. Longstreet’s chief of staff, Moxley Sorrel, said that Harrison “always brought true information.”

As a result of Harrison’s information, Lee told all of his troops to concentrate in the vicinity of Cashtown, PA, eight miles from Gettysburg, thereby triggering the events that led to the Battle of Gettysburg. Lee even said after hearing the news from Harrison, “A battle thus became, in a measure, unavoidable.”

Harrison’s service to the Confederacy after Gettysburg never matched the importance of his reports before the famous battle. He operated mostly in the North, gathering intelligence in Washington and New York. In September 1863, Harrison married Laura Broders in Washington.

After the war Harrison moved to Mexico with his wife and their daughter but after some marital problems he moved to Montana alone, prospecting for gold. Between 1867 and 1892, his exact whereabouts are unknown. His wife believing that he was dead, remarried in 1893.

In 1893, Harrison moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1901, Harrison got a job in Cincinnati as a detective for the Municipal Reform League. In 1912, he moved to Covington, Kentucky and applied for a Confederate pension. On October 28, 1923, Harrison died in Covington at the age of 91. He is buried at Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky.

Henry Thomas Harrison never attempted to capitalize on his Confederate service. In his pension application there was no mention of his service as General Longstreet’s field spy/scout. He simply referred to himself as a Confederate veteran soldier.

Sorrel knew nothing about Harrison’s identity and no one on Longstreet’s staff even knew his first name.  Longstreet must have known because he obtained a photograph of Harrison for his published memoirs, From Manassas to Appomattox. But Longstreet continued to maintain his secrecy in this matter.

As a tribute to Harrison’s espionage, Longstreet wrote in an 1887 article for Century Magazine that Harrison provided him “with information more accurate than a force of cavalry could have secured.”



Union Spies: Lafayette C. Baker

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Lafayette Curry BakerMuch of the Union intelligence gathering was decentralized with the principal commanders employing their own network of agents. It has been said that Ulysses S. Grant had at least 100 spies throughout the Western Theater. Other commanders had their own networks. The President even had a spy, William Alvin Lloyd, to report directly to him.

One of the Union’s most daring spies was Lafayette Curry Baker who was rough-and-ready character who was not afraid of some violent work. Born in upstate New York in 1826, he moved to Michigan in his teens. In 1849, Baker joined the thousands who trekked to California after the discovery of gold.

Baker didn’t find gold but he found adventure. In San Francisco, he became a member of the Vigilance Committee, patrolling the fog-bound streets of the Barbary Coast at night in search of desperate criminals, or so Baker later advertised that adventurous episode of his life. In reality, he was a bouncer at a saloon and a police informer.

At the start of the war, Baker returned to the East where he endeavored to get an appointment as an officer. Unsuccessful in New York, he journeyed to Washington and sought an appointment with the General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in 1862. Pestering Scott’s aides, he finally got an appointment and dazzled the general with his plans for spying on the Confederates in Richmond.

Scott explained to Baker that his going to Richmond would not serve the Union Army’s needs. He needed detailed reports from the fields, how many men were in the Confederate Army of General P.G.T. Beauregard, where were they positioned, and where were they headed? How many pieces of field artillery did Beauregard have and how much rolling stock? All of this important data could not be found in the tearooms of Richmond, but in the field.

Baker assumed the identity of Sam Munson, a photographer, to infiltrate the Confederate lines. He was detained by Union troops who thought that he was a Confederate spy. Scott had him released and he crossed into Virginia where he was arrested by the Confederates as a spy.

He managed to get a note to General Beauregard and when he met in person he convinced him that he was a photographer. To make his story more believable, Baker gave Beauregard detailed information of Union troop movements, positions of heavy gun emplacements, and locations where ammunition and goods were stored.

After further interviews with Jefferson Davis and Vice-President Alexander Stephens, Baker was released on Davis’ orders and given a pass that allowed to photograph any of the southern military commanders, their troops, and camp sites, as he saw fit. However, he had no glass plates for photographs and that fact almost sent him to the hangman.

He was in Fredericksburg when he met several Confederate officers who he had photographed earlier. They were angry because they had not gotten their pictures. Growing suspicious, they had him arrested as a spy and when a real photographer revealed his camera to be useless, Baker realized that he could be executed. Using a penknife, he managed to loosen the bars and escape the prison and return to Union lines.

