Thursday, November 16, 2023


By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield 

         To know is power. One of the first things the Confederate Army did when war was declared was to set up a spy network. The Mason-Dixon Line was located sixty miles south of Washington D.C. and many Southern sympathizers lived in and around the city when war broke out on April 12, 1861. The Confederate Signal Corps included a covert intelligence agency known as the Secret Service Bureau.

         The Union had no centralized military intelligence agency. In mid-1861, General George B. McClellan hired the Chicago detective Allan Pinkerton to set up the first Union espionage origination.

         Governor John Letcher, a former congressman from Virginia, set up a nascent spy network in the capital in late April 1861. Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a pro-South widow and socialite, was friendly with a number of Northern politicians. In July 1861, Greenhow sent code reports across the Potomac to the Virginia militia regarding the planned Union invasion. Her courier was a young woman named Bettie Duvall, who dressed herself as a farm girl so she could pass Union sentinels on the Chain Bridge leaving Washington, then galloped her horse to Fairfax Courthouse in Virginia to deliver her message to the Confederates.

         The same story, only different players, happened at the Blount County Courthouse in Tennessee on August 21, 1864. A spy informed the Confederate army about the small Union army residing there. The Confederates marched into town, raiding and burning out the townspeople. Polly Toole, a young slave woman risked her life saving valuable courthouse documents which I recount in Swept into Destiny. A statue of her still resides there.

         Spies also operated during the Spanish-American War. At the end of the 19th century, the United States had grown in might and power. Theodore Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Defense under President McKinley. Roosevelt was a patriot through and through and knew Americans could not stand for injustice long. He rounded up a volunteer cavalry group called the Rough Riders which I tell of in Destiny’s Whirlwind. So, when the USS Maine in Havana harbor met with Spanish sabotage on February 15, 1898, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were ready. Roosevelt helped devise the navel war plan, then resigned to lead his Rough Riders into battle.

         Unlike the Civil War, the war with Spain was fought on two different fronts, land and sea. It was the first war not fought on American soil. Convoys off the coast of Florida stormed the beaches of Cuba. The U.S. Navy under Admiral George Dewey bested the Spanish fleet near the Philippine Islands, aided by agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

         The opposing Spanish armies had a covert espionage operation in Montreal, Canada, as an effort to undermine American war efforts. The United States Secret Service penetrated this operation. This Spanish spy ring spied on innocent American citizens, then Spanish agents would write forged letters. The sole aim was to create a war cry against the Spanish-American War in the United States.

         When the Great War (World War I) entered the world theater between 1914 to 1918, spying became more lethal. The Germans didn’t like that America was supplying the Allies. Germany sent out saboteurs from the German-American population in the United States.

Most German Americans were dedicated and loyal citizens to their adopted country. However, a handful of German sympathizers started warehouse explosions and blew up American arms depots. At Black Tom Island, an ammunition shipping station near Jersey City, N.J., was blown up. Some government workers snatched defense-related documents from their offices to send across the seas to Kaiser Wilhelm. These documents mostly carried U.S. arms manufacturing capabilities. Germany also had agents in the Department of War to report on troop dispositions to Europe.

         In April 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Germany. Many German-born immigrants spoke out against this war. Congress enacted laws against government workers taking defense-related documents from their offices. The Espionage Act was passed in June of 1917 followed by the Sedition Act in May 1918. It was a crime to possess any document related to defense whether you were still in the government or not.


The aim was to stop these saboteurs from setting fire to warehouses and stop the spying and the slanderers’ disloyalty in newspapers and magazines. This was to protect our fighting men abroad and uplift spirits so they could quickly finish the fighting abroad. Wilson felt American soldiers were risking life and limb and didn’t need to read about the disloyalty of a few cowards on the home front. Socialist troublemakers like Charles Schenck who distributed leaflets to revolt against the war and disobey the draft, were charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.

What better way to give Americans a moral boost during World War I, than with the valiant Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War. The Rough Riders were eager to become part of the U.S. Cavalry. Their experiences fighting in Cuba were invaluable. However, upon the war’s end, few Americans thought we had heard the last from Germany, as I tell in Destiny of Heart.

At 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent. We continue to celebrate Armistice Day every November.

It was 1941 when all of Europe turned their lights off! Nightly bombs plummeted the cities as the doom of World War II lit the world with a deadly omen. This war was against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and socialist Mussolini of Italy—no one knew just how long this bloody war would last. But for many young Americans, December 18, 1941, was a day their world changed forevermore. Such was the case for my characters in Waltz with Destiny. Esther worked as a secretary for a secret service agency in Detroit, where she was privy to learn valuable information.

Throughout the centuries, and especially from the espionage acts of World War I, much has been learned to stop saboteurs before they could levy their destruction.

