A detailed study based on the previously forgotten files of the army's Civil War--era Bureau of Military Information, buried...


THE SECRET WAR FOR THE UNION: The Untold Story of Military Intelligence in the Civil War

A detailed study based on the previously forgotten files of the army's Civil War--era Bureau of Military Information, buried in a storage room until 1959 when they were found by the author in Washington's National Archives. Fishel, a career intelligence officer at the National Security Agency, dispels the many romantic legends of superior spying by the Confederates as mostly fiction; he concludes that the North, after a poor start, became more adept than the South. He carefully describes the spying that helped shape the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac from Bull Run in 1861 through the Peninsula, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, and on to Grant's great 1864 Virginia campaign. Fishel finds much fault with George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, and his adviser, the famous detective Allan Pinkerton, hinting at a conspiracy to inflate the estimates of the numbers of enemy soldiers to justify McClellan's inaction and his pleas for more troops. Civil War intelligence is depicted here as a constant cat-and-mouse search for the enemy. Information was obtained by the Bureau, beginning in 1863, in a variety of ways: from cavalry scouts, balloons, telescopes, and spies, somewhat superseding Pinkerton's method of interrogating prisoners, deserters, runaway slaves, and civilian refugees, who were sometimes Confederate ""plants."" Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Fishel says, were masters at fooling the enemy, deftly using misinformation, feints, sudden disappearances, and surprise attacks. The North's greatest intelligence feat, according to the author, was tracking Lee's 150-mile march into Pennsylvania and taking the high ground at Gettysburg, negating the widespread opinion that the two armies met there by chance. Fishel's prodigious, breakthrough research provides a treasure trove for historians to ponder and constitutes a real addition to Civil War history. The dense prose, however, makes one long for the graceful style of a Catton, a Foote, or a McPherson.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 1996


Page Count: 640

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996