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The Federal Secret service

George H. Casamajor
There was one fact that became evident with startling emphasis to the American people the moment secession was established, and this was that it was not political ties alone that had held the Union together. Financial, commercial, and domestic bonds had, in seventy years, so stretched from North to South that to divide and disrupt the social organism was a much more difficult feat to accomplish than mere political separation upon a point of Constitutional interpretation. An unparalleled state of public confusion developed in the early months of 1861, which was all the worse because there was little or no uncertainty in the individual mind. Probably every citizen of the country capable of reason had reached conviction upon the points at issue.

Not only the Government at Washington but the whole world was astounded that the new Confederacy could bring at once into the field a military force superior in numbers to the standing army of the United States. Every department at the capital was disorganized by the defection of employees whose opinions and ties bound them to the cause of the South. Legislators in both houses, cabinet officers, and judges volunteered their services in the making of the new nation. Ministers and consuls hastened from foreign countries to enter its councils or fight for its existence. Army and navy officers left their posts and resigned their commissions for commands under another standard. The Episcopal bishop of Louisiana exchanged the surplice for the uniform and rode at the head of an army corps.

Opinion was positive, but it did not separate along [267]

Scouts and guides in the army of the Potomac The individuals in the group were attached to the secret-service department of the Army of the Potomac when it was directed by Allan Pinkerton. Many of these men who were gathered for service on the Peninsula were known as Pamunkey Indians, relics of a small Virginia tribe which had intermarried considerably with the Negroes. They were very loyal to the Union, and their services were invaluable to McClellan during the spring and summer of 1862. After Pinkerton left the army, the whole secret-service department was reorganized by Colonel Sharpe, and he drew more largely from the ranks for the composition of his force. Whenever these men were captured they were hanged as spies.

[268] geographic lines. Thousands in the North believed sincerely in the justice of the Southern cause. Business men dealing largely with the South realized that hostilities would reduce them to poverty. Northern men established in Southern territory, solicitous for their fortunes and their families, found that an oath of allegiance would mean the confiscation of their property and the ruin of their hopes. Political combinations and secret societies in the most loyal parts of the Union were aiding the new Government to establish itself on a firm basis. Individuals, for reasons more or less advantageous to themselves, were supplying men, money, materials of war, and supplies to the Confederacy.

This review of existing conditions is necessary to understand the full scope of the Secret Service which was necessary in order that the Federal Government might comprehend and grapple with the situation. Congress had not anticipated the emergency and made no provisions for it, but the Constitution gives the President extraordinary powers to suppress insurrection, and these were employed at once and with energy. Most important was the organization of that branch of the military service whose function it is to obtain information as to the adversary's resources and plans, and to prevent like news from reaching the opponents. But the work of fighting was only a portion of the task. All communication between the North and South was carefully watched. The statutes of the post-office were arbitrarily changed and its sacredness violated, in order to prevent its use as a means of conveying information. Passengers to and from foreign countries were subjected to new passport regulations. A trade blockade was instituted. The writ of habeas corpus was suspended in many places, and all persons who were believed to be aiding the South in any way were arrested by special civil and military agents and placed in military custody for examination. Most of this, it will be evident, had to be accomplished by means of detection known as ‘Secret Service.’ [269]

In the heart of the hostile country—May, 1862 As the secret-service men sit at Follen's house, near Cumberland Landing, all is ready for the advance to the Chickahominy and to Richmond. The scouts and guides are aware that there is hard and dangerous work before them. Their skilful leader, whom they know as Major Allen, sits apart from the group at the table, smoking his pipe and thinking hard. He must send his men into the Confederate lines to find out how strong is the opposing army. Probably some of them will never come back. The men were new to the work, and had not yet learned to approximate the numbers of large masses of troops. Thus it happened that Pinkerton greatly overestimated the size of the Army of Northern Virginia, and McClellan acted as if dealing with an overwhelming opponent. Had he discovered that he greatly outnumbered the Confederates, the war in the East might have been ended by the 1st of July, 1862.


