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[194] information furnished by soldier scouts served as a check upon untrustworthy civilians — sometimes employed as spies by both sides — and enabled the Union commanders to substantiate valuable information secured from prisoners, newspapers, and former slaves. As in a great many other things, the Confederate cavalry excelled in the use of trained officers as scouts — officers' patrols, as they are called nowadays — men whose opinion of what they observed was worth something to their commanders; while the Federal leaders were very slow to appreciate that false or faulty military information, in that it is misleading, is worse than no information at all.

In many cases loyal inhabitants of the border States were utilized as scouts, men who knew each trail and by-path, and who were more or less familiar with Confederate sentiment in their own and adjoining counties. These men were placed in a most uncomfortable position, suspected by their friends and neighbors at home, and looked upon with suspicion by their military employers. Their service to their country was oftentimes heroic, and they frequently laid down their lives in her cause.

General Sheridan was one of the first of the Union commanders who appreciated, at its true value, the importance of the information service — a part of headquarters which should be systematically organized and disciplined, and whose reports as to topography and the location of the foe could be absolutely relied upon. Indeed, this was one of the secrets of Sheridan's almost uniform success. He was always well informed as to his opponent's movements, strength, and probable intentions.

After Sheridan's engagements in the Shenandoah valley at Clifton and Berryville, he decided to dispense almost entirely with the use of civilians and alleged Confederate deserters, and to depend entirely on Union scouts. For this purpose he organized a scout battalion recruited entirely from soldiers who volunteered for this dangerous duty. These troopers were disguised in the Confederate uniform when necessary, and were paid from secret-service funds.

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