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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

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