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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why are Spies important

I am a history nerd. Those who know me - already know this fact. I love reading, writing, watching anything to do with American History. I love Presidential History.
When I had to write my capstone for my grad degree - I had realized that a previous paper that I had written about Civil War spies had stuck out in my head. I found the stories FASCINATING!!! So, I took it to the next level. I explored the little known spies that helped in the American Revolutionary and Civil War.  Then I was told that I was going to have to narrow it down more -- so I picked women and African American Spies.

Why are spies important? Well, let's look at some of the research that I did for my capstone...

When most people hear about spying and espionage most will think of James Bond 007. Some will think of the USA original network show, Covert Affairs. Although real world experience in spying and espionage is not as glamorous as Hollywood makes it out to be. Most will associated Spying and Espionage as being developed during the Cold War Time Period. In reality, the use spies have always been a part of American History. This dates back to Colonial Times.
Spies and espionage has always been an important part of military history. The information that was extracted or recovered and passed along lines could contain valuable information. Spying is important to successful missions. You need to know what your enemy is up to. You need to know how you can defend yourself or go on the offensive.   
The use of African Americans and Women as spies throughout the American Wars is not something that has been widely looked at as an academic study, or in historic perspective. They are sometimes mentioned in passing, but there has not been a comparison of this group together. Which is saddening since there is a lot of potential that is seen with this group. They are the unsung heroes in these wars.

Glenn P. Hastedt in his work “Spies, Wiretaps and Secret Operations” states that: “Espionage is a competitive contest between spies and spy catchers. It is a contest entered into by great powers and small ones; by individuals, businesses, and terrorist groups.”[1] This has evolved throughout each war. Both the American Revolution and the Civil War had active participants in every age, gender and race. There will never be a full understanding of who was involved due to records being censored, individuals that chose not to come forward and other varying reasons that records are lost over time.
“For most observers the history of American espionage begins after World War II when the United States abandoned its staunch isolationist outlook on world affairs and entered into the cold war with the Soviet Union. A closer look reveals that a much longer legacy exists.”[2] Espionage has come a long way over the last hundred years. Women and African Americans were successful in being involved in spy activities due to the lack of suspicion. Who were they? What did they accomplish? They played minor roles in The American Revolution and the Civil War. Women were able to disguise themselves and play the “roles” to extract and hear information. African Americans were thought to not be a threat since they were mostly illiterate. These brave Women and men were responsible for aiding and assisting their chosen loyalty. They should have a place in history.
These are the two wars that had the most information to look at and analyze. These two wars range from 1775-1783 and 1861-1865. The time span is less than 100 years from the beginning of the American Revolution and the end of the American Civil War.  The irony in this is that the first war was a war fought for independence of British rule, while the second was a war fought for the recognition of states’ rights. The craft of collecting and passing the information is fascinating, especially with the lack of the technology that we have today.
Women and African Americans were able to play roles that would enable them to be productive and an asset to those they were assisting. There are some examples where collecting the information did not go as planned and the information was hurtful and may have changed outcomes of various battles. The question(s) that is being proposed is: Why were women and African Americans as spies able to be successful? Did their backgrounds or stories give them any advantage? Also, what impact did they have?
Spies are important to military activities for several reasons. “Wide range of spy networks and spy craft to gain critical information about the other side.”[1] This information could help to foil battle plans, attacks, and other useful tips. By spying they were able to find out where the troops may be moving or where they are not moving. Another reason spies are important: “Spying changed the tactics of warfare not only for this war but for wars to come. The use of spies, and agencies incorporating spying, laid a foundation for a very strategic tactic and decide the roles which are used even in today’s modern age, even helping develop it to what it has become.”[2] Once the spy activities caught on, the evolved each and every war from this point forward.

Next Post will be about the American Revolution Spies :) 


[1] "Spying and Espionage." George Washington's Mount Vernon. Accessed April 24, 2016.

[2] "Role of Spies." The Civil War. Accessed April 24, 2016.  

[1] Hastedt, Glenn P. Spies, Wiretaps, and Secret Operations: An Encyclopedia of American Espionage. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Pg. i.

[2] Ibid. Pg. 36


  1. History any kind of history is love of mine. Spies played an important part everywhere in history.

  2. This is AWESOME! I was just having a shower thought this morning about how I missed writing history or English papers in school and how it would be fun to do one just for myself to research a topic I was interested in and keep my writing skills sharp. I love this. Well done and I hope to see more in the future.

  3. I love stories, specially the types that have somewhat a mystery. When I was a kid I wanted to be a spy! hehehhe

  4. This topic fascinates me as well. Have you been reading about "code talkers" as well?

  5. I still remember going to the Spy museum in Washington D.C. and being fascinated with the idea of female spies.

  6. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"- George Santayana

  7. Fascinating post. I love that you use your blog for share this type of information, complete with citations!