Civil War Spies

.. few excellent ones. Phillip Henson, was one of the very few excellent spies. He was born and raised in Alabama, but when the war began he was outcast from his family. He was then living in Mississippi, and lived there as a loyal Unionist. He avoided Confederate Military service by convincing the owner of a plantation to make him the manager of the plantation.

In 1862 General U.S. Grant came to Mississippi, and Henson began his career as a Union Spy. After he completed his first mission – that of buying as much cotton as he could for the Union – he was then sent to work for General William Rosencrans. Henson was returning from a mission behind confederate lines when the Union stopped him. They were wary of anyone with a “Southern drawl” and took him to General Dodge.

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He impressed Dodge so much that he procured his services for himself. Henson was then sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi to collect information on the Confederate forces in the city. Much to Henson’s good fortune he was introduced to General John C. Pemberton (the CSA commander of the city). Henson informed General Pemberton of the brutal treatment the Confederate prisoners were receiving from the Union. Pemberton then asked him to share his information with the troops in Vicksburg – giving him free reign of the city. General Grant used the information he gathered in preparing for his attack on Vicksburg.

Next Henson again went South, and this time put himself in the good graces of Generals Lucius Polk and Sterling Price. There he became a member of their staff and stayed until he had gathered the vital information. Other Confederate Generals that Henson used were; Daniel Ruggles, Samuel Gholson, James Longstreet, and Nathan Forrest. He was arrested by some of Forrest’s men, but used the guise of double agent to have himself released. In 1864 he was again captured and this time Forrest imprisoned him until February of 1865 when he was released to aid Forrest by joining the 26th Mississippi.

However, he escaped and returned to Union lines in time for Confederate surrender. Thomas N. Conrad was a terrific spy for the Confederates. At the beginning of the war, Thomas N. Conrad was living in the Union capital of Washington D.C. as headmaster of Georgetown College.

He used the college as the beginnings for his intelligence system. He used a system of signaling – that of raising and lowering shades – for the students to send messages to the Confederate side of the Potomac River. He was arrested in 1861 for the contents of his Commencement Speech and for allowing the processional march to be “Dixie”. No harm came to him, and he moved on to Virginia. In Virginia he enlisted in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry of Jeb Stuart as a chaplin.

He used this appearance to begin his access of the Union side. He was soon called to Richmond to safely deliver CSA sympathetic English and French diplomats from D.C. to Richmond. After this escapade he changed his hairstyle, beard style, clothing to become a typical Northerner in Washington where he continued his intelligence gathering. In 1862 he successfully alerted General Robert E.

Lee to the change in command from General McClellan to General Ambrose Burnside. This information also included General Burnside’s plans to attack Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Lee later defeated Burnside. In 1863 Conrad alerted General Lee of General Burnside’s plans to join the forces of General Grant. Shortly hereafter he decided to leave the active duty of intelligence gathering, and tried his hand at counter-intelligence. In 1865 he once again changed his appearance, and this time ended up looking like John Wilkes Booth. On April 16, 1865 he was arrested as such and sent to Lafayette Baker.

Baker however learned of his true identity and released him immediately. In 1863, Harrison arrived in the camp of General James Longstreet with a letter of recommendation by CSA Secratary of War, James A. Seddon. Longstreet ordered Harrison to spy on the Union forces that were beside (congruent) to the Confederate troops in Pennsylvania. In mid – June he returned to General Longstreet with news of General Joseph Hooker’s army.

Harrison reported that they were moving North, and faster than General Lee thought possible. Longstreet promptly took him to General Lee, where Lee discounted the information at first due to the fact that Jeb Stuart’s Cavalry hadn’t reported yet. But Lee eventually became convinced and made the appropriate preparations. Harrison was next sent to Gettysburg to find out the number of troops there. This is the point where Harrison disappears into thin air and his identity is questioned.

Some believe that he was James Harrison, an actor who inlisted in the CSA army (Straubing 46). An aide of General Longstreet’s is said to have been told by Harrison that he was going to appear on stagein September of 1863 in Richmond and was recognized there by this same aide. Or he could have been Henry Thomas Harrison. Both Harrison’s were spies for the CSA, and they were both paid off due to drinking and weren’t reliable security risks. Or – Harrison could have been niether of them, just someone using the pseudonym “Harrison”. Samuel Davis, who lived from 1842-1863, a Confederate spy, was called the Boy Hero of the Confederacy (Catton 145).

Very little is known about Samuel Davis excepot that he was one of the best.Union troops hanged him near Pulaski, Tennessee, because he would not tell who gave him secret military information. Davis’ last words were, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend or be false to duty.” (Ward and Burns 78) Tennessee erected a statue to his memory on the Capitol grounds in Nashville. Davis’ birthplace, near Smyrna, Tennessee, is kept as a shrine. Spies were certainly some of the most important people during the Civil War. Throughout history, men have been spies and the American Civil War was no exception.

The supreme spies are people you would never suspect. These spies all had a direct effect on the outcome of specific battles and therefore the outcome of the Civil War. Overall, spies were clearly vital in deciding the war.


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