The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

12
A Glimpse at the Secret Service

Charles A. Dana

After Early's invaders had retired and quiet was restored, I went to Mr. Stanton for new orders. As there was no probability of an immediate change in the situation before Petersburg, the Secretary did not think it necessary for me to go back to Grant, but preferred that I remain in the department, helping with the routine work.

Much of my time at this period was spent in investigating charges against defaulting contractors and dishonest agents, and in ordering arrests of persons suspected of disloyalty to the Government. I assisted, too, in supervising the spies who were going back and forth between the lines. Among these I remember one, a sort of peddler -- whose name I will call Morsewho traveled between Washington and Richmond. When he went down it was in the character of a man who had entirely hoodwinked the Washington authorities, and who, in spite of them, or by some corruption or other, always brought with him into the Confederate lines something that the people wanted -- dresses for the ladies or some little luxury that they couldn't get otherwise. The things that he took with him were always supervised by one of our agents before he went away. When he came back he brought us in exchange a lot of valuable information, He was doubtless a spy on both sides; but as we got a great deal of information, which could be had in no other way, about the strength of the Confederate armies, and the preparations and movements; of the enemy, we allowed the thing to go on. The man really did good service for us that summer, and, as we were frequently able to verify by ether means the important information he brought, we had a great (deal of confidence in him.

CHARLES A. DANA, Recollections of the Civil War ( New York, 1898), Ch. xvii.

Not all of military affairs consisted of camping and campaigning. Romantic deeds of daring attracted wide attention and filled the contemporary press and later reminiscences with wondrous tale. Equally daring and dangerous were the unsung and unheralded deeds of spies who gathered informatmn upon which, campaigns might be based. Charles A. Dana was an Assistant Secretary of War whose major assignments were those of a "troubleshooter" -- hurrying to various theaters of war and gathering on-the-spot information and impressions for the War Department.

-209-

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