Major General George H. Sharpe and The Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War

Legion Para

Retired Moderator
Jul 12, 2015

Major General George H. Sharpe and The Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War

The vital role of the military all-source intelligence in the eastern theater of operations during the U.S. Civil War is told through the biography of its creator, George H. Sharpe. Renowned historian Peter Tsouras contends that this creation under Sharpe’s leadership was the combat multiplier that ultimately allowed the Union to be victorious.

Sharpe is celebrated as one of the most remarkable Americans of the 19th century. He built an intelligence organization (The Bureau of Military Information – BMI) from a standing start beginning in February 1863. He was the first man in military history to create a professional all-source intelligence operation, defined by the U.S. Army as “the intelligence products, organizations, and activities that incorporates all sources of information, in the production of intelligence.” By early 1863, in the two and half months before the Chancellorsville Campaign, Sharpe had conducted a breath-taking Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) effort. His reports identified every brigade and its location in Lee’s army, provided an accurate order-of-battle down to the regiment level and a complete analysis of the railroad. The eventual failure of the campaign was outside of the control of Sharpe, who had assembled a staff of 30-50 scouts and support personnel to run the military intelligence operation of the Army of the Potomac. He later supported Grant’s Armies Operating Against Richmond (AOAR) during the Siege of Petersburg, where the BMI played a fundamental role in the victory.

His career did not end in 1865. Sharpe crossed paths with almost everyone prominent in America after the Civil War. He became one of the most powerful Republican politicians in New York State, had close friendships with Presidents Grant and Arthur, and was a champion of African-American Civil rights.

With the discovery of the day-by-day journal of John C. Babcock, Sharpe’s civilian deputy and order-of-battle analyst in late 1963, and the unpublished Hooker papers, the military correspondence of Joseph Hooker during his time as a commander of the Army of the Potomac, Tsouras has discovered a unique window into the flow of intelligence reporting which gives a new perspective in the study of military operations in the U.S. Civil War.


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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
Love Babcock and Sharpe! We mainly hear of Pinkerton, whose career during the war may be notable but looks pretty tame compared to Sharpe's war. Not much focus on Sharpe and Gettysburg- he was around. Clipped this a few years ago.

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Unclear why it's addressed to McConaughy, unless he was some MI contact? First I've heard, his post battle activities have given me a not terrific impression of the guy- maybe there was more to him.

67th Tigers

2nd Lieutenant
Nov 10, 2006
Babcock was, of course, the main "villain" under Pinkerton. It was Babcock who was feeding in exaggerated troop counts to Pinkerton, and he continued to use the same methodology thereafter. Hence Pinkerton's extremely accurate counts of 1861-May '62 drifted north of the true number as Babcock added an extra regiments (37 by June '62) to his dossier.
Oct 17, 2018
on a volcano
"Military Intelligence" WHOHAHAHAHA!
Intelligence is really two things that are conflated. It is what you know, combined with what you can do with what you know.

For an extreme example, George III was the brightest monarch england ever had. He had intellectual interests all over 18th century england. He is chiefly remembered for his asinine policies in the American colonies.

We all know people who are dim, but make a successful life because they live within their means and don't do stupid, and then there is the unibomber, who had iq numbers off the chart, and didn't use it for anything and lived in a remote cabin with no running water.

To take an ACW example, we mad McClellan who had a huge army and didn't do anything with it, and Forrest, who had a small detail, and beat the pants off everybody who was twice the size.

So Intelligence in the war as in life it depends on how you use it, not with what you got

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