The use of spying to gather intelligence had always been a part of military tactics. Depending on the situation, spies could be an old immigrant, a diplomat, or a crazy rich woman. During the American Civil War, when racism was a major issue, it was used as the main weapon against the very same side that was practicing it: The Confederacy. Who would’ve thought that a seemingly another illiterate slave was working as a spy? Plot twist.
Just Another Slave… Or So They Thought
Just like many other slaves during that time, John Scobell would sing songs, shuffle along, and appear to be oblivious to everything that was going on around him. More importantly, he looked so naive and unaware of the Civil War going on at that time, only that he was not.
Confederate officers would just leave important documents lying around where Scobell could easily see them, thinking he could not read anyway. They would also discuss important details of their action plans with him around, thinking that he did not know what was going on. What could a slave who only knew house and farm work do? Not for a second did they think he would use the information against them. At that time, Scobell was a butler or deckhand working for a rebel sympathizer’s steamboat. He would often sing Negro spiritual songs with his powerful baritone voice.
In reality, Scobell was the perfect spy planted by Union Army, who quietly stole information that the Confederate spy-catchers and slave masters could not point out.