By the early to mid-1800s, the world was coming into its own, with many nations having shaken off (or were in the process of shaking off) tyrants and monarchies. Governments and militaries were re-shaped and reformed, but the age-old art of intelligence gathering remained a mainstay of both. Those nations ruled by kings, queens, and dictators needed to know what the people were up to, and if they weren’t happy, what they intended to do about it. The people wanted to know how to exploit the weakness of the upper class and rulers, and military leaders were constantly searching for their enemy’s disposition, plans, and intentions. The early 19th century provided the intelligence officer and their agents with plenty of work.

Karl Schulmeister

In 1805 in Paris, France, General Anne-Jean-Marie-René Savary, Duc de Rovigo, former chief of the gendarmerie d’élite (Napoleon’s personal bodyguard), and Napoleon I’s personal confidant, presented a man to the ruler with the simple introduction, “Here, sire, is a man, all brains and no heart.” The man he presented was Karl Schulmeister. The two men had met in 1799 when Schulmeister was a young smuggler from Hungary. He soon became an agent for Savary, who was then chief of intelligence for Napoleon. Schulmeister was soon sent on his first mission to Vienna, Austria, undercover as a Hungarian nobleman who had been exiled under suspicion of espionage (how ironic).

After establishing his bonafides, Schulmeister was able to meet and befriend the commander of the Austrian Army, Baron Mack Von Leiberich, who took a liking to him and even went so far as to obtain a commission for him—placing him on his staff as his chief of intelligence. Schulmeister realized the gravity of his position and took full advantage of his newfound influence. He began to feed Mack false information and used covert influence methods in the form of specially printed French newspapers and letters that hinted at opposition to Napoleon and unrest in France.

He also used bribes to sway two Austrian officers to provide independent, corroborating information (a hallmark of intelligence) to sell the ruse. Based on the false tip that French troops were being pulled from the front to help suppress the coming rebellion, Mack deployed his entire army in October 1805. He quickly realized his mistake when his men were surrounded at Ulm by the same French forces that were supposed to have left. They were forced to surrender.

Schulmeister went on to enjoy continued success as a spy, taking on missions as far away as Ireland and London. He later held positions ranging from commissary-general to the field armies (which made him a very rich man) to commissioner of police during the second occupation of Vienna (which he ruthlessly excelled at), and finally head of the French secret service. After falling out of favor, he finally retired to his estates and ironically ended up dying in poverty.

John Mosby

In the United States, civil war was set to explode, tearing apart an already fractured nation. It would literally become a war of brother against brother, and neighbor against neighbor. By 1861, as states began to secede from the Union, more and more cadets at the prestigious West Point military academy left to return home and prepare for the coming fight. As the first shots were fired, the need for actionable intelligence became a priority, and many a volunteer stepped up and became famous (or infamous) for it.

Before the war began, John S. Mosby was a 16-year-old university student at the University of Virginia. By the time the fighting had started, he had been expelled from school for fighting and had ended up in jail for seriously injuring the other student. While imprisoned, Mosby immersed himself in the study of law, ironically aided by the very prosecutor who put him there in the first place.