The War's Most Dangerous Combatant
The need for internal security was no different in the North as it was in the South. To engage in successful operations, secretiveness needed to be maintained and the punishment for any breach required drastic measures. Although, both sides employed many countless names in the work of espionage, neither side would tolerate it. Collection and delivery of state department and military secrets to one's enemy was a deadly game. The spy's employer had everything to gain with the information while the messenger had everything to lose.
The Civil War spy, as in every other war, operates under false pretenses and who secretly walks among his enemy gathering useful information and conveying it across lines to be used against them. The war's most dangerous and despised combatant, it required a special individual with cool nerves and an uncanny talent for blending in and slipping out.
In accordance with the written rules of war at that time, there was to be made no distinction when it came to origin of sex, yet despite the charges brought against women carrying the message, there was lenient cases within the Federal Government both with Mrs. Rose O'Neal Greenhow, and Miss Belle Boyd, twice captured during the tenure of the war.
In similar cases, the Confederate Government had stuck to their guns when charges were preferred against Mr. Spencer Kellogg Brown captured for espionage in Georgia. A native Kansan, his information was known to be carried and entrusted to General Grant. Brought to trial in Richmond, Virginia, he was convicted and sentenced to hang. His life as a spy was short lived having been executed in the early fall of 1863.
Another case, just prior to the invasion of Pennsylvania, the federal government had been tipped off on a ring of Richmond spies operating within Washington City, under Captain G. W. Alexander, provost marshal, commanding Castle Thunder. Collecting plans on the defensive works surrounding, he and his counterparts had been expected to make an escape across the upper Potomac River at Point of Rocks, Maryland. Despite the government's best efforts, no one could trophy his capture.
A federal operative in South Carolina during the American Civil War, Harriet Tubman likewise assisting black slaves north, while large sums of money were offered for her capture by the southern authorities, she eluded them, and to her credit assisted hundreds of black slaves north via the Underground Railroad.
Despite the encouragement of civilized warfare, playing two ends against the middle was a dangerous prospect. No other job would require such perfectionism to be found within a human being. Success was measured by the ignorance of prying eyes. Yet, one slip on the job resulted in your capture; the second would be through the trap door of a military executioner.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at firstname.lastname@example.org