Confederate Secret Service
- 1 Overview
- 2 Military operations and officially sanctioned Secret Service activities
- 3 Sanctioned destructionists, privateers, and licensed operators
- 4 See also
- 5 External links
- 6 Confederate Secret Service in literature
- 7 Further reading
- 8 Footnotes
During the Civil War a number of secret operations sprang up, some at the direction of the government, some with its tacit approval, and some that were under only the most tenuous control, or even under no control whatsoever. Many of these operations involved acts that were considered by the Union to go beyond the normal conduct of civilized warfare. From the Confederacy's point of view, these were desperate measures necessary to compensate for the fact that, in terms of conventional warfare, they were out-manned, out-supplied, and out-gunned.
By 1864, the Confederate government was attempting to gain control over the various operations that had sprung up since the beginning of the war, but often with little success. In April 1865, most of the official papers of the Secret Service were burned by Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin just before the Confederate government evacuated Richmond, so the full story of Confederate secret operations may never be known.
In 1864, secret legislation was put before the Confederate Congress to create an official Special and Secret Bureau of the War Department. The legislation was not enacted until March 1865 and was never implemented, so no one really knows what an official Confederate Secret Service would have looked like. However, all these various bits and pieces have been referred to at one time or another as having been part of the Confederate Secret Service.
Financial records were kept in a ledger.
Military operations and officially sanctioned Secret Service activities
Agents within the United States
Rose O'Neal Greenhow and Aaron Van Camp appear to have been members of the espionage gathering ring during the formative period of the Confederate government. Greenhow was incarcerated at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, District of Columbia. Thomas Jordan recruited Greenhow and provided her with cypher code.
John Surratt was a courier and spy.
John H. Sothoron appears to have led the Confederate underground in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Col. Sothoron lived near Charlotte Hall Military Academy. His son Webster attended the school and was reputed to be a spy. Richard Thomas (Zarvona) and David Herold were also students there, although Herolds attending is disputed.
The Confederacy's first secret-service agent may have been James D. Bulloch. In 1861, almost immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, Bulloch traveled to Liverpool, England, and established a base of operations there. Britain was officially neutral in the conflict between North and South, but private and public sentiment favored the Confederacy. Britain was also willing to buy all the cotton that could be smuggled past the Union blockade, which provided the South with its only real source of hard currency. Bulloch established a relationship with the shipping firm of Fraser & Trenholm to buy and sell Confederate cotton; Fraser & Trenholm became, in effect, the Confederacy's international bankers. Bulloch arranged for the construction and secret purchase of the commerce raider CSS Alabama as well as many of the blockade runners that acted as the Confederacy's commercial lifeline. Bulloch arranged for the exchange of cotton for hard currency, which he used to purchase war material – including arms and ammunition, uniforms, and other supplies.
Jacob Thompson was the Confederate commissioner in Canada. He distributed money, coordinated agents and may have planned covert operations. He was involved in the attempt to liberate Confederate prisoners at Johnson's Island, a Union facility which also housed political prisoners.
Thompson met with Clement Laird Vallandigham, an Ohio politician. Vallandigham, a potential presidential candidate against Lincoln, was arrested by Union General Ambrose Burnside and deported to the Confederacy. Vallandigham made his way to Canada.
The Confederate Signal Corps was established in 1862. Nearly 1,200 men were in the secret service, most of whom were well-to-do and knew more than one language.
Major William Norris was their chief. Norris may have worked under Braxton Bragg. On 26 April 1865, Norris took the position of the Commissioner of Prisoner Exchange Robert Ould. Ould may have been the civilian llaison to the corps and Bragg the military llaison, with both reporting to Jefferson Davis or Judah Benjamin or both.
Thomas Nelson Conrad was a scout and spy and worked with Norris.
The Torpedo Bureau, authorized on October 31, 1862, and headed by Brigadier General Gabriel Rains, was charged with the production of various explosive devices, including land mines, naval mines and "coal torpedos."
Submarine Battery Service
Created at the same time as the Torpedo Bureau, the Submarine Battery Service was the Confederate Navy's group of torpedo specialists. The Submarine Battery Service primarily utilized electrically-detonated torpedoes to protect the South's waterways. Originally commanded by Cmdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury, also known as "The Pathfinder of the Seas", the reins of command were turned over to his protégé`, Lt. Hunter Davidson, when Maury was sent abroad to further his experiments involving electrical torpedoes and to procure needed supplies and ships for the Confederate Navy. The Service was found operating along the James River between Richmond and Hampton Roads, Wilmington, NC, Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA among other locales.
Bureau of Special and Secret Service
In November 1864, the Confederate House of Representatives in secret session referred a bill “for the establishment of a Bureau of Special and Secret Service” to their Committee on Military Affairs. The bureau was to have a “polytechnic corps”. The existing “torpedo corps” was to be incorporated into the bureau. New inventions were to be encouraged.
Secret Service operations in Canada
Sanctioned destructionists, privateers, and licensed operators
The bounty law
The Confederacy knew it was in trouble from the beginning of war, because it didn't have a Navy. All the ships of the United States Navy naturally belonged to the Union, and the few privately owned ships that could be converted to military service were no match for the Union Navy. Privateering was essential. On May 21, 1861, the Confederate Congress enacted an amendment to their May 6, 1861 Declaration of War which provided that
the government of the Confederate States will pay to the cruiser or cruisers of any private armed vessel commissioned under said act, twenty per centum on the value of each and every vessel of war belonging to the enemy, that may be sunk or destroyed by such private armed vessel or vessels, the value of the armament to be included in the estimate.
