spies are everywhere! ESPIONART

It may sound strange, but espionage or spying is an art. Secretly gathering sensitive intelligence takes extreme talent, in many forms. A good spy must be cunning, and an excellent actor. She (or he) must be able to follow and even draw maps, recognize faces, invent alibis, and lie like a dog if necessary. He (or she) must be a careful listener, able to regurgitate what he has witnessed, or the findings are of no use. 

Spying is the invisible art... where there is smoke there is fire, but where there have been competent spies... nothing. It is where all of the left-handed powers or skills of communication come into play. It is the rare “legal” moment when you need an absolutely trustworthy, yet treacherous person, capable of fooling everyone. And a left-handed person is the individual who will relish in this kind of opportunity. A spy is a hero on one side and considered a criminal on the other. This is the essence of left-handedness.

Unexplainably, and that us why I am writing about it, among all the photos of the Clemens family and their friends and associates, were an impressive stable of famous spies. Sooner or later outstanding cunning and treachery becomes the stuff of legends, and spies often end up as celebrities. But in real life we rarely ever hear of the real ones... a famous spy is sort of an oxymoron. But they are still famous among themselves. And here was a stunning gallery of the “Who's Who, whom we were never supposed to know whos.” Whoever gathered these photos back before 1900 was infatuated with the unseen forces which prod history along. I believe they were planning a manuscript, perhaps a novel or some kind of historical treatment. Since they never got there... I get to write it!

By now you now I am not afraid to stick my neck out, (very lefty thing) and am willing and able, like a spy, to read the tea leaves. The presence of so many unpublished spy photos, from various conflicts, almost suggests the collector themselves was a spy, or very close to one. And since these photos may have been part of the Clemens photograph collection, I have let my imagination run wild. I think there are enough historical facts to make my imaginings plausible, and probable. So... the following is a gallery of famous individuals, actors, artists, doctors, ne'r do wells and poets who dabbled in spydom, all derived from one photograph collection...

  Adah Menken has to lead the way, as she has through this whole blog. Secrets were her stock and trade, and she was a kind of underground agent long before she had a noble cause. She had sported several names before she ever married. Her life story was one of extravagant lies and deceptions, on and off stage. Therefore she would have been a natural spy. And the Union authorities thought so, arresting her, interrogating her, threatening her. And thus encouraging her.

Adah ran with a fast crowd, artsy-smartsy, cutting edge creatives, mostly self- proclaimed anarchists. We will never be able to understand her motives, other than thrill-seeking and pure mischief. Most of her biographers hold that she was a “quadroon,” from New Orleans, which seems to fly in the face of being a spy for the Confederacy. Yet she had strong ties to a network of scoundrels and a great deal of suspicious activity concentrated for the Southern cause... One of her favorite running buddies in California was fellow actor Junius Booth, older brother of the most famous spy and assassin of all time. That we know. There was a gaggle of Southern sympathizers, many her closest associates, there in California that might easily have turned the war but for one main problem... anarchy and organization are almost incompatible.

When the war ended, Adah's flame went out fairly quickly. Few cared or sang her praises. She set the standard for “candles in the wind”... but burned her candle from both ends.

Through it all, Adah cultivated a persona inflated by mystery. To this day, we are not sure of her real name, the identity or race of her parents, her birthplace, her talents, her political allegiances, her true loves, not even her religion. She gave so many contradicting versions that she was obviously hiding something. Yet she was a very visible player in an international drama. Adah Menken-Barkley was the ultimate secret agent, whoever she was.

Most of the spies in the “Twain Rogue's Gallery” were active during the Civil War. Several were women. Not all of them were working for the Confederacy. This tells me that Mark Twain made an effort to appear objective. His very nom de plume means 12 fathoms in steamboat pilot lingo, and that is about how deep his affinity was for intrigue.