The Federal Government was, in the beginning, lacking in any organized Secret Service. The Department of State, the Department of War, and the Department of the Navy each took a hand in early attempts to define the line between loyalty and disloyalty to the Union cause, but upon that of State fell the greater share of the effort. Secretary Seward engaged a force of detectives, and sent them to Canada and frontier places to intercept all communication between the British dominion and the South. He assigned other secret agents to the specific task of stopping the sale of shoes for the Confederate army. The police chiefs of Northern cities were requested to trail and arrest suspected persons. No newspaper editorial that might be construed as containing sentiments disloyal to the Union appeared in print but some one sent a copy to Washington, and, if necessary, the offending journal was suppressed.

The police commissioners of Baltimore were arrested, as was also a portion of the Maryland legislature. So active was the multifarious work of the Secret Service that the prisons at Forts Warren, Lafayette, and McHenry were soon overflowing with prisoners of state and war. Distracted wardens pleaded that there was no room for more, but it was not until the middle of February, 1862, that relief was afforded. By this time the Government felt that the extent of all forms of activity in the Southern cause within the existing Union were well understood and under control. The President was anxious to return to a more normal course of administration and issued an order for the release on parole of all political and state prisoners, except such detained as spies or otherwise inimicable to public safety. Henceforth, important arrests were made under the direction of the military authorities alone.

These, meanwhile, had not been idle, since detective work in regard to the plans and movements of the foe has always been one of the most important departments of warfare. The organization of the Federal military Secret Service involved no complicated machinery. In every military department the [271]

Allan Pinkerton and the Secret service.

The proximity of the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac to the National Capital, after the battle of Antietam, drew many visitors from Washington during the pleasant October days of 1862. Naturally they spent some time with Allan Pinkerton, whom they knew as Major Allen, for he had come to be a prominent figure in the city. There he made his headquarters, and could be found when not in the field with the commanding-general. In the Capital city there was much work to do of a kind for which Pinkerton was already famous. When he arrived from Chicago shortly after the first battle of Bull Run, he brought his entire force with him and began to investigate people suspected of assisting the Confederate cause by sending information secretly to Richmond and the Southern armies in the field. He made a number of important arrests, both in Washington and in Baltimore, acting under orders from Provost-Marshal Andrew Porter, as well as General McClellan and the heads of the Departments of State and War. Several of his most skilful operatives, both men and women, were constantly traveling between Richmond and Washington, bringing valuable information of the plans of President Davis and his advisers, military and civil.\

Pinkerton entertains visitors from Washington: detective work for the Federal administration/head>

Allan Pinkerton: a characteristic pose

[272] commander appointed a chief detective who gathered about him such a force of soldiers and civilians as he required to perform the work of espionage and investigation. These detectives were responsible to the heads of the military departments. Besides these the War Department employed special agents who reported directly to the secretary.

the imagination is apt to enwrap the character of the detective or spy in an atmosphere of mystery and excitement, against which these individuals are generally the first to protest. An aptitude for the work naturally implies an amount of fearlessness and daring which deadens the feeling of danger and affords real pleasure in situations involving great risk. We must picture the successful Secret-service agent as keenwitted, observant, resourceful, and possessing a small degree of fear, yet realizing the danger and consequences of detection.

his work, difficult as it is to describe precisely, lay, in general, along three lines. In the first place, all suspected persons must be found, their sentiments investigated and ascertained. The members of the Secret service obtained access to houses, clubs, and places of resort, sometimes in the guise of guests, sometimes as domestics, as the needs of the case seemed to warrant. As the well-known and time-honored shadow detectives, they tracked footsteps and noted every action. Agents, by one means or another, gained membership in hostile Secret societies and reported their meetings, by which means many plans of the Southern leaders were ascertained. The most dangerous service was naturally that of entering the Confederate ranks for information as to the nature and strength of defenses and numbers of troops. Constant vigilance was maintained for the detection of the Confederate spies, the interception of mail-carriers, and the discovery of contraband goods. All spies, ‘contrabands,’ deserters, refugees, and prisoners of War found in or brought into Federal territory were subjected to a searching examination and reports upon their testimony forwarded to the various authorities. [273]

