Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Booknotes: Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War

New Arrival:
Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War by Peter G. Tsouras (Casemate, 2018).

Though mostly mocked for his role in framing General McClellan's inflated estimates of enemy troop strength in the East, Alan Pinkerton is probably the most well-known Union military intelligence chief. However, the man who proved most effective in heading the information gathering for the Army of the Potomac was clearly George Sharpe, a prewar lawyer from New York who joined the Union Army in 1861 as a volunteer infantry officer. According to Peter Tsouras, the author of the rather hefty new biography Major General George H. Sharpe and the Creation of American Military Intelligence in the Civil War, the apparatus created by the colonel (and later general) "was the combat multiplier that ultimately allowed the Union to be victorious." That's a pretty lofty claim to try to back up.

From the description: Sharpe "built an intelligence organization (The Bureau of Military Information – BMI) from a standing start beginning in February 1863. He was the first man in military history to create a professional all-source intelligence operation, defined by the U.S. Army as 'the intelligence products, organizations, and activities that incorporates all sources of information, in the production of intelligence.' By early 1863, in the two and half months before the Chancellorsville Campaign, Sharpe had conducted a breath-taking Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) effort. His reports identified every brigade and its location in Lee’s army, provided an accurate order-of-battle down to the regiment level and a complete analysis of the railroad. The eventual failure of the campaign was outside of the control of Sharpe, who had assembled a staff of 30-50 scouts and support personnel to run the military intelligence operation of the Army of the Potomac. He later supported Grant’s Armies Operating Against Richmond (AOAR) during the Siege of Petersburg, where the BMI played a fundamental role in the victory."

Apparently, Tsouras uncovered some new and seldom-used sources during his research that add unique flavor to his study. "With the discovery of the day-by-day journal of John C. Babcock, Sharpe’s civilian deputy and order-of-battle analyst in late 1863, and the unpublished Hooker papers, the military correspondence of Joseph Hooker during his time as a commander of the Army of the Potomac, Tsouras has discovered a unique window into the flow of intelligence reporting which gives a new perspective in the study of military operations in the U.S. Civil War." The book also delves into the postwar period, where Sharpe "crossed paths with almost everyone prominent in America after the Civil War. He became one of the most powerful Republican politicians in New York State, had close friendships with Presidents Grant and Arthur, and was a champion of African-American civil rights."

The 450-page narrative is very generously supplemented with numerous photographs, maps, and tables. The book's extensive appendix section is filled with information related to the manpower and activities of the BMI, and, among other things, reproduces a number of reports written by Sharpe.


  1. Drew: It will be interesting to see how this ties in with Fishel's work.

    1. It certainly looks like something worthwhile for those interested in CW military intelligence. I've never read anything from the author's huge body of work, either the non-fiction or the alternative history fiction he's best known for.


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