Grant and Intelligence in the Civil War

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Northern Light

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I found this interesting video of Grant's use of Intelligence agents throughout the War. Has any one read Dr. Feis' book?
 
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Canadian

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I found this interesting video of Grant's use of Intelligence agents throughout the War. Has any one read Dr. Feis' book?
Fascinating! Thanks.
 

Canadian

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You are welcome! I was especially interested in how the BMI "lost" Early for so long.
Yes. I’m not aware of Grant writing anything about this network but it makes sense that it would have been crucial. What tremendous courage it would have taken to be a Southern Unionist spy.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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I also have Feis' book and yes, it's pretty good. It's not as thorough as Fishel's Secret War for the Union, but that one is strictly about the Eastern theater.

I think there may be more there to dig for in terms of Grant's intel. As Warren Grabau notes in his Ninety-Eight Days (IIRC), it rather surpasses belief that Grant made so many of his moves in the Vicksburg campaign without good intel, and it appears that Grant/his organization deliberately muddied the records to protect what may have been a fairly substantial informant network... some of the info attributed to "a helpful contraband" may in fact have been provided by local citizens of hidden pro-Union sentiment, it seems likely.

( I definitely enjoy that both Fishel and Feis discuss 'real' military intelligence as we would understand it today, rather than trotting out the oft-told/overtold tales of Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow...)
 
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Saphroneth

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I wonder if there's a comparison to be made between Grant's intel network and Wellington's one on the Peninsula - his "correspondents", specifically. Wellington had to manage that one himself, of course.
 

wausaubob

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I also have Feis' book and yes, it's pretty good. It's not as thorough as Fishel's Secret War for the Union, but that one is strictly about the Eastern theater.

I think there may be more there to dig for in terms of Grant's intel. As Warren Grabau notes in his Ninety-Eight Days (IIRC), it rather surpasses belief that Grant made so many of his moves in the Vicksburg campaign without good intel, and it appears that Grant/his organization deliberately muddied the records to protect what may have been a fairly substantial informant network... some of the info attributed to "a helpful contraband" may in fact have been provided by local citizens of hidden pro-Union sentiment, it seems likely.

( I definitely enjoy that both Fishel and Feis discuss 'real' military intelligence as we would understand it today, rather than trotting out the oft-told/overtold tales of Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow...)
The questions left to be wondered about was how many Jewish people who were abused by US soldiers after Special Order 11, went south as information collectors. Railroad information was especially valuable to Grant. How many railroad managers were secret informants fpr the US? Cotton came out of the south, and money and food went in. How much information came out with the cotton?
Sheridan was known to run units of young soldiers who were often, "out of uniform" while in enemy territory. How many other US generals allowed that practice?
From a historical perspective, three types of intelligence operators are interesting.
Railroad men were connected across the front lines. They had an immense amount of knowledge about how the Confederate economy was surviving.
Commercial travellers, especially cotton buyers, were obvious suspects, from both sides.
Naval officers collected significant information about forts and vessels under construction. The US was rarely caught off guard by Confederate ironclads. They missed by a day in one instance, but with respect to New Orleans, celerity got the navy by the twin forts before the Confederate ironclads were operational.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Thanks for adding this @Northern Light . I'm sure it will be interesting.

Sheridan was known to run units of young soldiers who were often, "out of uniform" while in enemy territory. How many other US generals allowed that practice?
Pretty sure under the laws of war at the time, these young men would have been subject to summary execution if caught. Being out of uniform would not entitle them to 'quarter'. So, they certainly went in at great risk to themselves in this situation.

This is also interesting, pulled from an older thread, in relation to both this issue and a thread just added on Mosby:

Taken from Michael C.C. Adams book "Living Hell - The Dark Side of the Civil War":

"General Philip H. Sheridan, acting under Grant's authority carried out the most thorough ravaging of Virginia. He systematically destroyed mills, farms, livestock, and crops, driving the inhabitants into exposure and starvation...

As the Army of Northern Virginia fell back, yielding ground to the enemy and unable to protect the civilian population in occupied territory, the job of contesting the invaders fell to Partisan Rangers. Even though there were regularly enlisted troops, they provoked Federal ire, the high command categorizing them as guerillas because they only wore uniforms on raids, disguising themselves as noncombatants when pursued. Thus, they became subject to summary execution under the usages of war. Colonel John Singleton Mosby's rangers had the most impact in Virginia engendering Union fear and hatred; they therefore became the most hounded.

Grant ordered Sheridan to execute Mosby's men without trial, codifying a practice in use as early as April 1863, when one of General George Armstrong Custer's troopers, following a bushwhacking, swore: "We take no prisoners after this". Custer, who had Southern friends at West Point, nevertheless became vicious in hunting down and killing raiders, even in front of their families, perhaps an example of psychotic fury. In an inevitable escalation, Lee announced in November 1864: "I have directed Colonel Mosby to hang an equal number of Custer's men in retaliation for those executed by him." Still, some of this mutual savagery may have been avoided. In a recent study, Daniel E. Sutherland argues that partisan and guerrilla warfare became extremely vicious partly because the top authorities on both sides failed to fully integrate unconventional forces into their military establishments. Without clear guidelines defining their role, troops on both sides in the shadow war became increasingly independent, ungovernable, and ruthless".