Twain's love for sweet, enigmatic Joan of Arc is revealing as to his love of the unfathomable. Joan was young, unschooled, yet wise and even devious. She was an effective communicator, able to sway a king and his generals. She has also been accused of being the king's illegitimate sister, rising to save the kingdom when he would not. You see the king was a sort of spy, being a cousin to France's key betrayer, and thus crippled with confused motives... it took a little unsuspecting spy to betray the betrayers.

Researchers do not agree about Jehanne d'Arc any more than Adah Menken. There are serious unanswerable questions and discrepancies about Joan's age, parents, birthplace, informants and inspirations, and even her death, and subsequent reports of her documented return to France after serving the Pope, and living to a ripe old age! Twain had a nose for a story. Still, he surprised me and many others by choosing to fortify the legend, rather than flesh out the messy realities. Maybe it was a sort of spy loyalty thing... to never out a spy who had not already stepped forward and made themselves known. In other words, if they got away with it, they got away with it... the perfect spy story is the one nobody knows.

Here are some whom we know...

Septima Maria Levy Collis- A southern Jewess from Charleston, was not a spy, but played like one during the Civil War. The beginning of her upside-down saga began when she became the wife of an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia, who enlisted in the Union army. Charles Collis was soon serving as captain of the “Zouaves d'Afrique” under General Nathaniel Banks. He rose quickly through the ranks to major general, allowing her access to the top brass in the Union, including President Lincoln, and the wives of the generals, such as Mrs. Ulysses Grant. Early in the war she gave birth to their daughter, who was not seen by her father for many months after.

When she got word that her Charles was dying of pneumonia, she made necessary arrangements for the care of her daughter and set out to find his unit... She found everything she had ever done had prepared her for the odyssey ahead.

“I have crossed the Atlantic a dozen times; have been in a collision in mid-ocean, and will carry to my grave the recollection of the agonizing cries of the drowning victims; have stood upon the crater of Vesuvius during an eruption; have lived in a railroad construction camp on the Rocky Mountains, with its ruffians, its gamblers, and its Chinamen; have made an ascent in a balloon; have seen a Cinnamon bear shot within fifty yards of me; have for nights slept upon the bare floor of an isolated log-hut amidst the geysers of the Yellowstone; have had a volley of rifle-balls whistle around my ears; yet never in my experience did my heart throb as nervously as when I stood alone in the streets of Alexandria waiting to be lifted into a cattle-train which was soon to start for the army at Brandy Station, near Culpepper.”

After her strenuous adventure finding him, she successfully nursed him back to health. She was usually provided a military escort, but sometimes when she left his camp she had to dodge enemy fire. Septima would take dangerous risks, sometimes skirting enemy lines alone by horseback to find her husband's camp. She was not afraid she said, because if captured, being a Southern girl, she would find herself among friends...”

She was warned that the Confederates might not be so friendly, as there were known female agents in the field, and justifiably accuse her of being a spy, and shoot her on sight. These warnings never deterred her.

Septima was typical of many Americans during the war, having close family members on both sides of the conflict. Even as she supported the efforts of her husband, her brother David Levy was killed at Murfreesborough while serving in the Confederate army, and buried in an unmarked grave on the battlefield.

She published her memoirs in 1899, titled A Woman's War Record- 1861- 1865.”

Belle Boyd- Isabella Maria Boyd was a genuine Confederate Spy. As with any undercover agent, their war record is spotty and confusing at best. Only 17 when the war erupted, she insolently, sometimes violently opposed Union occupation of her village, and once shot and supposedly killed a Union officer who put a Union flag up at her fathers hotel and insulted her family by cursing them.

Later she eavesdropped on Union officers on General James Shilds's staff who talked too freely at her father's restaurant, and conveyed strategic information to Colonel Turner Ashby and thus to Stonewall Jackson via Eliza Hopewell, her slave attendant. So valuable was this information that General Jackson presented Boyd with the Southern Cross Of Honor. So impressed with her spunk , General Jackson made her an honorary captain, and also awarded her aide de camp status.

