Beauregard’s Romantic Set of Spies
Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s sweeping plans to annihilate the Northern host invading Virginia in mid-July 1861 were Napoleonic in character though both Davis and Lee discounted them due to Beauregard’s inflated numbers of troops available, and that rather than risk open battle against a superior force, the enemy would simply retire to its Washington’s defenses. Nonetheless, the Creole general did amass an interesting coterie of spies to monitor enemy movements.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Beauregard’s Romantic Set of Spies
“On July 13 [1861, Beauregard] sent an aide to Richmond with a proposal for the union of his army with [Gen. Joseph E.] Johnston’s. Hardly had the aide left when Beauregard enlarged his plan and sent Colonel James R., Chestnut of his staff to explain it to [President Jefferson] Davis.
The completed plan was truly Napoleonic. Johnston, leaving five thousand men in the Valley to contain the Federals, was to join Beauregard with twenty thousand (Johnston had eleven thousand in his command). The combined force would attack and destroy McDowell. Then Johnston would return to the Valley with his own army and ten thousand of Beauregard’s and smash the Federals there.
Next, Johnston would detach enough men to western Virginia to clear the enemy out of that region. These troops would return and join Johnston, who would then invade Maryland and attack Washington from the rear, while Beauregard, coming up from Manassas, would attack it in front.
In describing the plan to Johnston, Beauregard wrote: “I think this whole campaign could be completed brilliantly in from fifteen to twenty-five days. Oh, that we had but one good head to conduct all our operations.” Both the President and [Robert E.] Lee objected to it on two counts.
His design of grand strategy rejected by the government, Beauregard turned to studying the movements of McDowell. Of these he was kept informed by as romantic a set of spies as any general ever had in his service. Just before the war started, Colonel Thomas Jordan, his chief of staff, had arranged a spy apparatus in Washington.
He asked Mrs. Rose Greenhow, famous capital society dowager and Southern sympathizer, to send him information of important Federal movements . . . [and] provided her with a crude cipher. Mrs. Greenhow dispatched her first message in early July: McDowell would advance on the sixteenth.
It was carried from Washington by a beautiful girl named Bettie Duvall, who disguised herself as a country girl and rode in a farm wagon to Virginia. Going to the home of friends, she changed her costume to a riding habit, borrowed a horse, and rode to [Brigadier-General Milledge Luke] Bonham’s headquarters at Fairfax Courthouse. Both Bonham and his young officers were thrilled when she unrolled her long hair, took out Mrs. Greenhow’s dispatch, and handed it to the general.
At this time, volunteer girl spies from Virginia were bursting into Beauregard’s lines at every turn, bearing news that the Yankees were coming. They were received with consideration and applause, although their information was generally vague and available in Washington newspapers.
To secure more definite news [Beauregard’s chief of staff Thomas] Jordan sent a man named Donellan to Mrs. Greenhow. He carried a scrap of paper on which Jordan had written in cipher “Trust bearer.” He reached Washington on July 16 and received from her a code message saying McDowell had been ordered to move on Manassas that night.
Travelling in a buggy and using relays of horses, Donellan brought the dispatch into the Confederate lines. It was delivered to Beauregard between eight and nine the same night.”
(P.G.T. Beauregard, Napoleon in Gray, T. Harry Williams, LSU Press, 1955, excerpts, pp. 74-76)