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Thomas O. Harter Saves the AoP - Other People of the Civil War - The Participants of the War - Mikitary & Civilian - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Tue Dec 12th, 2006 02:43 am
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amhistoryguy
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While doing some reading the other day, I came across a casual mention of some espionage by a Union sergeant, Thomas O. Harter. A little digging produced a remarkable story of succesful CW intelligence gathering.
Harter, 28 years old, began his service as a member of the 1st Indiana Cavalry, having enlisted at Terre Haute, Indiana, in July of 1861.
In July of 1862, the 1st Indiana Cavalry was serving as escort to Gen. Franz Sigel. General Pope had directed General Sigel to collect intelligence from the Gordonsville, Charlottesville, and Staunton, Virginia area. General Sigel gave the assignment to Sgt. Harter.
Harter had been a railroad engineer in civilian life, so his cover story was, that he was a refuge seeking railroad employment in the Confederacy, which was in need of men with railroad experience.
Sigel provided Harter with civilian clothing and several hundred dollars in gold coins. He was instructed to gather information and return in three weeks, if possible.
While on his way to Gordonsville, Virginia, Harter was arrested by some Confederate provost troops, and sent to Harrisonburg where he spent two weeks in jail. Harter was then moved to Staunton, Virginia, where, with his knowledge of railroads noted, he was granted an appointment with the superintendent of the Virginia Central Railroad. The superintendent happened to be very familier with Harter's former employer, superintendent of the Terre Haute, Alton and St. Louis Railroad. This made Harter's background story all the more plausible, so the superintendent gave Harter a letter of introduction to the superintendent of the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Harter was then ordered released by order of Confederate General Winder, given a pass, and sent to work on the rail route from Gordonsville to Charlottesville, Virginia.
Harter had other ideas though, and marched with elements of Lee's Confederate army from Gordonsville to the Rapaidan River. He then swam to the safety of the Union lines. Harter was taken to General Reno's headquarters, where it just so happened that General Pope was paying a visit. Harter reported that "the larger part of Lee's army was but a short distance from the river in our front, behind a mountain ridge running parrallel with the river, that this army was on the point of marching, and had their teams all ready to hitch up and were evidently to move at an early moment to turn our left."
General McDowell, who also happened to be at Reno's headquarters, gave an account of Harter's report weeks later. Pope gave the army orders to withdraw behind the Rappahannock River. After the war, Pope wrote to Harter, crediting Harter with being instrumental in saving the army, as, "you were the first person to give the information of the impending attack."
Since Harter was under great risk should he return to the ranks and be captured, he was given $500 and discharged. He immediately was employed as a detective for Provost Marshal James McPail in Baltimore.
Pope used a cover story in his reports, in order to conceal Harter's espionage, reporting that papers captured from Fitzhugh Lee had given him the information on Lee's intent. In truth, the Fitzhugh Lee papers were not in Pope's hands until hours after the AoP had begun their move. The result of Popes report not only hide Harter's intelligence work from the Confederacy, but also concealled the Harter's work from the historical record.
Very interesting story. A good account of it can be found in "The Secret War For the Union," by Edwin Fishel.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Tue Dec 12th, 2006 09:57 pm
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Widow
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Dave, Harter's intel mission is absolutely fascinating!  Where did you run across it?

I love reading about the intel biz in earlier times, because there's an unbroken line from the earliest snooper to the latest satellite.

Patty



 Posted: Tue Dec 12th, 2006 10:50 pm
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amhistoryguy
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Hello Patty, I first came across mention of Harter in the "Encyclopedia of the American Civil War," by Heidler and Heidler, under the entry for "Espionage," page 657. Interested, I found a more detailed account of Harter's adventure in "The Secret War For the Union," by Edwin Fishel.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Wed Dec 13th, 2006 05:02 pm
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Regina
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I have just finished reading a book about spies in the American Revolution.  In my reading about the Civil War I haven't come across much on the topic, so thanks for your post.



 Posted: Wed Dec 13th, 2006 08:35 pm
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amhistoryguy
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Regina, If you have an interest in CW espionage, besides Edwin Fishel's "The Secret War for the Union" that I mentioned, you might also fing the following books of interest;

"Secret Missions of the Civil War," by Philip Van Dorn Stern.

"Spies of the Confederacy," by John Bakeless

"Grant's Secret Service," by William Feis

"Spies and Spymasters of the Civil War," by Donald Markle.

I'm sure there are others as well, but, I just happen to have these in my own library, and can say their are some really good stories in these. How about the story of a white woman; Emma Edmonds, posing as a man in the Union army,Frank Thompson, who goes on to pose as a black slave named "Cuff" in order to act as a Union spy. Emma/Frank used silver nitrate to darken her skin in order to pose as "Cuff." That story can be found in Markle's book.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Thu Dec 14th, 2006 02:40 am
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Widow
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Thanks, Dave, I'll try to find it.  By the way, who did your hair and where did you get that plug-ugly hat?

double chin-grin ---> ((:

Patty



 Posted: Thu Dec 14th, 2006 02:52 am
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ole
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Thanks for bringing that up, Patty. I've been wanting to ask him that myself.

Ole:D



 Posted: Thu Dec 14th, 2006 02:52 am
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amhistoryguy
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It's not me,
That's my GGgrandfather, Photographed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when he was 20 years old. He had just been released from the hospital at Nashville, (Typhoid), and was preparing to return to his unit, the 11th Indiana Battery.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Thu Dec 14th, 2006 08:51 pm
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Widow
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Well, Dave,

I'm sure your young GG grandfather was just so happy to be back among the living that he couldn't wait to have a picture to send back home to the folks.  And they were proud to receive it.

Evidently Bubba's Barber Shop and Styling Salon didn't have a branch in the Nashville hospital.

Patty

I promise, no more comments about it.  You honor him by using his picture.



 Posted: Fri Dec 15th, 2006 01:12 am
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Regina
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Thanks amhistoryguy for the names of those CW spy books.  The one I read about Revolutionary War era spying was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be so I will pick up one of the books you suggested.  Since I will be attending the reenactment of Washington's Crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day, I am re-reading David McCullough's "1776" to get my mind more set in that period of time. (I also just finished Philbrick's "Mayflower" so I'm really drifting back into history, but I live in New England so I find it fascinating, too).  Anyway, in the New Year I will start back up with the War of 1812 and the Civil War to get ready for my spring and summer trips to MD, PA, VA and WV.  By the way, as I am not related to anyone who came to America before the 1880's or 90's, I think it must be really great to have a great-grandfather, or someone, who took part in these historic events.



 Posted: Fri Dec 15th, 2006 08:05 pm
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amhistoryguy
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Patty;
Nope, GGGrandpa didn't show much of a sense of style when it came to his haircut, he probably had his mess mates cut it or he cut it himself. He was a "typical Hoosier," as described by a publication of the time: "He is sensitive, excitable, bashful, and maybe boastful, enterprising, ardent and industrious, yet, as a farmer, is apt to leave weeds in his fence corners, and as a merchant, dislikes to bother his brains with one cent calculations. He is no bully,yet is able to use his fists." I've always liked that description.

Regina;
Having an ancestor to connect to historic events does help to make the events more personal. What I like to suggest to folks who know that they don't have that blood connection, is to "adopt." Go into a regimental history and find a roster, or better yet, go to a cemetery and find a veteran. Then start doing the research to find out who he was and what events he participated in. You will be surprised at how quickly such an adoption begins to make history yours. I've suggested this to a number of people and they have found great reward in finding out what a soldier's life was really like. An added bonous might be to find out what their post war life was like, and how the war might have had an effect on it. If you need help finding someone to adopt, I'd be happy to help, either by lending you one of "my boys" (11th Indiana Battery) or giving you the name of someone from a regiment from your local area.

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Sat Dec 16th, 2006 07:32 pm
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Eric Wittenberg
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Dave,

This story is particularly interesting me for a variety of reasons.

First, and foremost, the headquarters escort squadron of the 1st Indiana made the raid on Fredericksburg with Ulric Dahlgren in November 1862.  I'm finishing up a biography of Ulric Dahlgren, and the Fredericksburg raid is of great interest to me.

Second, Martin Hogan of the 1st Indiana Cavalry ended up in the Bureau of Military Information, and was one of Dahlgren's scouts on the 1864 Richmond raid that cost Dahlgren his life.  I wonder, therefore, if Sergeant Harter remained involved in intel gathering after this, or if it was an isolated incident.

Do you have any further information on Harter?

Thanks,

Eric



 Posted: Sat Dec 16th, 2006 10:09 pm
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amhistoryguy
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Hello Eric, The only other information I have on Harter, is that he went to work for Provost Marshal James McPhail in Baltimore, having been discharged from the army. Harter did find himself a spy again after Gettysburg, when he assisted in scouting the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg, July, 1863. In November of 1864, Harter was on the payroll of the intelligence bureau of the AoP, but as soon as his background of service with Pope and Sigel was discovered, he was discharged. The description of Harter was widely circulated about the Confederacy, and there was a great deal of aprehension for his safety, more it seems by Union authorities, than by Harter.

Sources documenting Harter's activities:
Turner/Baker papers, file 747, and letterbook "Y" pgs 18 - 19
Thirty years after the war, an investigation in an attempt to secure a MoH for Harter was begun. That investigation can also be found in the archives - RG 94, Record and Pension Office entry 501 - Document file 1889 - 1904 - No. 313 - 171 and 323 -903.
Harter's service record is also on file at the National Archives, and I beleive that his pension records include a letter from Gen. Pope, and a couple of letters from McPhail in regards to Harter's service. Edwin Fishel's
"The Secret War For the Union," is the source of these further leads. Sorry I cannot be of more help -
I'm looking forward to your book on Dahlgren !! An interesting subject to be sure !

Regards, Dave Gorski



 Posted: Sun Dec 17th, 2006 12:53 am
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Regina
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amhistoryguy--you're right about the option of "adopting" a soldier.  I have lived my whole life in Connecticut, so I bought the book "Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg".  I then looked up graves on a website and placed flowers on some including Sgt. Major William Hincks (Medal of Honor recipient at the High Water Mark), General Joseph Hawley (from Milford, the town I live in), Captain Crawford, Captain Jedediah Chapman (killed in the Wheatfield), Lt. Col. Henry Merwin (also killed in the Wheatfield),  and Brig. Gen. Robert O. Tyler (High Water Mark).    Also, John Boothe who died at Barlow's Knoll.  There are others, too--I won't type the whole list.  I also photograph the monuments and headstones for a photo album I keep.  It's just my way of honoring them and letting them know they are not forgotten.



 Posted: Sun Dec 17th, 2006 02:00 am
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Eric Wittenberg
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Thanks, Dave. Much obliged.

Interesting fellow. Thanks for sharing his story with us.

Eric



 Posted: Sun Dec 17th, 2006 06:45 am
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susansweet
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Regina that sounds so interesting for you to adopt a soldier.  I had never thought of doing that .  I do know when visiting the monument to Stonewall Jackson and grave in Lexington I turned to walk away and a grave marker caught my eye.  The guy had done it all.  He was a TexanRevolutionist , Mier captive, America soldier and Confederate soldier . His name was William Wilson.  I took a picture of his stone  and left the cemetery.  I have searched to find more about him.  He was an Indian Agent and first Sheriff of Galveston .  Killed in the first year of the Civil War in Virginia.  I called the Visitor Center n Lexington and they put me in touch with a member of the historical society who is doing graves registration.  He had never seen the grave.  The man still fascinates me .   



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