MajorPauline Cushman, the Federal spy who barely escaped hanging Pauline Cushman was a clever actress, and her art fitted her well to play the part of a spy. Although a native of New Orleans, she spent much of her girlhood in the North, and was so devoted to the Union that she risked her life in its Secret service. The Federal Government employed her first in the hunt for Southern sympathizers and spies in Louisville, and the discovery of how they managed to convey information and supplies into the territory of the Confederacy. She performed the same work in Nashville. In May, 1863, as Rosecrans was getting ready to drive Bragg across the Tennessee River, Miss Cushman was sent into the Confederate lines to obtain information as to the strength and location of the Army of Tennessee. She was captured, tried by court-martial, and sentenced to be hanged. In the hasty evacuation of Shelbyville, in the last days of June, she was overlooked and managed to regain the Union lines. It was impossible to describe the joy of the soldiers when they found the brave spy, whom they had thought of as dead, once more in their midst. Her fame after this spread all over the land. The soldiers called her ‘Major’ and she wore the accouterments of that rank. Her accurate knowledge of the roads of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi was of great value to the commander of the Army of the Cumberland.


as the conflict progressed the activities of the baser elements of society placed further burdens upon the Secret service. Smuggling, horse-stealing, and an illicit trade in liquor with the Army were only the lesser of the many crimes that inevitably arise from a state of war. Government employees and contractors conspired to perpetrate frauds. The practice of bounty-jumping assumed alarming proportions. Soldiers' discharges were forged and large sums collected upon them. Corrupt political organizations attempted to tamper with the soldiers' vote. The suppression of all this was added to the already heavy labors of the Secret agents.

there were, from the very beginning, several strongly concentrated centers of suspicion, and of these probably the most important and dangerous was located within the higher social circles of the city of Washington itself. In the spring of 1861, the capital was filled with people suspected of supplying information to the Confederate authorities. These Southern men and women did not forget the cause which their friends and families in the home-land were preparing valiantly to defend. Aristocratic people still opened their doors to those high in office, and who could tell what fatal secrets might be dropped by the guests, or inadvertently imparted, to be sent to the leaders of the South? nor were the activities confined entirely to homes. At office doors in the department buildings the Secret agents watched and waited to learn some scrap of information; military maps and plans were often missing after the exit of some visitor.

such vital information as this was constantly sent across the Potomac: ‘in a day or two, twelve hundred cavalry supported by four batteries of artillery will cross the River above to get behind Manassas and cut off railroad and other communications with our Army whilst an attack is made in front. For God's sake heed this. It is positive.’ and again: ‘today I have it in my power to say that Kelley is to advance on Winchester. Stone and Banks are to cross and go to [275]

Guerrilla and scout—‘Tinker Dave’ Beatty with Dr. Hale General Crook, writing to General James A. Garfield, chief of staff, Army of the Cumberland, in march, 1863, asked, ‘who is “Tinker Dave” Beatty?’ one would like to learn what Crook had heard about the Tinker. There is no record that Garfield ever replied to the question, and perhaps he, too, knew very little of this famous character. David Beatty was the leader of an irregular band of guerrillas working in the Federal cause throughout middle Tennessee. The Confederate officers, to whom they gave constant trouble, refer to them as ‘bushwhackers’ and ‘tories.’ especially annoying were Beatty and his men to Captain John M. Hughs, commanding a small detachment from Bragg's Army. Hughs attempted to stop Beatty's marauding expeditions. On September 8, 1863, he attacked Beatty, killing eight of his men and putting the rest to rout. Again on February 14, 1864, Hughs fell upon Beatty, who this time had a band of about one hundred. The Confederate troops killed seventeen and captured two of the band, and the remainder disappeared. Beatty continued his irregular activities from time to time. He often worked in connection with Dr. Jonathan P. Hale, who was the chief of scouts of the Army of the Cumberland under Rosecrans and Thomas. Both leaders valued Hale's services highly. He kept special watch on Morgan, Forrest, and Wheeler when they were in his neighborhood, making constant reports as to their strength and location.

[276] Leesburg. Burnside's fleet is to engage the batteries on the Potomac, and McClellan and company will move on Centreville and Manassas next week. This information comes from one of McClellan's aides.’

in the Secret-service work at Washington the famous name of Allan Pinkerton is conspicuous, but it is not on the records, as during his entire connection with the War he was known as E. J. Allen, and some years elapsed before his identity was revealed. Pinkerton, a Scotchman by birth, had emigrated to the United States about twenty years before, and had met with considerable success in the conduct of a detective agency in Chicago. He was summoned to grapple with the difficult situation in Washington as early as April, 1861. he was willing to lay aside his important business and put his services at the disposal of the Government. But just here he found his efforts hampered by Department routine, and he soon left to become chief detective to General McClellan, then in charge of the Department of the Ohio.

when this Secret service was well established, Pinkerton went to Washington, shortly after the first battle of Bull Run. He immediately pressed his entire staff of both sexes into the work, but even that was insufficient for the demands upon it. Applications came in on all sides and not the least of the problems was the selection of new members.

Pinkerton was in daily contact with and made reports to the President, Secretary of War, the provostmarshal-gen-eral and the General-in-chief of the armies. But his connection with the military concerns of the Government was brief. In November, 1862, McClellan, to whom Pinkerton was sincerely attached, was removed. Indignant at this treatment, the detective refused to continue longer at Washington. He was, however, afterward employed in claim investigations, and at the close of the War returned to Chicago.

later on, when Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel George H. Sharpe was placed at the [277]

A locomotive that hanged eight men as spies in April, 1862, J. J. Andrews, a citizen of Kentucky and a spy in General Buell's employment, proposed seizing a locomotive on the Western and Atlantic Railroad at some point below Chattanooga, and running it back to that place, cutting telegraph wires and burning bridges on the way. General O. M. Mitchel authorized the plan and twenty-two men volunteered to carry it out. On the morning of April 12th, the train they were on stopped at Big Shanty station for breakfast. The bridge-burners (who were in citizens' clothes) detached the locomotive and three box-cars and started at full speed for Chattanooga, but after a run of about a hundred miles their fuel was exhausted and their pursuers were in sight. The whole party was captured. Andrews was condemned as a spy and hanged at Atlanta, July 7th. The others were confined at Chattanooga, Knoxville, and afterward at Atlanta, where seven were executed as spies. Of the fourteen survivors, eight escaped from prison; and of these, six eventually reached the Union lines. Six were removed to Richmond and confined in Castle Thunder until they were exchanged in 1863. the Confederates attempted to destroy the locomotive when they evacuated Atlanta.

[278] head of the Bureau of military information and supervised all its Secret-service work until the close of the war. He brought the Bureau to a state of great efficiency. Lieutenant H. B. Smith was chief detective of the middle Department, which comprised Maryland, Delaware, and part of Virginia. His headquarters was at Baltimore, one of the most fertile fields for the work of the Secret service. This city, of all that remained within the Union, was probably the most occupied in aiding and abetting the cause of the South.

Smith gathered about him a staff of about forty soldiers and civilians, and an immense amount of significant information as to the plans and movements of the citizens, some of them of great prominence, began to pour into the provostmarshal's office. Many schemes were frustrated and the offenders arrested. The numerous coves and bays of the Chesapeake offered secure harbors and secluded landing-places for contraband vessels. On one occasion, Smith and two of his assistants came upon a fleet of a dozen schooners riding at anchor in an isolated spot. The crews were unarmed and the three agents succeeded in capturing the entire lot of blockaderunners with their rich cargoes.

spies and mail-carriers were constantly apprehended and their activities interrupted. Deserters were pursued and brought to justice. In march, 1865, one Lewis Payne was arrested in Baltimore on a criminal charge. Smith believed the man to be a spy, but a searching examination failed to procure any definite evidence. The cautious detective, however, made him take the oath of allegiance, and recommended his release on condition that he would go to some point north of Philadelphia and remain there until the close of the war. A month later Payne committed the attack on William H. Seward and others at the secretary's Washington home.

during the presidential campaign of 1864, certain party powers at Albany were striving for the election. They sent their political agents to various voting-agencies of the New [279]

Colonel Sharpe getting ready for the last grand move-1864

in the spring of 1864, the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac was near Brandy Station, Virginia. One of the busiest spots is shown in this picture—the headquarters of Colonel Sharpe, deputy provost-marshal-general, who was organizing his scouts and secret-service men for the coming campaign. It is April, and although no one knows yet what the new General-in-chief purposes doing, he has announced his intention of making his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. Many scouting parties have been sent southward beyond the Rapidan, where the Army of Northern Virginia lies entrenched. Sutlers and their employees have been ordered to leave the Army. General Patrick, the provost-marshal-general, has recalled all permits granted citizens to remain within the lines; leaves of absence and furloughs have been revoked; Army-lists have been called for. The secret-service men around Colonel Sharpe's quarters know that they will soon be off on their many dangerous missions, as the eyes and ears of the moving Army.

Colonel Sharpe getting ready for the last grand move-1864

Colonel Sharpe getting ready for the last grand move-1864

[280] York troops with instructions to forge the officers' affidavits that accompanied the votes and turn in illegal ballots for their candidate. The keen eye of Smith detected an unknown abbreviation of the word ‘cavalry’ on one of the signatures, and this led to the exposure of the plot and the arrest of three of the corrupt agents. The detective also did much work in western Maryland and West Virginia in observing and locating the homes of Mosby's famous raiders who were a source of great trouble to the Federal army.

other missions often took Smith outside the boundaries of his Department. In the guise of a New York merchant he took into custody in Washington a Confederate agent who was endeavoring to dispose of bonds and scrip. Many visits to New York and Philadelphia were made in connection with bounty-jumping and other frauds, and he once arrested in New York an agent of the Confederacy who was assisting in the smuggling of a valuable consignment of tobacco. All this was combined with various and hazardous trips south of the Potomac, when necessary, in search of information concerning the strength and position of Confederate defenses and troops. It all denotes a life of ceaseless activity, but it is very typical of the secret agents' work during the Civil War.

in addition to the various detective forces in the field, the War Department had its special agents directly under the control of the President and the Secretary of War. These, too, were employed in the multiform duties previously outlined. One of the most noted of the special agents, Colonel Lafayette C. Baker, was a New Yorker by birth who had removed to California, but was in the East when the conflict opened. Le hastened to put his services at the command of the Union, and on account of his work on the Vigilance Committee in the stormy days of 1856, was engaged as a detective in the Department of State.

the authorities at Washington were most anxious to obtain information as to the Confederate force at Manassas. [281]

Later scouts and guides Army of the Potomac as the Federal Secret service developed under experience, a great change came over the personnel of its members. Less and less were civilians employed. Instead, capable scouts were drafted from the Army. Much had been learned through the excellent results obtained by the Confederate scouts, who were chiefly the daring cavalrymen of Ashby, Morgan, Wheeler, and Forrest. In this picture appears a group of scouts and guides headed by Lieutenant Robert Klein, Third Indiana cavalry, who spent some time with the Army of the Potomac. On the ground by his side is his young son. Many of the men here depicted were among the most noted of the Army's Secret-service men. Standing at the back are James Doughty, James Cammock, and Henry W. Dodd. On the ground are Dan Plue, W. J. Lee,—wood, Sanford Magee, and John W. Landegon. Seated at the left is John Irving, and on the right is Daniel Cole, seen again on page 289.

