Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War: Exposing Confederate Conspiracies in America's Heartland

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War: Exposing Confederate Conspiracies in America's Heartland

Article excerpt

Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War: Exposing Confederate Conspiracies in America's Heartland. By Stephen E. Towne. Law, Society, and Politics in the Midwest. (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 430. Paper, $34.95, ISBN 978-0-8214-2103-1; cloth, $90.00, ISBN 978-0-8214-2131-4.)

Stephen E. Towne's impressively researched study on Union army intelligence activities in the old Northwest--Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan--has one principal aim: to rescue anti-Lincoln conspiracies in the North from the historiographical grasp of Frank L. Klement, who dismissed them as "'excursion[s] into the world of make-believe'" (p. 397 n42). The book covers the breadth of spy activities in the Union heartland, explaining how intelligence agencies were formed and funded (ad hoc and never well), how and by whom evidence was generated (a network of soldier-infiltrators running spy rings of citizen informants in disloyal communities), what Union commanders knew (plans, arms shipments, and a surprising network of shared information from other departments), and the debates between those commanders and politicians at all levels about how to react to these threats (arrests and executions, airing evidence for political gains, or letting things fizzle out).

In this book, some reputations are made, like that of Indiana spymaster par excellence Henry B. Carrington. Some reputations are confirmed, like that of Kentucky spy and reliable memoirist Felix Grundy Stidger. Other reputations are redeemed, notably those of William S. Rosecrans and Ambrose E. Burnside, who tend to move offstage in Civil War historiography after losing command of major field armies. Likewise, District of Kentucky commander Stephen G. Burbridge's enthusiasm for arrests and expulsions is rendered more understandable when contextualized by reports of coordination between John Hunt Morgan's roving cavalrymen and anti-administration citizens north and south of the Ohio River.

All of these points make the book a worthwhile read. The way Towne has built his study, though, immeasurably enhances the book's value. Towne has applied his skills and training as both a historian and an archivist. …

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