I accept there is a difference between 'raiders' and 'spies', and I'm not sure exactly what Sheridan's men were doing, but I'm going to guess there was not a lot of difference in the way they were treated.
 

Saphroneth

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Pretty sure under the laws of war at the time, these young men would have been subject to summary execution if caught. Being out of uniform would not entitle them to 'quarter'. So, they certainly went in at great risk to themselves in this situation.
An interesting comparison here is the Exploring Officers in the British Army (specifically on the Peninsula) who were very expensively mounted on superb horses and whose job was to ride around in uniform - including behind enemy lines - doing scouting.
Since they were so well mounted they could effectively escape from any attempt to detain them, so after a while the French stopped even bothering to try (probably aided by how the exploring officers didn't actually fight).

Since they were in uniform they weren't liable to being considered spies. Indeed, one (Colquhoun Grant) gave his parole when captured, and kept it until he discovered he was being sent to Paris for interrogation (which wasn't the sort of thing one did to an officer) upon which point he escaped.
 

wausaubob

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Sheridan's intelligence operatives who wore Confederate uniforms, to the best of my recollection, were collecting information. They wanted information mainly about troop strength. This is one of those subjects as to which Sheridan and Grant deliberately left as few records as possible.
 
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Sheridan's intelligence operatives who wore Confederate uniforms, to the best of my recollection, were collecting information
Thanks @wausaubob for clarifying. Wearing Confederate uniforms also puts them in the category of being given 'no quarter' according to the Lieber code. I didn't assume they were 'raiders', but I also didn't assume they went in as Confederates! They could have gone in as ordinary citizens. Spying is a fascinating game and I'm going to watch the video now so I can find out what it was all about under Grant.
 

Cavalry Charger

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after a while the French stopped even bothering to try (probably aided by how the exploring officers didn't actually fight).
:laugh:

Since they were in uniform they weren't liable to being considered spies.
Yes, I think this is what I was getting at in my post.

Indeed, one (Colquhoun Grant) gave his parole when captured, and kept it until he discovered he was being sent to Paris for interrogation (which wasn't the sort of thing one did to an officer) upon which point he escaped.
Probably timely under the circumstances!

Interesting the expectations built around these things, too. As an officer, he didn't expect to be interrogated at that time.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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Well, I got to the end of this (apart from questions) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I took quite a lot out of it, and there is quite a lot to take.

I'll begin with the end quote before I get to the rest:

"The shadows move, but the dark is never quite dispersed"- Archeologist Howard Carter

As the speaker says: "Fortunately, for the Union, Ulysses S. Grant was not afraid of the dark."
 

Cavalry Charger

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Interestingly, the speaker says that the area of 'intelligence' was an instinctive one for Grant.

It didn't serve him well at Shiloh, which is where it appears he learnt his first big lesson. In fact, the speaker calls it the 'mother of all intelligence failures'! At this point Grant is feeling confident, believes Confederate morale is at a low and thinks they will entrench in Corinth ... basically waiting for him there. So he wasn't expecting an attack and, though he doesn't mention Sherman, it seems he had been lax in providing the intelligence needed. From what I've read, Grant accepted 'rumours' from the front which had little basis in fact, and thought at first the attack was just a cavalry skirmish. He was fortunate to win that battle, and ultimately did not blame Sherman for the lack of foresight.

But, he did learn a lesson. And he wasn't going to repeat the same mistake when it came to Vicksburg.
 

Saphroneth

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You could argue that he learned from Shiloh, though it's also worth remembering that Grant's central MS advance got skotched by the raid on Holly Springs - clearly something went wrong there - and Grant's cavalry recon in the Overland wasn't very good, because big chunks of the cavalry was off on a raid instead of doing the scouting-and-screening job.

It's interesting to wonder whether Grant learned the wrong lesson from Holly Springs, because he was one of the only ACW commanders compelled to retreat by a cavalry raid - perhaps it gave him an overinflated view of how good cavalry could be doing the raiding job.
 
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wausaubob

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Why did the Confederates come to Pittsburgh Landing where Grant had both gunboats and transports and Buell was about 1/2 day away?
It does not make any sense.
 

wausaubob

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The Holly Springs depot was adequately defended, but the commander there failed to heed reasonable warnings. The Confederate commander of the raid was Earl Van Dorn. Van Dorn may have learned a lesson, but it seems instead he served as an example. Because an alleged jealous husband shot him in Tennessee in the first week of May 1862. Also Straight seems to have led Forrest on a wild goose chase to Alabama, while Grierson conducted his own raiding from Memphis to Baton Rouge.
 
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