- Jan 29, 2019
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:
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
Last edited by a moderator: