Importance of intelligence, by Al Fowler

Assignment:  10 Minute presentation:  Civil War Deceptions and Espionage: Describe an example of a military, Feint (maneuver, weapon, sound etc.) or spy activity.

Note:  Photographs added by Webmaster.

Except for movies, books or television, I am not a fan of espionage or spying.  For me it is a zero sum game.  Nevertheless, the game has always been played and, not withstanding the foregoing, it would be fun to meet Rose O’Neill Greenhow and her southern Belles on the road to Richmond.

Battle of Gettysburg. United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g02088

When I was a soldier and closer to retirement than leading a platoon I was privy to national level intelligence.  Most of it was an intelligent conclusion of the world’s news – a picture, if you will, to insert your own specialized conclusions.  My worm’s eye view was in the field of army vehicle capabilities – new and foreseen or even glimpsed by someone.

Then, there was the Organization for Battle of the potential enemy.  This ORBAT can be really tricky because generals have a habit of changing the ORBAT in a seemingly whimsical fashion.  And, they NEVER publish. To wit: – General Lee.

It can help, however, if you know the person commanding the organization.  Your general may know that commander, or someone in the organization may and one can therefore get a handle on his personality.  For example, Lee knew Hooker well and knew of Mead.

Further, there is the ‘leak’, usually from an ally or a “friend”.  Detailed information is received/ obtained.  The U.S. Civil War is known for the cross border movement of information in all matters – trade continued – cotton for food – newspapers not censored.  In fact, the Washington Post announced the Gettysburg battle four days before it occurred!  And, of course, there is military (cavalry) reconnaissance, which was the General’s eyes and ears for obtaining a glimpse of the other side of the hill. With all this information the situation can be confusing for a commander.  This is where the intelligence officer, if he is bright, can become really effective… if, he is listened to.  The Chief of Intelligence of the Army of the Potomac – Col. George Sharpe was such a man.

He concluded, less than 48 hours after the Army of Virginia began to readjust in preparation for the move North towards Pennsylvania that Lee was on the march.  He immediately told General Hooker.  Hooker, who, not being overly bright, ignored Col. Sharpe and did nothing for four days until it was blatantly obvious that Lee had decamped and was on the march North.

Joseph Hooker; Mathew B Brady Collection of Civil War Photographs. This is a Fold3 Photograph.

Although the Union Calvary was now in good shape, Hooker did not employ them well.  When the Union cavalry was deployed,  Lee’s cavalry,  under JEB Stuart was able to protect and screen Lee’s main body for the first stage of the march. Then Lee ordered Stuart to cross behind the Union Army to harass them.  Stuart then took off for his tour of the outskirts of Washington, Baltimore and Harrisburg.  Lee did not use the remaining cavalry well and was effectively blind until Stuart’s return for the last day of the major battle.

Once Meade was given command of the Army of the Potomac, his cavalry was properly deployed to protect his army on the final march to the Gettysburg area.  Meade was therefore aware of the general movement of Lee and his formations and properly arranged his forces to ensure the main fighting formations were within two to three hours from each other.

Lee, effectively blind, did not receive such information.  However, he did receive some from a spy sent by Longstreet to Washington.  The information was that Meade had taken command and was moving.  Lee, immediately ordered his army to concentrate between Heidlersburg and Chambersburg  and then moved his forces to the area of Cashtown and Gettysburg (PA).

The first clash of the armies took place four miles northwest of Gettysburg. The point unit for the confederates was an infantry brigade and they met Buford’s 1stCavalry Brigade.  The Confederates initially thought the Union soldiers were militia. They weren’t.  The Union soldiers had been there for at least 12 hours. The subsequent battle was a classic meeting engagement. When the follow-on troops on both sides arrived, they were thrown into the fray. The battle location was fixed.  The armies concentrated.

Portrait of General John Buford from the Civil War Forum Photographs.

This little story shows the results of a lack of perspicuity and/or the lack of effective reconnaissance on the forthcoming battle.  This event was not the first nor was it the last. Two later examples have been the German Intelligence in WWII and the US Force in Mogadishu, Somalia.  The situation will happen again.