Discussion Raw Intelligence gathered and used during the Civil War from both Armies...

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I have noticed, while reading quite a few letters and diaries, as well as in some accounts of the OR, how common it was for both armies to use misinformation as well as the gathering of raw intelligence from numerous sources to help give them an advantage. Some of it being quite brilliant. The couriers were the easiest to target who always had critical messages and movement orders sent between Field Commanders of brigades, regiments and companies, as well as other pertinent information that could be used to an advantage.

Typically the courier lines out in the field, where an operator with a wire and box could not be set up, was established every 6 miles apart, as that would allow the couriers to move at a full gallop and pass off his critical communication to the next rider just as his horse was starting to tire. Then every 6 miles the communication would be passed to the next courier in line until the message was received. The last courier would wait until there was a response and take a fresh horse and start the whole process again. Sometimes the couriers would be captured out right with the messages confiscated and turned over to the intelligence officers to be used in strategizing battles and fights or setting ambuscades, other times false messages would be switched to mislead or confuse. Typically capturing the enemy`s couriers was performed by scouts. Individual scouts working alone, working in pairs, working in a small group or working as a whole company of 25 scouts.

Any time that a prisoner was taken, be it from the enemy`s infantry, cavalry, artillery, scouts, or couriers, both armies would immediately question him for useful information which may be used to an advantage. This includes stragglers and foragers whom were also captured. After being captured and turned over to the Provost Marshall and Provost guards, anything that they had on their persons, such as diaries, letters written but not yet sent and letters received from home would be read and analyzed for raw intelligence, to see if any of it could be useful. Some soldiers were very good about recording in their daily journals what they had recently did and sometimes what they were about to do. They would write home and keep their family members well abreast of their activities, so a journal or several letters would be quite informative. This may be a reason why more journals did not survive the war, as I am sure most were not returned to their proper owners but rather sent to HQ to be read by intelligence officers to glean what information could be gathered from them and either destroyed or sent some where else to be read and analyzed by some one else.

Typically as soon as a prisoner was captured, from either army, he would soon be interrogated and soon the captors would know who had attacked them, where they were encamped, who the field commanders were, if reinforcements were on the way, an estimate of total aggregate and effective force, the type of troops they were, the types of guns they had and how many and what their objective may be for the next few days. The scouts had an entirely different function from the typical cavalry trooper, almost like they played a special operations role during the Civil War.

Basically during the American Civil War the cavalry, first and foremost, protected and informed the infantry and the artillery. They were literally the eyes and the ears of the army on the move, with its field commanders heavily reliant on them to inform them of enemy positions, troop strength, enemy movements, guns, canons, reinforcements, etc... Without the cavalry the infantry and artillery were blind to these things and were made quite vulnerable to the enemy`s cavalry as well as the rest of that army. In addition to these duties the cavalry also escorted general officers and protected bridges, miles of railroad, trestles, depots, roads, approaches into a town, warehouses and could be used as a very effective mobile fighting force to turn the battle. It was in this area that the cavalry became most effective as the war continued on, more and more often they would be relied upon to be an effective mobile fighting force and that changed the face of the war.

The Scouts main duty fell into 5 distinct categories as follows:

First duty:

Secret service scouting for information. Generally two went together sometimes only one. The second man was sent to give assistance in case of one being wounded, and likewise, on occasions, to halt in charge of the horses, while the other made his reconnaissance on foot. These men were not expected to fight. The order was to get the information speedily and quietly as possible, and report to the commanding officer, avoiding all collisions.

Second duty:

Then there was an important and hazardous service in the seizure of the enemies couriers, and courier lines for information, and to interrupt their communications. This was effected by slipping in between commands and capturing or killing the couriers enroute for other posts of commands. Regarding the capture of couriers and courier-lines, the officer had to be wide awake. He had to worm in between commands, break up posts, kill sentinels, and seize couriers. To do this was difficult and dangerous. Several points had first to be mastered. 1st. The position of the enemy had to be exactly located. 2d. Whether they kept up communications by couriers. 3d. The different routes these couriers pursued, and whether they traveled by night or day; how often these couriers were sent; whether they were attended by a guard; and if so, what was its usual strength.