General Scott was so impressed that he made Baker a captain on the spot and put him in charge of his Intelligence Service. However, the truth was more mundane. He was, indeed, captured, and taken before Jefferson Davis who did not give him a pass to photograph the whole of the Confederacy but listened for some minutes to Baker’s inept lies and then pronounced him a spy and ordered him held for trial.

Baker did escape from the Richmond jail, then wandered for weeks through Virginia, living in shacks and the woods, stealing food where he could find it, as he desperately tried to regain the Union lines. He was picked up in Fredericksburg as a vagrant and later held as a spy, but he again escaped, this time with the help of local prostitute whom he had been staying with, and finally managed to return to Scott’s headquarters.

The information regarding Confederate forces he later relayed to Scott he had learned from a Union officer he had met in the Richmond prison and all of this information was outdated by the time Baker passed it on to Scott.

It was through his service for General Scott that Baker met Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton, who took Baker under his own wing. He became the Secretary’s personal secret agent, conducting close surveillance of those Stanton distrusted most, other members in Lincoln’s cabinet, and high-ranking officers who were Lincoln’s appointments.

Stanton also wanted Allan Pinkerton out of the way as head of the Union Intelligence Service. Pinkerton answered only to Lincoln, and Stanton resented that. He, Edwin Stanton, should be in complete charge of the war, not this well meaning but uninformed Lincoln.

Stanton, through Baker’s intrigues, discredited Pinkerton, and, equally, General George McClellan, who had taken over the army, brilliantly organized and trained it to a peak fighting machine but proved indecisive in battle. Baker spent much of this time discovering McClellan’s mistakes and having reports of his blunders brought before Lincoln, or leaked to the Union press.

Pinkerton was relieved of duty after the Battle of Antietam for a supposed inability to learn of the true strengths and positions of Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. Stanton proposed that Baker be promoted to command the Intelligence Service with rank of full colonel.

Apparently, Baker’s techniques were identical to those he had practiced in San Francisco as a vigilante. He terrorized, threatened, and blackmailed suspects, both Union and Confederate, to obtain information. For three years, he continued to operate a haphazard espionage system for the North but most of his information was learned second-hand from scouts working directly for Union cavalry commands. He continued to have some spies behind the Confederate lines but Pinkerton had picked the best of these first.

Baker bragged that there is no single Confederate spy or agent behind Union lines who is unknown to him. Yet, flourishing within Washington were dozens of conspirators all plotting the assassination of the President. One group met regularly only a few blocks from Baker’s offices throughout the early part of 1865. Its leaders were, John Surratt, Jr. and a vainglorious actor from an illustrious theatrical family, John Wilkes Booth.

Within two days of his arrival in Washington from New York, Baker’s agents in Maryland had made four arrests and had the names of two more conspirators, including the actual presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth. Before the month was out, Booth along with David Herold were found holed up in a barn and Booth was himself shot and killed. Baker was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and received a generous share of the $100,000 reward.

However, Baker was sacked from his position as government spymaster by President Johnson who accused him of spying on him, a charge Baker admitted in his book which he published in response. He also announced that he had had Booth’s diary in his possession which was being suppressed by the Department of War and Secretary Stanton. When the diary was eventually produced, Baker claimed that eighteen vital pages were missing. It was suggested that these would implicate Stanton in the assassination.

Lafayette C. Baker died in 1868, supposedly from meningitis. However, his death was as mysterious as some parts of his life. Using an atomic absorption spectrophotometer to analyze several hairs from Baker’s head, Ray A. Neff, a professor at Indiana State University, determined the man was killed by arsenic poisoning rather than meningitis. He had been unwittingly been consuming it for months, mixed into imported beer provided by his wife’s brother.


The Confederate Secret Service

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

Confederate cipher wheelUnlike the Union government, the Confederate government did not find it necessary to organize a large force of detectives and spies for other than purely military purposes. They organized the Confederate Secret Service and employed it for purposes they considered purely military.

Meanwhile, the Union government had a need to send out agents in pursuit of bounty jumpers, men who were fraudulently discharged, traders in contraband goods, and contract fraudsters. This use of capable individuals throughout the North prevented their use against the Confederacy.

The Southern government had no such need and employed spies primarily to discover the movement of Union troops and supplies. Generals depended largely on the information they brought, in planning attack and in accepting or avoiding battle. It is indeed a notable fact that a Confederate army was never surprised in an important engagement of the war. They may have been overmatched on many occasions but were never surprised.