Just six days after Pearl Harbor, a huge spy group was undermined by one lone German-American who refused to give in to Nazi bullying and aggression.

William Sebold served the Allied cause by becoming a double agent for the FBI. He became a naturalized U.S. Citizen on February 10, 1936. He worked in the industrial and aircraft plants throughout the U.S. and South America. On February 1939 Sebold returned to Germany to visit his mother. He was approached by Major Nickolaus Ritter, a member of the Gestapo, and of the German Secret Service. He persuaded Sebold to cooperate—or face reprisals against his family members who still lived in Germany.

Then, Sebold’s passport was stolen, he went to the American Consulate in Cologne, Germany, to attain another one. He secretly told personnel in the American Consulate about his future role as a German agent, and that he wished to cooperate with the FBI once he could return to America.

Sebold went through instructions in Hamburg, Germany, and after finishing, sailed for Genoa, Italy, and arrived in New York City on February 8 1940. Sebold’s intentions were to help identify German agents in the United States.

Under the guidance of FBI agents, Sebold established residence in New York City as Harry Sawyer, becoming a diesel engineer consultant as a cover and to help him establish contacts with members of the spy ring. Because of Sebold’s ingenious actions, the FBI was able to play right along with the ruse, incorporating some deceit of their own.

Duquesne, the veteran leader of the German spy group, blatantly explained how fires could be started at industrial plants and even shared his photographs and the plans he’d stolen from a Delaware plant and a bomb being made in the United States. Another spy was preparing a bomb of his own, complete with dynamite and detonation caps. All this spoken in Sebold’s rigged office!

On January 2, 1942, the thirty-three members of the Nazi spy ring were sentenced to serve a total of over 300 years in prison. Because of one brave and determined German-American citizen, countless factories and lives were spared. America was able to enter World War II with confidence that no major German espionage network was awaiting a chance to pounce on innocent civilians—and that American soldiers would have the armor and vehicles they needed to win the war.

From the hoop skirts of the Antebellum era of the 1800s to the Industrial Revolution of the 1900s, brave Americans have always stepped forward to do what is right. The Sedition Act expired in 1920. The Espionage Act has never been repealed, though it has been amended over the decades.

These laws were meant to protect us from espionage. To protect our lives from the saboteurs who planted bombs at trains, airports, and terminals; and from the espionage ring that wanted to pass atomic secrets to Russia. These laws were aimed to protect us from the KGB as the FBI did with Sebold.

Does a saboteur continue to lurk within our gates? The Espionage Act was not written to harm law-abiding citizens or be twisted to become implements of political warfare. This law was for fighting enemy espionage—is it now being used to destroy what Abraham Lincoln established? The Republican Party? Before Abraham Lincoln became president, he quoted Scripture on June 16, 1858, before the Republican State Convention, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This appears in Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, Luke 11:17.

To know is power. Here is the complete Bible text: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges” (Luke 11:17–19 NKJV).

Jesus faced his enemies with righteous anger. Satan and his demons cringe and cower when righteous Christians bow in humble prayer. Lest we forget our heritage. Our trust is founded upon God, as stated in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.


 Bold words from brave men. America’s most powerful ammunition is our righteous anger and our prayers. It has been and always will be God and His Son, Jesus Christ’s protection the United States relies upon because this nation’s framework was built upon these beliefs.

Lincoln stated this truth January 1838 during a speech at Springfield, Illinois: "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

Four Book Destiny Series: Beginning in the Antebellum Era and ending with World War II, the Destiny Series gives the reader CHRISTIANITY—ROMANCE—PATRIOTISM in a sweeping saga of true-to-life adventures.

Here you will get whisked into the lives of the McConnell women in this historical Christian fiction series by Catherine Ulrich Brakefield. Follow these strong women from the days of the Civil War through the epic battle with Hitler. Discover what has inspired readers all across the world as these four books are brought together as a set for the first time.

"The message of the Destiny series is even more applicable to today than when it first released. Praying for America’s repentance and to embrace God like never before." Debra B.

Catherine is the award-winning author of Wilted Dandelions, Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart, and Waltz with Destiny. Her newest book is Love's Final Sunrise. She has been published by Guideposts Books, CrossRiver Media, Revell Books, and Bethany House Publishers. Catherine and her husband of fifty-one years live on a ranch in Michigan and have two adult children, four grandchildren, four Arabian horses, three dogs, four cats, six chickens, and five bunnies. You can learn more about her and her books at


World Book Encyclopedia Vol. 19 Copyright 1961



  1. Thank you for posting this most interesting look into the history of spies and espionage.

    1. Connie, I learned quite a bite researching for this! Thank you for replying.