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100 Years Ago

Black History
Civil War
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Because of the lack of modern day technology, unit commanders in the Civil War had to depend on either captured prisoners who would talk, or spies infiltrating enemy lines to provide the necessary military intelligence.

Those who volunteered to spy knew it was a dangerous game. The common practice was to execute any spies who were captured. In a letter to his brother Henry in Sidney dated May 18, 1863, Cassius Wilson reported that "Two of the prisoners that we arrested...were executed at Johnson's Island on the 15th. They were found within our lines dressed in civilian clothes and were dealt with accordingly."  The same harsh treatment was given to Union soldiers. Dr. Wilson wrote to his brother Henry in December of the same year that "A sergeant of our regiment in attempting to go through the rebel lines...was captured and hung last Friday night."

One of the most famous spies for the Union was C. L. Ruggles. A member of Company H of the 20th Ohio, he originally enlisted as a sharpshooter. However, his taste for adventure caught the eye of his captain, who volunteered him for duty as a spy just after the Battle of Shiloh. Throughout the rest of the war, his adventures constantly took him, (and whatever other intrepid volunteers he could enlist), behind enemy lines in the search for military information that could benefit the cause.

Typical of his experiences was one that occurred in September of 1862. With the 20th and other regiments ready to move forward into an area known to be inhabited by rebels, Ruggles volunteered to dress as a local southerner and infiltrate enemy lines. The 20th set up a trap down from a fork in the road. As the confederate cavalry and troops came by, Ruggles warned them to take the right fork (which sent them into the waiting arms of the 20th). As the major of the rebel cavalry unit came by, Ruggles accepted an offered ride from the major. Ruggles talked him down the road, and straight into captivity.  He spent much of his enlistment involved in similar experiences, many times without official orders.

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A member of the 20th Ohio, C.L. Ruggles became a famous Union spy and scout.

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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