Third duty:

There was a service known as squad scouting, when 10 or 15 men, according to circumstances, were sent out under a lieutenant or some non-commissioned officer who could be relied upon to accomplish the object in view, if possible. With each scout of this kind, there was likewise usually an old, well-tried special scout, perfectly familiar with the ground, and who knew how to extricate the squad if entangled by unexpected outposts or other impediments. The "boys" on these occasions would say that the "officer in command went along to get them in a tight place, and the other went along to get them out of it." And it sometimes happened that when their leader had carried them into a dangerous position to gain important information, he would call on his trusty old scout to extricate them, and then for the emergency pass over to him the command. On such duty as this it was expected that every scouting party we fell in with should be promptly attacked, and our parties had frequent conflicts.

Fourth duty:

These expeditions however, were merely incidental and collateral, so to speak, to the main service which the scout personally engaged. This demanded generally the entire strength of the command, which was kept well in hand, and always in perfect fighting trim. The scouts program was to reconnoiter every position and every force moving or operating within range, and never to halt till they struck it. They moved very rapidly, and would often strike a large command on the front, flank and rear in less than 24 hours, and be able to report to the nearest brigade or division commander the strength of the enemy's cavalry, and infantry, supply wagons, ambulance's, artillery, the name of the enemy`s commanding officer, objective point, etc...

Fifth duty:

A less significant duty but important none-the-less to the numerous citizens who found themselves drawn into the War because of their general location. This duty was to warn the citizens of local towns and communities of pending danger if they were in the direct path of an approaching Army on the March. In addition to them going back through affected towns and communities after Sherman`s Army had gone through to assess the damage done and then report that to the General Officers and the Regiment Commanders.
 
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Below is a very interesting article which speaks about how telegraph lines could be compromised to steal messages sent through the wires between operators, who would then give the messages to the field commanders.

The Telegraph Operators:

From Somerset, Kentucky, on July 22, 1862, Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan telegraphed Union Brigadier General J.T. Boyle at Louisville: “Good morning, Jerry! This telegraph is a great institution. You should destroy it, as it keeps me too well posted. My friend Elsworth has all of your dispatches since July 10 on file. Do you wish copies?” Morgan’s “friend” was George A. Elsworth, his telegraph operator. While Morgan was slashing through Kentucky that July, Elsworth had been wreaking havoc with his unsuspecting Union counterparts on the wire.

Elsworth’s task was easy enough, but also risky. A year into the war, each side was doing its best to take advantage of the new technology, stringing thousands of miles of copper wire between military departments (often along railroad tracks) and temporary lines between army corps on the battlefield. The rush to extend the networks made guarding them difficult, and left openings for telegraph men (better known as operators) to intercept information and send misleading intelligence. At Knoxville, Tenn., for instance, Elsworth said he simply “took down the telegraph line and connected my pocket instrument [portable telegraph gear carried in a box the size of an eyeglass case] for the purpose of taking off all dispatches as they passed through.

Soldiers may not always have known what to make of these men, with their strange equipment and the buzzing wires that followed them. But the life of an operator was a thankless and often dangerous one. Allowed more freedom and flexibility in their work than most servicemen (telegraph men were occasionally known to edit messages), each operator had the added responsibility of understanding and keeping secret the cipher employed by his side. The Northern telegraph men were officially civilian employees of the Quartermaster Department working either for the Military Telegraph or the Signal Corps, while their Southern counterparts worked under the Confederacy’s Secret Service department. Neither side’s operators were accorded the recognition, pay or pensions of soldiers.

Lacking the equipment available to Yankee operators, Confederate telegraph men worked at a disadvantage. With the exception of the Beardslee magneto-electric telegraph instrument used by the Union Signal Corps in 1862-63, each side counted on heavy, battery-powered Morse telegraph instruments carried in wagons to send signals. Early in the war, U.S. Signal Corps Superintendent Alfred Myer perfected a signal train consisting of two wagons, five miles of wire and two telegraph instruments. Setting up in one position, operators would string lines from a contraption secured to a horse or mule several miles away to a second instrument. The wire often rambled through bushes or ran along the ground until operators could prop it up with pikes. Initially formed from exposed copper that was prone to snapping, wires were eventually insulated with rubber sheathing strong enough to occasionally trip up unwary soldiers.

