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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
provided by the Old Valley Pike Country Store and History Center

The Confederate Secret Service

Belle Boyd Confederate spy
Henry Harrison, Longstreet's spyMajor William Norris, head of Confederate Secret ServiceRose Greenhow Confederate Spy

Belle Boyd

Henry HarrisonMajor William NorrisRose Greenhow

For almost a hundred years following the end of the War Between The States, very little was know about the clandestine operations conducted by the Confederacy. But recent scholarship has unearthed quite a bit of information on the South?s formal Secret Service. Below are a few brief descriptions of that secret arm of the Confederate government extracted from Brigadier General William A. Tidwell?s two books: Come Retribution and Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War. Both books are highly readable and contain a wealth of information on the Secret Service?s involvement in many different operations, including its link to the Lincoln assassination. I encourage you to check either or both out. They?re well worth a look.

The State Department Secret Services ?
This loose collection of agents with special qualifications or special missions was managed by Secretary of War, and later Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin with frequent intervention by President Jefferson Davis.

The War Department Secret Service ?
These agents worked assignments under the direction of the War Department but were sometimes assigned to work directly for specific field commanders. Their activity appears to have been managed by personnel in the War Department Signal Bureau.

The War Department Signal Bureau and Signal Corps ?
The Bureau provided Signal Corps personnel to the field commanders to transmit information over the battlefield and operated ?The Secret Line,? which passed information and personnel across enemy lines from Richmond and Washington (likely operated independently of the War Department Secret Service). The Independent Signal Corps and Scouts operated in tidewater Virginia.

The Provost Marshall of Richmond ?
Established in 1861 under General John Henry Winder, this organization had a checkered career, being responsible at one time or another for military discipline, in the Richmond area, counterespionage, the defenses of Richmond, the administration of prisoners of war, and the collection of information in support of those various tasks. It may also have assisted the State Department Secret Services.

The War Department Torpedo Bureau ?
Primarily concerned with the employment of explosive devices on land (then called subterra mines ? aka. land mines), agents also planted underwater mines and controlled the mine fields of the James River.

The Navy Submarine Battery Service ?
This unit focused on the employment of underwater mines to defend the major harbors and rivers of the Confederacy.

The War Department Strategy Bureau ?
Never established officially, this undercover bureau was created in early 1863 to sponsor sabotage teams known as ?strategic corps? and ?destructionists,? which were concerned primarily with the use of explosives and newly invented weapons against targets behind enemy lines approved by the military department commanders.

The Greenhow Group ?
This well-organized espionage service in Washington was originally under sponsorship of the state of Virginia. Although several key members, like Rose Greenhow, were arrested, the group continued to function during most of the war with the primary focus of providing direct support to the Army of Northern Virginia.

The Cavalry Scouts ?
A group of talented young men who were recruited and trained by J.E.B. Stuart to operate in front of and around the army, and on occasion, behind enemy lines. The group reported directly to Stuart and Lee. After Stuart?s death, the group became less efficient, possibly because several of its outstanding members were drawn off into other missions.

Operations in Canada ?
The Confederacy developed a number of clandestine assets in Canada, initially to support the passage of couriers and other tasks. In 1864, the Confederacy established what amounted to a field office capable of developing and carrying out complex clandestine operations. Jacob Thompson, the chief, reported to Benjamin and Davis, but he also had the support of a War Department team under the control of Clement C. Clay.


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