A detailed, chronological look at the work of a handful of spies in President Abraham Lincoln’s network and the extent to which they helped defeat the Confederacy.
While both the North and South used spies, writes Waller (Disciples: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan, 2015, etc.), Lincoln was able to employ those sources more efficiently, using such methods as tracking changes in enemy numbers and using hot air balloons. The author focuses on the work of “Allan Pinkerton, Lafayette Baker, George Sharpe, and Elizabeth Van Lew—important Union agents who operated mainly in the Civil War’s Eastern Theater,” which “became a crucial region for the war.” Pinkerton, of the National Detective Agency, had infiltrated Confederate plots on the Northern railroad system before the time of Lincoln’s inauguration. Having unearthed assassination threats to the president-elect, he helped sneak him through Baltimore and into Washington ahead of his announced travel schedule. He would serve as Gen. George McClellan’s intelligence chief, and not always skillfully—e.g., he inflated the numbers of Confederate troops. Despite the cultivated image of a “simple frontier ‘rail-splitter,’ ” Lincoln was a keen observer of political intelligence. As the author writes, “he would assume the presidency not totally unfamiliar with the dark arts of subterfuge and intrigue that Pinkerton practiced.” Eventually, the administration would “ratchet up police state tactics,” such as those used questionably by their strong-armed agent Baker. While Lincoln was anguished over finding a general who would actually challenge Robert E. Lee, Richmond society lady Van Lew, disgusted by slavery, covertly supplied information to Union officials while maintaining her Southern good standing. Waller shows how these quiet workhorses toiling in the shadows—including Sharpe, who became “the Union Army’s preeminent spymaster”—would make all the difference in winning the war. Helpfully, the author includes a timeline of major events and a categorized cast of characters.
A meticulous chronicle of all facets of Lincoln’s war effort.