lincoln-bookTheir Secret War To Save A Nation to be published by Simon & Schuster on August 6

Behind the grand campaigns of America’s Civil War, with their sweeping battlefields and men charging at one another en masse, there was another conflict out of sight. It was the shadow war of dangerous espionage, tangled intrigue and covert operations, which attracted little attention then and now. From the tense days before Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861 to the surrender of Appomattox four years later, veteran correspondent Douglas Waller, who covered the CIA for Newsweek and Time, delivers a fast-paced and riveting account of the heroes—and the scoundrels—who fought in secret to save the Union.


Lincoln’s Spies is told through the lives of four agents for the North. Allan Pinkerton, whose national detective agency had already brought him fame, became George McClellan’s failed spymaster, delivering inflated intelligence reports that made the Union general even more cautious. The ruthless and unscrupulous Lafayette Baker ran a counter-espionage operation for the War Department in Washington, putting hundreds in jail and pocketing cash from graft he uncovered. George Sharpe, an erudite New York lawyer, successfully ran spying for generals Joseph Hooker, George Meade and Ulysses S. Grant, pioneering what today is called “all-source intelligence” to produce superb reports on Confederate strength and movement. The courageous Elizabeth Van Lew ran a Union spy ring in Richmond, providing Grant critical information as his army closed in on the Rebel capital.

And behind these secret operatives, Waller reveals, was an American president who despite his “Honest Abe” image became an avid consumer of intelligence and a ruthless aficionado of clandestine warfare, willing to take risks. Spying during the Civil War set the template for dark arts in the future. “The phone tapping, human collection and aerial snooping today’s U.S. spy community engages in can be traced to the Civil War,” Waller writes.