Establishing communications at the front, getting messages off behind a retreat or venturing into strange territory to repair a line (often at night) left operators exposed to bullets, capture or worse. While ticking off play-by-play coverage of the Rebel ironclad Virginia’s March 8, 1862, rampage through Hampton Roads, for example, operator George Cowlam was forced to duck crashing shells and flying debris in his Newport News station. “There goes a shell through this shanty,” Cowlam reported at one point. “That one knocked my bunk away,” he added later. Rushing to repair a downed line on the Peninsula, Union operator J.D. Lathrop reportedly “trod on a buried torpedo, which exploded, tearing a leg almost off and otherwise injuring him.” Lathrop’s subsequent death added to a 10 percent casualty rate among telegraph men—a rate similar to that of the infantry.

Writing with perhaps understandable magniloquence, Colonel Anson Stager—the assistant quartermaster and superintendent of the U.S. Military Telegraph—summed up the state of the telegraph and the operators in mid-1863: “The public mind has but a faint conception of the magnitude of the uses of the army telegraph. Follow the army where [you] may, there also you will find the telegraph exercising its vigilance and its protection over the surrounding camps. At the foremost picket-posts, in the rifle-pits, and in the advance parallels, at any hour of the day or the night, you can listen to the mysterious yet intellectual click of the telegraph instrument.”

Originally published in the January 2007 issue of Civil War Times.

https://www.historynet.com/the-telegraph-operators.htm
 
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Cavalry Charger

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This includes stragglers and foragers whom were also captured. After being captured and turned over to the Provost Marshall and Provost guards, anything that they had on their persons, such as diaries, letters written but not yet sent and letters received from home would be read and analyzed for raw intelligence, to see if any of it could be useful.
The OP is extremely interesting and obviously well researched.

The quote above correlates with something I have written while not having direct knowledge of such things. I appreciate the confirmation.

I'm interested to know if an attempt was usually made to capture a courier or if it was an either/or scenario - as in either capture him or kill him - as long as they got the intelligence. I honestly didn't realize what a dangerous job couriers had when imagining them just as messengers. But, of course, they carried vital information and that was not an opportunity to be wasted.

These days there is much less need for physical couriers, but I'll be interested now the read the further post about telegraph lines.
 
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Cavalry Charger

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In addition to these duties the cavalry also escorted general officers and protected bridges, miles of railroad, trestles, depots, roads, approaches into a town, warehouses and could be used as a very effective mobile fighting force to turn the battle.
They were also sent out in force to destroy the same. And could find themselves caught up in battle in the process.
 
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They would first be sent on scout to ascertain if the opposing army was using the telegraph and operator as a means to communicate or courier lines. If it were the lines and operator then they would be sent up the poles with their device to listen in and capture the message as it was being sent in-between operators, and if it was a courier line they would take note of how many couriers made up the line and then choose the weakest positioned courier to capture and retrieve their messages.
 
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I agree, typically the operators were civilians who were kind of brought into the Confederate and Federal service since they were not there to physically fight. They would often accompany an officer (field commander) where ever he went and carry their equipment with them so that the army could communicate. Often times the operator would be expected to be available at all hours of the day and night to receive and send messages should something occur.
 
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One of the reports in the OR that I read about Grierson`s raid from Lagrange, through the length of Mississippi to Baton Rouge in the spring of 1863, was that after he crossed the Pearl River at Georgetown (just south of Crystal Springs) he went to Hazlehurst and captured the Telegraph line and operator and loosely tied him up so that he could escape. Then in front of him they sent a fake message, making him believe that Grierson was going to continue onto Port Gibson, near where Grant was staging his troops on the west side of the Mississippi and waiting to cross his army there, so that the operator would tell the confederate army, Wirt Adams in specific so that they would be looking for him going towards Port Gibson as opposed to continuing south to Brookhaven, Bogue Chitto and Summit which is where he was intending to go, and did go. However, soon enough after they left Hazlehurst they ventured out towards Union Church where Wirt Adams jumped on them and there was a big fight there for an hour or so, then Grierson broke out one of his guns and chased them off. A good example of using both the telegraph and the operator to use misinformation to gain an advantage.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Great thread, thank you! For some reason the hair raising duties of scouts don't get a lot of attention, no idea why and Pinkerton's the only discussion when it comes to M.I.. ( smitten by Sharpe myself ). LoC has a fair number of images tagged ' scouts ' that make you wish bios of their war went with them.