In 1862, possibly following a suggestion, the Confederate Congress enacted a bounty of fifty percent of the value of any vessel destroyed by means of a new invention:
The Congress of the Confederate States of America do enact, That the first section of the above entitled Act be so amended, that, in case any person or persons shall invent or construct any new machine or engine, or contrive any new method for destroying the armed vessels of the enemy, he or they shall receive fifty per centum of the value of each and every such vessel that may be sunk or destroyed, by means of such invention or contrivance,
This naturally attracted the attention of entrepreneurs. Horace Hunley put together a group of investors to finance the submarine that bears his name, hoping to make money on the bounty. Private individuals with engineering experience such as E. C. Singer, C. Williams, and Zere McDaniel developed and patented new torpedoes and fuses.
Special and detached service
The coal torpedo
Developed by Thomas Courtenay of the Confederate Secret Service, coal torpedoes were hollow metal castings resembling a lump of coal. The castings were filled with powder and then secreted in the coal bunker of enemy vessels. When the coal replicas were shoveled into the fire boxes of ship's boilers, the resulting explosions either damaged or sank the ship. A variation of the coal torpedo used against river steamers was a piece of wood, hollowed out and filled with powder, which could easily be concealed in the fuel piles of cord wood stacked along the river banks and which was capable of producing disaster to the unlucky ship that hoisted it aboard.
Active measures operations
While it is not known if the secret service was involved in the following, the likelihood is great.
On 19 October 1864, the St. Albans Raid took place in Vermont by personnel in Canada.
The attempted John Wilkes Boothe plots in the assassination of President Lincoln in August 1864 and April 1865 may have been connected. This is argued in the Edward Steers, Jr. book, Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Confederate Secret Service in literature
- The Butcher's Cleaver, (A Tale of the Confederate Secret Services.) by W. Patrick Lang Rosemont Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-595-71185-7
- Death Piled Hard, (A Tale of the Confederate Secret Services.) by W. Patrick Lang iUniverse 2009 ISBN 978-1-4401-2391-7
- Down the Sky, (Volume Three of the "Strike the Tent" trilogy) by W. Patrick Lang iUniverse 2012 ISBN 978-1-4697-7180-9
- The Shenandoah Spy by Francis Hamit, Brass Cannon Books, 2008 ISBN 978-1-59595-902-7
- The Queen of Washington by Francis Hamit, Brass Cannon Books 2011 ISBN 978-1-595954-171-7
- Tidwell, William A., James O. Hall and David Winfred Gaddy. Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln (1988) excerpt and text search
- Matthew Fontaine Maury, Scientist of the Sea, Frances Leigh Williams, (1969) ISBN 0-8135-0433-3
- The Pathfinder of the Seas, The Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, by John W. Wayland, (1930)
- Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, U.S.N. and C.S.N., by Diana Fontaine Maury-Corbin.
- The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe; James Dunwody Bulloch
- Perry, Milton F. "Infernal Machines: The story of Confederate submarine and mine warfare." Louisiana State University Press, 1985.
- Crowley, R.O. "Confederate Torpedo Service" in The Century / Volume 56, Issue 2, The Century Company, New York, June 1898.
- Bulloch, James D. "The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe; or, How the Confederate Cruisers Were Equipped." 1883.
- Tidwell, William A. "April '65." Kent State University Press, 1995.
- Kochan, Michael P. and John C. Wideman. "Torpedoes: Another look at the Infernal Machines of the Civil War." 2002.
- United States Government, Intelligence in the Civil War. Washington, D.C., Central Intelligence Agency, 2005.
- Confederate States of America. Secret Service. "CSA Secret Service Account Book [Manuscript]." Chicago Historical Society. 1861–1865. http://www.chsmedia.org (accessed January 31, 2013). Account book of secret service expenditures with entries dated 1861–1874, plus a few apparently unrelated 1886 personal account entries by someone using the old volume. The volume has been mutilated extensively with only a few pages remaining.
- Confederate States of America. Congress. House of Representatives. "A Bill to Provide for the Establishment of a Bureau of Special and Secret Service." Internet Archive. 11 31, 1864. http://archive.org/details/billtoprov00conf (accessed December 13, 2012).
- Sheehy, Barry (2011). "Epilogue: The Montrel Connection – Savannah, the Confederacy, and Montreal During the War Years". Savannah, Immortal City. 1 (Civil War Savannah). Cindy Wallace, Vaughnette Goode-Walker. Greenleaf Book Group. p. 414. ISBN 9781934572702. Retrieved 2012-11-21. "The Confederate Secret Service set up operations in Halifax (Saverly House); Point Levi outside Quebec City (St Louis Hotel); at Niagara (Clifton House) and in Toronto (American Hotel). But it was in Montreal, Canada's largest city and banking center, that the center of gravity for Confederate activities was located. [...] The head of the Confederate Secret Service in Canada was Jacob Thompson, supported by George Sanders, Clement Clay, and others. [...] To finance their operations, Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin had transferred a fortune in gold to Canadian banks early in the war. (The size of these gold deposits has been estimated at between $500,000 and $1 million.)"