The Confederates used a systems of couriers between Richmond and a number of northern cities, including Washington, Baltimore, New York and Boston. Agents in these cities would insert personal ads in the newspapers using cipher code. Once the papers inevitably reached Richmond the ciphers were decoded and the information was routed the proper location.

Part of the Confederacy’s advantage was that the war was primarily conducted on Southern soil. The Confederates were able to intercept a great many Union couriers who were carrying particularly sensitive information. On July 4, 1861 Confederate pickets captured a Union courier who had the complete returns (rosters) of General Irvin McDowell’s Army of Virginia.

“His statement of the strength and composition of that force,” relates General P.G.T. Beauregard, in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, “tallied so closely with that which had been acquired through my Washington agencies… that I could not doubt them… I was almost as well advised of the strength of the hostile army in my front as its commander.” 

Using this valuable information General Beauregard was able to position his troops accordingly and win the First Battle of Manassas. In the opening of the war, at least, the Confederate spy and scout system was far better developed than was the Federal.

As the war unfolded the use of spies, scouts and agents became more localized. Individual commanders used their own cadres of spies rather than receiving information the long way around from Richmond. This system was also used by the Union armies and was the most efficient use of military intelligence gathering.

In his Valley Campaign of 1862, General Stonewall Jackson achieved a brilliant series of victories. However, it is a known fact that although Jackson was a brilliant tactical commander the services of the scouts and spies under Colonel Turner Ashby played a key role in locating the Union forces. Meanwhile, the Union commanders had no such advantage.

As the war moved into 1864, the Confederate government felt the need to conduct secret operations in the North. Jefferson Davis called upon several prominent Southerners to conduct secret negotiations for peace with prominent Northerners, including Horace Greeley. However, their correspondence with Greeley became public and the negotiations failed.

The Confederate government attempted to use the Sons of Liberty, sometimes called the Copperheads, against the Union government. Led by Clement Vallandigham who had been exiled to the South in 1863, the Sons of Liberty were seen by the Confederate government as a counterweight to the Union central government.

The Sons of Liberty would detach the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio from the Union, if the Confederate authorities would, at the same time, move sufficient forces into Kentucky and Missouri to hold those lukewarm Federal States. These five states would then form the Northern Confederacy, compelling the Union government to stop the war.

The date for the general uprising was several times postponed, but finally settled for the 16th of August. Confederate officers were sent to various cities to direct the movement. Escaped Confederate prisoners were enlisted in the cause. Jacob Thompson, a Southern agent, furnished funds for perfecting county organizations. Arms were purchased in New York and secreted in Chicago.

The Confederate plot was revealed and many prominent members of the Sons of Liberty were arrested. The garrison at Camp Douglas, Chicago, was increased to seven thousand. The strength of the allies was deemed insufficient to contend with such a force, and the project was abandoned. The Confederates returned to Canada.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1864, the Confederate Secret Service conducted a series of operations in the North. St. Albans, Vermont is the last place one would expect to have a raid by Confederates during the latter part of the American Civil War. But on October 19, 1864, the quiet Vermont, border town was the site of a Confederate attempt to rob three town banks in the name of the Confederacy. It would end with the raiders being arrested by Canadian authorities and some of the stolen funds returned to the Vermont banks.

Then there was the attempted capture of the USS Michigan which was guarding Johnson’s Island and the release of the prisoners incarcerated there. It ended in failure with the execution of the Captain John Y. Beall of the Confederate navy for piracy and spying.

There was an attempt to fire the city of New York by Confederate agents and the Sons of Liberty on November 25, 1864. The incendiary “Greek Fire” that had been supplied to Confederate agents failed to ignite properly. The Confederates fled the city and returned to Canada. However, Robert Cobb Kennedy was captured and hanged on March 25, 1865.

Every Confederate plot in the North was fated to fail. The Federal secret service proved to be more than a match for the Sons of Liberty and the Confederates. The Confederate’s objectives included the cutting of telegraph wires, the seizure of banks, the burning of railroad stations, the appropriation of arms and ammunition and the freeing of thousands of Confederate prisoners from Camp Douglas in Chicago. Their operations were foiled by the Union secret service. Some 106 men were captured, tried and convicted of a variety of crimes.

The operations around Chicago were the last conducted in the North by the Confederate Secret Services. The agents either returned to Canada or made their way South where they arrived just in time for the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the war.





