Spies and Espionage



by Shuan Butcher, JTHG Director of Communications

john champe

 The new Argo movie that hit the big screen recently is based on the true story of CIA agent Tony Mendez (who lives in Washington County, Maryland).  He isn’t the first person within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area that has engaged in espionage activities.  Here are a few other examples and lessons from the past as well.

John Champe, born in Loudoun County, Virginia in 1752, was a Revolutionary War soldier in the Continental Army. He was handpicked by George Washington and Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee for a mission, to capture the American traitor Benedict Arnold.  Champe “defected” to the British side where he was introduced to Arnold.  There, he formulated a plot to capture Arnold and he came very close to succeeding, but plans changed and the whole endeavor had to be called off.  After that, it took Champe several months before he could return back to the Continental Army.  In his honor, the Confederate rifle company from Aldie, Virginia named themselves “Champe’s Rifles” during the American Civil War.

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In 1773, Philip Mazzei led a group of Italians to Virginia to introduce the cultivation of vineyards and other agricultural practices. Mazzei became a friend and neighbor of Thomas Jefferson, and started one of the first commercial vineyards in the state.  Jefferson, along with Patrick Henry, George Mason, and others thought Mazzei might be of help to their patriotic cause oversees.  Therefore, Mazzei returned to Italy as a secret agent for the State of Virginia.  He gathered useful political and military information for Governor Jefferson, and purchased and shipped arms to Virginia as well. The state paid him six hundred luigi a year between 1779 and 1784 for his services.  Afterwards, Mazzei continued to promote Republican ideals throughout Europe.Men aren’t the only ones known for espionage.  During the American Civil War, several women played important roles as spies for both sides.  Maryland native Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a leader in Washington society and a passionate secessionist, was one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War.  During the first battle of Bull Run, she sent secret messages to General Pierre G.T. Beauregard which ultimately caused him to win that engagement. She spied so successfully for the Confederacy that Jefferson Davis credited her with winning the battle of Manassas.  She was imprisoned for her efforts but still continued to send cryptic notes.  After being released, she traveled Europe as a propagandist for the Confederate cause.  She died on her return trip to this country while trying to flee a Union gunboat.  Her rowboat capsized and she drowned.

Although not from this region, it was the actions of Henry Thomas Harrison within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area during the Civil War that made him known.  He became a spy for Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and then General Longstreet in 1863.  On June 28th that year, he shared with Longstreet the news that Federal forces were located around Frederick, Maryland and advancing north, as well as the information that Union General George Meade had replaced Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac.

With Confederate troops being stretched thin along a wide swath of land in south central Pennsylvania, so alarmed was Longstreet by the news that he sent Harrison to relay it to General Robert E. Lee, who then made the decision to concentrate his troops at Gettysburg. The move prevented the Union from being able to take on smaller groups of the enemy, but it also resulted in the epic three-day Battle of Gettysburg, where over 50,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing in action.

NOTE:  Also check out the student-created vodcast about Jack Sterry, a Union spy in a Confederate uniform, as part of the Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student™ program at:

http://youtu.be/_bNadHm1YiY

(Sources:  Americancivilwar.org, Monticello.org, nps.gov)

Shuan Butcher

Shuan Butcher

Director of Communications at Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership
Shuan Butcher has more than 15 years of management experience in the nonprofit and government sector. He most recently served as executive director of the Frederick Arts Council in Frederick, Maryland. His efforts there helped garner state and national recognition for the city's thriving arts community. In addition, he has worked for a national youth civic engagement initiative, a historic state park in West Virginia, and other organizations.Butcher is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership from Mountain State University. He has written or published two booklets as well as numerous articles for local, state, and national publications. He serves on the board of the Tourism Council of Frederick County and the Frederick County Business Development Advisory Council.
Shuan Butcher
This entry was posted in Civil War, Colonial Era on by .
Shuan Butcher

About Shuan Butcher

Shuan Butcher has more than 15 years of management experience in the nonprofit and government sector. He most recently served as executive director of the Frederick Arts Council in Frederick, Maryland. His efforts there helped garner state and national recognition for the city's thriving arts community. In addition, he has worked for a national youth civic engagement initiative, a historic state park in West Virginia, and other organizations. Butcher is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership from Mountain State University. He has written or published two booklets as well as numerous articles for local, state, and national publications. He serves on the board of the Tourism Council of Frederick County and the Frederick County Business Development Advisory Council.

One thought on “Spies and Espionage

  1. Liz Shatto

    Enjoyed this blogpost! Spies and espionage aren’t limited to our 18th and 19th century history along the Journey or in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. In the 1940s, Camp Greentop at Catoctin Recreational Area (now Catoctin Mountain Park) served a significant role in War Department training for the Office of Strategic Services (precursor of the CIA). Visit the park in northern Frederick County and ask about the park’s role in the second World War. It’s fascinating!