Spies under cover of darkness
Freed slaves became spies
They were made invisible by the color of their skin. They could not be seen because their enemy was blinded by ignorance.
Federal troops sent African Americans, former slaves, into the Confederate breach to capture information and pass it forward.
“Black slaves, freedmen risked their lives to work as Union spies down South during Civil War By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, June 20, 6:44 AM WASHINGTON — In the Confederate circles he navigated, John Scobell was considered just another Mississippi slave: singing, shuffling, illiterate and completely ignorant of the Civil War going on around him.
Confederate officers thought nothing of leaving important documents where Scobell could see them, or discussing troop movements in front of him. Whom would he tell? Scobell was only the butler, or the deckhand on a rebel sympathizer’s steamboat, or the field hand belting out Negro spirituals in a powerful baritone.
In reality, Scobell was not a slave at all.
He was a spy sent by the Union army, one of a few black operatives who quietly gathered information in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse with Confederate spy-catchers and slave masters who could kill them on the spot. These unsung Civil War heroes were often successful, to the chagrin of Confederate leaders who never thought their disregard for blacks living among them would become a major tactical weakness.
“The chief source of information to the enemy,” Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army, said in May 1863, “is through our negroes.”
Little is known about the black men and women who served as Union intelligence officers, other than the fact that some were former slaves or servants who escaped from their masters and others were Northerners who volunteered to pose as slaves to spy on the Confederacy. There are scant references to their contributions in historical records, mainly because Union spymasters destroyed documents to shield them from Confederate soldiers and sympathizers during the war and vengeful whites afterward.
“These kinds of spies and operatives come up over and over again, many of them unnamed and rarely do they receive glory,” said Hari Jones, curator of the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, who lectures on the Civil War’s African American spies.
Jones and other experts are hoping the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will include some measure of remembrance for these officers.
Allan Pinkerton, head of the Union Intelligence Service at the onset of the Civil War, detailed his recruitment of black spies in his autobiography, including a couple of successful missions by Scobell and the extraction of valuable papers from a Union defector. Scobell in particular, Pinkerton said, was a “cool-headed, vigilant detective” who easily duped the Confederates around him by assuming “the character of the light-hearted, happy darkey.”
“From the commencement of the war, I have found the negroes of invaluable assistance and I never hesitated to employ them when after investigation I found them to be intelligent and trustworthy,” Pinkerton said.
Harriet Tubman is the most recognizable of these spies, sneaking down South repeatedly to gather intelligence for the Union army while also leading runaway slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Often disguised as a field hand or poor farm wife, she led several spy missions into South Carolina while directing others from Union lines.”
For the rest of the story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/black-slaves-freedmen-risked-their-lives-to-work-as-union-spies-down-south-during-civil-war/2011/06/20/AG7n0WcH_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines