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Spies Like Us


Espionage During the Civil War

In the 1860s during the war between the states just how many spies were traveling back and forth across the lines. And just how did they accomplish this?

In my time travel romance work-in-progress, my heroine travels back in time into her past life. It seems she was a spy for the Yankees, who posed as a laundress in a Confederate camp to obtain information.

According to The Everything Civil War Book by Donald Vaughan, “Both sides had more than their share of spies–many of whom became both famous and infamous–as well as unique espionage technology.”

Female spies like Belle Boyd, who spied for the Confederacy, used their feminine wiles to obtain information for their side and sometimes fell in love with their informants.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a member of Washington society. She sent coded messages to Confederate military leaders on Union plans that were transported by women on horseback.

A spy’s job was to learn battle plans, number of forces, and other useful information.
Spies disguised themselves as soldiers for the other side, clergymen, war correspondents and photographers. Men disguised themselves as women, women dressed up as men and both sexes blackened their faces to pose as freed slaves or contraband. Free Negroes also served as spies for the Federal government. Spies also posed as farmers, local civilians, refugees and camp followers.
In More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison, there is an account of a Federal soldier who disguised . . . “himself as an organ grinder to go into Baltimore daily to gather information for Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler.” Another Federal officer disguised himself as a Texas Ranger in order to pass through Confederate outposts.
If caught these spies faced lengthy sentences or execution. Belle Boyd was arrested six times. The first time she was placed in a Washington jail. After four weeks of incarceration she was released in a prisoner exchange only to be sent to prison the following year, this time for five months.

With such risks, why did they do it? Most were just loyal to their respective side’s cause. But those living in enemy territory, if discovered, were thoroughly ostracized. In The Everything Civil War Book , Federal spy and Richmond citizen, Elizabeth Van Lew, who loathed slavery, was quoted as saying after the war ended, “No one will walk with us in the street. No one will go with us anywhere, and it grows worse and worse as the years roll on.”

Sources: The Everything Civil War Book by Donald Vaughan, 2000, F & W Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-58062-366-2

More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison, 1995, Rutledge Hill Press ISBN 1-55853-366-4

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1 Comment

  1. NicoleMcCaffrey says:

    Susan — I just love reading your blogs –you’ve reawakened my passion for this era. Keep ’em coming!

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