[282] five men had been sent to Richmond; of these two had been killed, and the others were thought to be prisoners. In July, 1861, Baker started for the Confederate capital. He was promptly arrested but managed to convince both General Beauregard and President Davis that he belonged in Tennessee. So cleverly was the part played that he was sent North as a Confederate agent, and before the end of three weeks was able to give General Scott a vast amount of valuable information regarding Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Richmond, together with the plans of the Confederate leaders. And the scheme for blockade-running on the Potomac. After that he reported on suspected persons in Baltimore, and was sent to Niagara Falls to watch and arrest the Southern agents there.

when in February, 1862, the Secret service came directly under the control of the War Department, Baker was employed as special agent. He was given a commission as colonel and organized the first District of Columbia cavalry, a regiment chiefly employed in the defense and regulation of the National capital, although it saw some service in the field.

Baker's concerns were chiefly with matters that had little to do with the active conduct of the War. He took charge of all abandoned Confederate property; le investigated the fraudulent practices of contractors; he assisted the Treasury Department in unearthing counterfeiters; he was the terror of the bounty-jumper, and probably did more than anyone else to suppress the activities of that vicious citizen. His last notable achievement in the Secret service was the pursuit and capture of the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

another valuable agent in the War Department was William P. Wood, superintendent of the old Capitol Prison, at Washington. In pursuit of his duties Mr. Wood was in daily contact with the most important of the military prisoners who fell into the clutches of the Federal Government. He lost no opportunity of gaining any sort of information in regard to the workings of the Confederacy and the plans of its armies, [283]

Secret-service headquarters in the last months of the War

during the winter of 1864-65, General Grant had his headquarters at City Point, Virginia, and the building occupied by the Secret-service men is shown here, as well as a group of scouts who are as idle as the two armies in the Petersburg trenches. But a few weeks' work in the opening spring, as Grant maneuvers to starve Lee out of Petersburg, and the scouts' duties will be over. Sheridan will come, too, from the Shenandoah with his cavalry scouts, the finest body of information seekers developed by the War. General Grant was in a constant state of uneasiness during the winter, fearing that Lee would leave his strong lines around Petersburg and unite with Johnston. Consequently he depended on his Secret-service men to keep him informed as to any signs of movement on the part of Lee.

Secret-service headquarters in the last months of the War

Secret-service headquarters in the last months of the War

[284] and his reports to the Secretary were looked upon as among the most helpful that reached the department.

The maintenance of the Secret Service was a large item in the conduct of the war. The expenses of the provost-marshal's office at Washington alone, covering a period of nearly three years, were nearly $175,000 for detective service and incidental expense. This, of course, was only a small portion of the total outlay.

In dealing with the Secret Service the words ‘spies’ and ‘scouts’ are constantly used. A clear and definite distinction between the two is indeed difficult to make. By far the greater number of persons described as spies in an account of the war would be classed as scouts by a military man. To such a one the word ‘spy’ would most often mean a person who was located permanently within the lines or territory of the opponent and applied himself to the collection of all information that would be valuable to his military chief. The latter communicated with his spies by means of his scouts, who took messages to and fro. The real spies seldom came out. Scouts were organized under a chief who directed their movements. Their duties were various—bearing despatches, locating the foe, and getting precise information about roads, bridges, and fords that would facilitate the march of the army. Thus many opportunities for genuine spy work came to the scout and hence the confusion in the use of the terms, which is increased by the fact that an arrested scout is usually referred to as a spy.

The use and number of Federal spies were greatly increased as the war went on and in the last year the system reached a high degree of efficiency, with spies constantly at work in all the Confederate armies and in all the cities of the South. In the very anonymity of these men lay a large part of their usefulness. The names of a few, who occupied high places or met with tragic ends, have been rescued from obscurity. Those of the remainder are not to be found on any rolls of honor. They remain among the unknown heroes of history.

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