Scouts and Spies of the Civil War

By William Gilmore Beymer; Howard Pyle | Go to book overview

WILLIAM B. FEIS


Introduction

A scan of the bibliographies of books written about Civil War scouts and spies confirms that, though published nearly a century ago, William Gilmore Beymer's Scouts and Spies of the Civil War (formerly titled On Hazardous Service: Scouts and Spies of the North and South) continues to be an important resource on intelligence and espionage in the Civil War. Originally serialized in Harper's Magazine and Harper's Weekly between 1910 and 1912, the chapters included here chronicle the harrowing wartime experiences of scouts and spies for both the Blue and the Gray. Though there were numerous exceptions, scouts were typically volunteers on “detached service” from the ranks, who served as guides, undertook reconnaissance patrols, or went on special missions in enemy territory. Spies were most often civilians who lived behind enemy lines and reported via secret messenger or traveled through hostile territory on assignment and then returned to their own lines. Beymer examines both to provide a diverse picture of secret operations during a war in which neither side possessed formal army- or government-wide intelligence establishments, which in turn made intelligence operations very much an ad hoc enterprise. The informal and extemporized nature of this undertaking produced a fascinating array of individual experiences. These highly secretive, often chaotic, and mostly improvised endeavors, however, also make the historian's task of uncovering them that much more difficult, especially in comprehending the actual impact these operations had upon the conflict. It was into this confused and complex underworld of the war that William Beymer ventured in order

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