Once her boyfriend got scared and betrayed her, and she was arrested and taken to Washington D.C. and tried and imprisoned. Belle was home soon enough because of a prisoner exchange, but was arrested twice more, each time finding her way home. No doubt each time she gathered more useful information that was passed on to the Confederates.

Most official records were apparently cleansed during the war, leaving scant official trace from either side of her involvements, no doubt to protect her as a female and a youth.

By 1864 she had experienced enough excitement and fled to England. There she met and married a Union officer, and became an actress. This was when she met the illustrious Adah Isaacs Menken and other European celebrities. When things settled down in the States, she divorced her Yankee protector and came back in 1869 and married a couple of times (Hammond/ High), lived in New Orleans, traveled around giving presentations about her war adventures, and eventually died while on tour in Wisconsin of a heart attack at age 56. Ironically, she was buried there in Northern soil, and it was Yankee veterans, members of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) who served as her pall-bearers.

 James Abbott McNeill Whistler- We have no evidence that the artist who made Whistler's Mother famous was a Confederate spy. None. Still, he was a drop-out from West Point, spoke several languages, ran in a fast, international crowd, and never really produced a body of work proportionate to the time spent kicking around Europe during and after the Civil War. He may have just been lazy. But the people closest to him were extremely active and interesting, and had passionate enemies. 

His model Rosa Corder was formerly the model for Dante Rossetti in England. She wore out her welcome when Rossetti discovered that she and Charles A. Howell, his agent were counterfeiting his works and selling them. She and Howell moved to the U. S. and she had a lackluster career as a portrait artist. Howell was murdered in the streets of New York. Rosa posed occasionally for Whistler, and appeared in a couple of his major works.

This just provides a peek at the sort of seedy, underground side to the Whistler clan. And it does not help that Dr. William McNeill Whistler, James brother, was on his way to England, supposedly with official business of the Confederacy, when his outfit surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox. I believe that James Whistler the artist was at the very least a reliable contact in England for Confederate diplomats, including his brother, whom we know was at the very least, an official Confederate emissary. There can be little doubt that Dr. Whistler was sent to England because he had a reliable contact there.

Dr. Whistler had been serving as an assistant Surgeon... in Orr's Rifles, (First South Carolina Regiment) when suddenly out of the blue he was crossing enemy lines, dodging union guards, and gaining passage aboard ship in a Union Harbor with a desperate missile, in the last throes of the Confederacy. It is quite possible the official business was Jefferson Davis's final plea for military assistance from Great Britain, which had been discussed in the past. But when Dr. Whistler got to England, the war was over... and so he stayed, apparently afraid (or not choosing ) to come back. He made his career in England, later founding the London Throat Hospital.

This liaison certainly throws more suspicion on Adah Menken, who was at one time at the core of the inner circle of the British bohemian set... which was made up of James Whistler, Dante Rossetti, (also had a brother in the U. S.) Rosa Corder and Charles Augustus Howell.

 Sir Henry Stanley was another suspicious player during the Civil War. He is one of the most famous journalists of all time, being the one who tracked down Dr. Livingstone in Africa, when every one else had failed. Originally from Wales, it appears that he may have been a planted in the U. S. as a British informant- or a spy. A mere British government observer would not have joined to fight for the Confederacy as a private, then when captured during battle, suddenly changed sides and joined the Union army. This is what Stanley did. And understand, somebody high up had to allow him to do it.

At some point, nobody, not even Stanley knew which side he was on. But history tells us he did not fight as bravely for the Union. Whatever his motives, he got sick, or feigned illness, and got a medical discharge from the United States Army. Later he joined the Union navy. Right before the end of the war he jumped ship and left lots of questions... but inspired plenty of suspicions. Stanley seemed to be an active figure in search of a mission, or perhaps was serving some secret mission that would have made his actions seem irresponsible.

Spies are often the only ones who could untangle the facts and explain history, but they rarely ever do. Stanley seemed to enjoy the almost bizarre contradictions of his action adventures, which led to his assignment to find Livingstone. His experiences abroad in peace and war gave him the perfect credentials to negotiate with tribesmen, fight the wilderness, and gather clues to find the devoted, lost doctor. His words “Dr. Livingstone I presume,” have been quoted as much as any words from any journalist living or dead. 