Had no clue about most of this- you do learn something new every day!
 
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Great thread, thank you! For some reason the hair raising duties of scouts don't get a lot of attention, no idea why and Pinkerton's the only discussion when it comes to M.I.. ( smitten by Sharpe myself ). LoC has a fair number of images tagged ' scouts ' that make you wish bios of their war went with them.

Had no clue about most of this- you do learn something new every day!
I agree, there will always be something new to learn about the ACW, or at the very least something new to consider when viewing it through different prisms. A different vantage point changes everything, which to me makes the ACW increasingly more interesting and rewarding to research. Regarding the scouts, some of the ones that first and foremost come to my mind are Harvey`s Scouts (Capt. Harvey Addison), Coleman`s Scouts (Captain Henry B. Shaw / Sam Davis / Dewitt S. Jobe) and Nelson`s Rangers (Capt. Thomas M. Nelson). All of whom led fantastic lives and had amazing stories and experiences during the ACW. Albeit typically a very short lived existence for many of them... But a short life full of danger, challenge and excitement.
 
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Concerning the war here in the west, in 1864-1865, while reading the O. R., I found some suspect examples of 'tardy' messages from certain posts, such as Johnsonville, Tennessee. The numbers aren't many, but the delay it seems was noticed after awhile, when important messages would arrive in an untimely fashion. With these operators open to bribe or ulterior influence, I had suspected a certain amount of infiltration within the system itself. I have found no definite proof of it yet.
Thanks for an informative thread.
Lubliner.
 
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major bill

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Did they use the term "intelligence" during the Civil War? From a modern view the term "intelligence" would not normally apply to the Civil War. What was done during the Civil War was gathering information. Note in post #1 the use of the term "information".

The modern military uses the word "intelligence" to describe information that has been properly processed in to "intelligence". So intelligence is information that went through a process that changed the information into intelligence, the term "raw intelligence" would probably not be used by modern Intelligence Officers. I am not sure how this worked during the Civil War, but I do most often see the term "information used.
 
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Spies, spreading misinformation, and gathering raw intelligence to be used to the detriment of the enemy have played a major part in every war that we have fought since we have been a Nation, going back to the Revolutionary War. The interesting thing that I find was that during the Civil War sending messages through the wire via the Telegraph Operator was a relatively new technology and it took no time to devise a way to cheat technology and compromise it.
 
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Did they use the term "intelligence" during the Civil War? From a modern view the term "intelligence" would not normally apply to the Civil War. What was done during the Civil War was gathering information. Note in post #1 the use of the term "information".

The modern military uses the word "intelligence" to describe information that has been properly processed in to "intelligence". So intelligence is information that went through a process that changed the information into intelligence, the term "raw intelligence" would probably not be used by modern Intelligence Officers. I am not sure how this worked during the Civil War, but I do most often see the term "information used.
The terms “spy” and “scout” were often used interchangeably during the Civil War regarding this type of activity.

major bill, below is an interesting PDF from the Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies which goes into great detail discussing the History of Spies, Scouts and Secret Service Agents during the Civil War, that may answer your question:

https://www.afio.com/publications/Glantz_Civil_War_Intel_in_AFIO_INTEL_WinterSpring2011.pdf

Among other things it speaks of The Confederacy’s signal corps which included a covert agency, the Secret Service Bureau. Scouts, cavalry and guerrilla units, such as Colonel John Mosby’s Partisan Rangers, discovered federal secrets through direct observation, capturing Union officers’ personal papers in baggage trains, and waylaying federal messengers.
 
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major bill

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I am not sure that the The Intelligencer Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies uses the same terminology as the Army. The appear to be a group of former Intelligence agency.
 
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OK.... major bill, I suppose that we could change the title to "Information gathered covertly and used during the Civil War by both Armies...", if that would be more appropriate? It is too late for me to do this as my time to edit it has expired, one of the Moderators or Forum Host`s would have to do it.
 
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