The St. Albans Raid

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Spies of North and South

The St. Albans RaidSt. Albans, Vermont is the last place one would expect to have a raid by Confederates during the latter part of the American Civil War. But on October 19, 1864, the quiet Vermont, border town was the site of a Confederate attempt to rob three town banks in the name of the Confederacy.

The idea of the raid originated in early 1864 when the Confederate Congress passed a bill that authorized a campaign of sabotage against “the enemy’s property, by land or sea.” The bill established a Secret Service fund—$5 million in U.S. dollars—to finance the sabotage.

As an incentive, saboteurs would get rewards proportional to the destruction they wreaked. One million dollars of that fund was specifically earmarked for use by agents in Canada. For some time, agents there had been plotting far more than across-the-border sabotage. They believed that their plans for large-scale covert actions could win the war.

Canada was then a British possession and was officially known as British North America. Though neutral and against slavery, the British support had been towards the Southern Confederacy, mainly due to King Cotton, a commodity that British mills craved.

There were a number of Confederate agents stationed in Canada. Some were native Southerners, like Captain Thomas Henry Hines, who had ridden with Morgan’s Raiders in guerrilla sorties into Kentucky and Tennessee. Others were disaffected Northerners who were opposed to the war and were known as “Copperheads.”

Confederate Raiders of St. AlbansThe Confederates especially recruited sympathizers from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where an estimated 40 percent of the population was Southern-born. Among them were military officers in civilian clothes and politicians, such as Jacob Thompson who had been Secretary of the Interior under President James Buchanan and Clement Clay, former U.S. Senator from Alabama. They were ostensibly “commissioners” sent to Canada with vaguely defined public roles as their cover.

Other politicians involved in plots were George N. Sanders, who had taken part in Confederate operations in Europe, and Clement L. Vallandigham, who had been a powerful member of Congress from Ohio. He claimed he had 300,000 Sons of Liberty ready to follow him in an insurrection that would produce a Northwest Confederacy.

After an aborted attempt to free Confederate prisoners on Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio in Lake Erie, and at Fort Douglas in Chicago failed miserably, Confederate authorities in Canada came up with a new plan. Using escaped Confederate prisoners-of-war, they would infiltrate the small Vermont town of St. Albans, rob the three banks there and burn the town to the ground. The ostensible reason was retribution for Union attacks in the South.

The commander of the raid was Bennett H. Young, a Confederate cavalryman who had been captured  at the Battle of Salineville in Ohio ended Morgan’s Raid the year before. Young had escaped to Canada and then made his way back the South. Here he proposed raids on American border towns to rob banks in order to raise money for the depleted Confederate treasury. He was commissioned a lieutenant and returned to Canada.

In Canada the former cavalryman recruited other escaped prisoners and planned a raid on St. Albans, a small town about 15 miles south of the border. Eventually, he had 20 other raiders and in October, 1864, his plan commenced.

On October 10th, Young and two others checked into a local hotel, saying that they had come from St. John’s in Canada East for a “sporting vacation.” Every day, two or three more young men arrived. By October 19, there were 21 cavalrymen assembled.

At 3:00 PM on the 19th, the Confederate raiders struck, simultaneously robbing three local banks. They quickly collected $208,000. As the banks were being robbed, eight or nine of the Confederates held the townspeople prisoner on the village green as their horses were stolen. One towns person was killed and another wounded. Young ordered his men to burn the town down, but the four-ounce bottles of Greek fire they had brought failed to work, and only one shed was destroyed.

The raiders then made their way across the border back to Canada, where they were arrested by British authorities. A Canadian court decided that the soldiers were under military orders and that the officially neutral Canada could not extradite them to the United States. The Canadian court’s ruling that the soldiers were legitimate military belligerents and not criminals, as argued by American authorities, has been interpreted as a tacit British recognition of the Confederate States of America. The raiders were freed, but the $88,000 the raiders had on their person was returned to Vermont.

The leader of the raid, Bennett H. Young, was excluded from President Andrew Johnson’s amnesty proclamation. He would not return home until 1868. He spent time studying in Ireland and Scotland. After returning home, he became a prominent attorney in Louisville, Kentucky. His philanthropic works were legion. Young founded the first orphanage for blacks in Louisville, a school for the blind, and did much pro bono work for the poor. He also worked as a railroad officer, author, and National Commander of the United Confederate Veterans.