The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War

The Secret War for the Union: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War

by Edwin C. Fishel
     
 

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Most histories of the Civil War have largely ignored the issue of military intelligence. At the end of the war, most of the intelligence records disappeared, remaining hidden for over a century. This is the first book to examine the impact of intelligence on the Civil War, providing a new perspective on this period in history.  See more details below

Overview

Most histories of the Civil War have largely ignored the issue of military intelligence. At the end of the war, most of the intelligence records disappeared, remaining hidden for over a century. This is the first book to examine the impact of intelligence on the Civil War, providing a new perspective on this period in history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The former chief intelligence reporter for the National Security Agency brings his professional expertise to bear in this detailed analysis, which makes a notable contribution to Civil War literature as the first major study to present the war's campaigns from an intelligence perspective. Focusing on intelligence work in the eastern theater, 1861-1863, Fishel plays down the role of individual agents like James Longstreet's famous "scout," Henry Harrison, concentrating instead on the increasingly sophisticated development of intelligence systems by both sides. Fishel treats intelligence as a continuum, one that in the Civil War included cavalry reconnaissance and the systematic interrogation of prisoners and deserters, as well as the use of local sympathizers to observe and report on enemy forces. Above all, he shows, intelligence required record-keeping, the compilation and cross-checking of fragments of information furnished by a broad variety of sources. Here, the bureaucratized Union army had an advantage over its more casual Confederate counterpart. But if the South was inferior in the collection and interpretation of intelligence, it possessed in Lee a commander gifted in applying the information he did possess. The result, as Fishel shows in this expertly written, organized and researched work, was a rough balance of forces in the intelligence war, a balance that contributed to the bloody, head-down fighting as both sides sought to gain on the battlefield an advantage unobtainable in the war's more subtle areas.
Library Journal
At the start of the Civil War, neither the Union nor the Confederate armies had any formal military intelligence-gathering activities. Fishel, an intelligence officer for over 30 years at the National Security Agency, studies the different ways that the Army of Virginia and the Army of the Potomac looked for information about each other before every battle. He begins with the first Battle at Bull Run and takes the reader through the Battle of Gettysburg. The South depended almost entirely on cavalry, while the North utilized spies, aerial observation, captured soldiers, the Pinkerton Group, and Union sympathizers living in the South. The author takes each battle in succession and describes the military information available to each army, how it was obtained, how it was utilized, and how it affected the outcome of the battle. In the epilog he summarizes the remainder of the battles fought in Virginia but not in the same detail as the earlier battles. Very detailed and well written, this book gives an excellent overview of the use of military intelligence in the Civil War. Recommended for all Civil War collections. W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston
Gilbert Taylor
Fishel has filled what must be one of the few remaining niches for original, significant Civil War scholarship. His achievement rectifies what historian Stephen Sears describes in the foreword as a "sad array" of titles about the intelligence aspects of the war, sad because they rely on adventure-story memoirs of spies and detectives rather than on the only thing that matters about intelligence: what commanders decided to do with it. Fishel delves into the myriad sources of information about the enemy that a general would, or should, collect and interpret. His story principally covers the annals of the Army of the Potomac from First Bull Run to Gettysburg. As buffs have memorized, not just bad but imaginary intelligence of huge Confederate numbers induced McClellan's caution, and Fishel analyzes how the general and detective Pinkerton inflated estimates. From those ad hoc and error-prone beginnings, the spy service became more systematic under Hooker, punctuated by one agent's intrepid reconnaissance behind Lee's lines, on the strength of which Hooker initiated the Chancellorsville campaign. Though a careful assembly of minutiae, Fishel's account never sinks beneath the mass of facts; his insistence on appraising how intelligence caused action or idling will surely capture the legions of buffs--and dent complacent beliefs that the Civil War's military campaigns hold no room for new interpretations. An impressive landmark.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780544388130
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
07/01/2014
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
760
Sales rank:
1,064,064
File size:
19 MB
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This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Edwin C. Fishel began thirty years of service during World War II, working first as a chief intelligence reporter in the National Security Agency and later as the director of the National Cryptologic School Press. He lives in Arlington, Virgina.

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