Secret Missions of The Civil War

Title:                      Secret Missions of The Civil War

Author:                 Philip Van Doren Stern

Stern, Philip Van Doren (1959). Secret Missions of The Civil War: First Hand Accounts By Men And Women Who Risked Their Lives in Underground Activities for The North And The South. Chicago: Rand McNally

LCCN:    59006632

E608 .S8


Date Updated:  October 31, 2016

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

The second subtitle contains information that the accounts were “woven into a continuous narrative.” In 1953, the last of the secret service files of the Civil War were released by U.S. National Archives. Stern’s great contribution is not in collecting some of these accounts but rather in his commentaries on each one and each year of the war. Not all the accounts deal with secret service or underground activities. After examining these records, Stern makes some very pertinent observations and helps put matters in perspective. The material was fragmentary, unsorted, and hard-to-read records; most of the vital Confederate records were destroyed, while many of the North’s were destroyed and some important data were not committed to paper. He concludes he “touched only the outer edges of a vast, murky area which must always remain unexplored”; thus he warns that he could only sketch the outlines of the secret war. All the same, he concludes as well that most Civil War espionage was amateurish and raised questions about the reliability of personal accounts by Civil War figures such as Lafayette Baker. One must ‘read Edwin C. Fischel’s “The Mythology of Civil War Intelligence” in the December 1964 issue of the University of Iowa’s Civil War History for a look at myths of intelligence operations in that conflict, an article called to greater public attention by Allen Dulles in Great True Spy Stories[2]. The DIS Bibliography’s comment that the article was a starting point for more critical readings on Civil War intelligence is quite on target [see below]; the same could be said of some of Stern’s comments in this book. Other historians have disagreed with Stern’s agnosticism on the subject of a conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. The New York Times review mentioned that Stern served up John Wise’s story as true despite reservations of an expert such as Douglas S. Freeman and found that some background pieces occasionally erred.

This is a review by the Defense Intelligence School.[3]

First-hand accounts by men and women engaged in Civil War intelligence missions woven into a continuous narrative and introduced by an excellent Civil War historian.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[4]

Annotated anthology of the best accounts, sifted by the author from the mass of material, of dramatic stories of espionage and sabotage on behalf of both the North and the South. Some of the material used had been released from the National Archives in 1953. The author provides interpretations of the effect of espionage and counterespionage activities on the course of the war.

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 426-427

[2] Dulles, Allen W. (1968), ed. Great True Spy Stories. New York: Harper & Row

[3] Defense Intelligence School (1981). Bibliography of Intelligence Literature: A Critical And Annotated Bibliography of Open-Source Literature (7th ed, rev.). Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence School, p. 59

[4] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 164


This entry was posted in Civil War and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Secret Missions of The Civil War

  1. Pingback: The Armies of Ignorance | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

  2. Pingback: Espionage and Counterespionage, Chapter 14 | Intelligence Analysis and Reporting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s