Read CHAPTER XXXIII of The Spy of the Rebellion, free online book, by Allan Pinkerton, on

During the month of January, 1862, I was actively engaged in the city of Washington. With a part of my force, I was acting in conjunction with General Andrew Porter, the Provost-Marshal of the district, while the remaining portion was assisting General McClellan in obtaining reliable information about the topography of the Southern country, and of the number and disposition of the Southern troops.

Almost every day witnessed some incident of importance to the national cause, and my time was fully occupied with the numerous and responsible duties which necessarily devolved upon me. Mr. George H. Bangs, who is now the general superintendent of my agencies, was detailed to the headquarters of the army, while I remained in charge of my office on “I” street, although I was kept fully informed by daily reports of whatever transpired at both places. As may readily be imagined, my office was no sinecure. Many times I was obliged to deprive myself of needed rest and sleep, engaged in laborious duties from early morn far into the waking hours of the succeeding day, and for weeks scarcely obtaining a peaceful night’s slumber. The capital was filled with suspicious personages, with Southern spies, and their Northern allies, and frequently officers of the government, holding elevated positions, would be discovered in secret, but active correspondence with the rebel authorities. Arrests were numerous, and the searching of suspected premises of almost daily occurrence, while the large number of men employed by me required constant and unceasing personal surveillance.

In the army it was astonishing what rapid progress had been made in drilling and disciplining the large, and, for the most part, untried force of soldiery. The commanding general was engaged in perfecting his plans for a campaign against Richmond, and in order to do this intelligently, much information was required of the condition of the country through which the army must pass, and of the number of the enemy he would be likely to encounter. The obstacles that must be overcome, the defenses which would impede his passage, and all the minutia of warlike particularities, were mainly left to be discovered by the men in the secret service department, of which I was the authorized leader, and responsible head. Engaged in these duties the month of January passed away. Numerous operatives had been dispatched into the hostile country before us, and had made their examinations, and returned, conveying to me and to the commanding general items of valuable information which could have been obtained in no other way.

We will now follow the movements of Timothy Webster, whom we left in Richmond struggling with his old and relentless enemy, the rheumatism.

After a painful confinement to his bed for nearly a week, he was at last able to move about once more, and in a few days thereafter was strong enough to undertake a journey which he had been contemplating for some time.

In company with one of the largest contractors for the rebel government, he left Richmond for Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Campbell, the contractor, was engaged in the purchase of leather and desirous of purchasing directly from the tanner, instead of depending upon the dealers, who might not be able to supply him in such quantities as he required. Traveling with this gentleman, and armed as he was, with an all powerful passport from the Secretary of War, Webster would have every opportunity for making his observations without incurring the slightest suspicion. During this journey he traveled through Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville, in Tennessee, then to Bowling Green, in Kentucky, and then, on his return, he passed through Manassas and Centreville, carefully noting in his passage through the country the number and condition of the various troops, the number and extent of batteries and fortifications, and eliciting an amount of information that seemed wonderful for one man to accomplish. He made the acquaintance of commanding officers, and conversed unreservedly with them upon the various matters connected with their divisions, and their movements, present and perspective. He carefully examined the fortifications that had been erected, and the number of guns they contained. He talked with the private soldier and the civilian, and in fact, on his return to Richmond, was as well informed with regard to the military resources of the enemy as were the generals themselves. Rejoiced at his success, and carefully noting what he had witnessed, Webster prepared to return North.

Visiting the War Department and the office of the Provost-Marshal, he received from Mr. Benjamin and General Winder a large number of letters and several important commissions, which were to be delivered and attended to after he should arrive in Washington and Baltimore.

Leaving Richmond, he safely passed the pickets and outposts of both Federals and rebels, and reported to me. His trip had been a most important and successful one, and the information he brought was most invaluable. Webster seemed as well pleased at his success as were either General McClellan or myself, and after a short rest announced himself as quite prepared to make another journey to the South, whenever his services should be required.