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The Civil War Black American Contributions to Union Intelligence P K Rose P K Rose is in the Directorate of Operations Black Dispatches was a common term used among Union military men for intelligence on Confederate forces provided by Negroes This source of information represented the single most prolific and productive category of intelligence obtained and acted on by Union forces throughout the Civil War In 1862 Frederick Douglass wrote The true history of this war will show that the loyal army found no friends at the South so faithful active and daring in their efforts to sustain the government as the Negroes- Negroes have repeatedly threaded their way through the lines of the rebels exposing themselves to bullets to convey important information to the loyal army of the Potomac 1 Black Dispatches resulted from frontline tactical debriefings of slaves--either runaways or those having just come under Union control Black Americans also contributed however to tactical and strategic Union intelligence through behind-the-lines missions and agent-in-place operations Two such Union agents functioned as long-term penetrations of Confederate President Jefferson Daviss White House staff in Richmond Virginia Even such a prominent woman as Harriet Tubman best known for her activities involving the underground railroad played an important role in Union intelligence activities The value of the information that could be obtained both passively and actively by black Americans behind Confederate lines was clearly understood by most Union generals early in the war Popular recognition of this was also apparent through a stream of articles and stories in the Northern press during the war Gen Robert E Lee commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was equally aware and in May 1863 he said The chief source of information to the enemy is through our Negroes 2 Because of the culture of slavery in the South Negroes involved in menial activities could move about without suspicion Also officials and officers tended
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