Espionage—the act or practice of spying or of using spies to obtain secret information—has been with us probably since one of our first villagers looked over the hill to see what the other village was up to.
Espionage is one of the world’s oldest professions because as long as there is one person who has an advantage over another, be it military, agricultural, industrial, or even sexual, undoubtedly, someone will be skulking about trying to get their hands on someone else’s information or technology.
The most valuable thing in the world is not gold or diamonds, it is information.
Information of every kind has its own value depending on who wants it and why. Industrial espionage can alter the wealth of a nation and thus its capacity to compete commercially and wage war. A single act of industrial espionage elevated the United States to international economic eminence in less than 50 years. All it takes is one person to alter history, if they are in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of information.
Having people in the right place at the right time was vital to both the Union and the Confederate armies during the American Civil War. Units of spies and scouts reported directly to the commanders of armies in the field. They provided details on troop movements and strengths.
The most useful military intelligence of the American Civil War, however, was provided to Union officers by “Black Dispatches” – a common term used among Union military men for intelligence on Confederate forces provided by black people. Let’s look at a few Black Dispatches and their invaluable contributions and acts of derring-do.