  Abbott Thayer. An artist (on the left), friend of Sam and Olivia Clemens, and creator of camouflage. Abbott Handerson Thayer was into the spies of nature. He understood that sometimes the most effective asset to offense or defense is concealment. He was fascinated by the natural defenses of animals, which protected them from harm. The way baby mammals are born with markings and coloring to help hide them from predators. The way some snakes, insects and reptiles are marked with very effective camouflage, completely hiding them from our view. They way anoles and flounder can assume the color of their surroundings. Thayer began to paint these amazing natural things... which support the concept of Intelligent Design and defy the theories of random, natural selection. He and another artist, George de Forest Brush came up with the idea of camouflage to protect our ships during the Spanish American War. By 1902 they had patents on their ideas.

Ironically, it was the hero of that war, former Secretary of the Navy, President Teddy Roosevelt who was his biggest skeptic. A naturalist himself, Roosevelt summarily dismissed Thayer's theories, and made his progress difficult. Thayer, de Forest and their sons pushed on, writing books and promoting uses of camouflage by the American and British militaries, with some success. Eventually their ideas were adapted to conceal American ships and airplanes and eventually our soldiers. The stakes were high, the purpose of the greatest priority, and whole thing drove Thayer to near madness, having to beg to sell his right-brained solutions to a left-brained world. Today his solutions are taken for granted... and you never heard of the suffering agent of change who fathered your hunting jacket... our military uniforms, and who may have contributed greatly to the success of the American military.

John Wilkes Booth- Lincoln's assassin. He needs no introduction. There is little to add. Only that it is highly likely that his brothers, also actors, not only knew what he was up to but were to a degree invested in Confederate espionage as well. Were they spies for the North or the South? Or perhaps players on both sides, with ties to whoever won the war? There were so many people who hated Abraham Lincoln, and schemes to kill him, some born in the North by disillusioned “Yankees,” that we can never be sure which side the conspirators were on... What emerges from the repressed memory of that period is there were more than just two sides. There seems to have been a healthy crowd of conscientious objectors, and a lot of disgruntled immigrants with no dog in the hunt, tens of thousands of grieving family members, European fence-riders, and a bunch of pro-war captains of industry with military contracts with, YES! both governments. As much as we may despise Booth, our country was infested with many of his murderous ilk.

Frank Stringfellow- ( on the left, pictured here with his brother, I think) was a talented disguise artist and Confederate spy. The legendary J. E. B. “Jeb” Stuart was Robert E. Lee's favorite cavalry general, able to accomplish the miraculous. And Stringfellow was his trusty scout, a master of advance intelligence. He was so devious and effective the Union put out a $10,000.00 reward for his capture. A puny 95 pounds, soaking wet, he sometimes posed as a pretty girl in a huge dress in order to get through enemy lines. He often used the guise of a dental assistant (male) while gathering intelligence for the Confederate cause. He just as frequently served as a straight up officer, in combat, but also worked directly under General Lee. After the war he became an Episcopal Priest. The reward on him was never collected. He did write his memoirs of his many adventures which are still a hoot to read. 

 Captain Thomas H. Hines- a legendary Confederate officer & spy, was a grammar school principal before the War Between the States. He served under General John Hunt Morgan, and was a trusted cavalry captain who led numerous successful raids and skirmishes. And like Stringfellow, Hines recalled many close scrapes and narrow escapes. He was the mastermind behind some of the rebellions inspired in the North against the war and the Lincoln administration.

When and he and General Morgan were captured and detained at the Ohio Penitentiary, he conceived and executed a daring escape. He said he had been inspired while reading about Jean Valjean, the character in Les Miserables, who led an escape using an underground passageway. Hines studied the prison building where he and Morgan were held and somehow identified and excavated a narrow underground passageway. He led a party of seven out of the prison during a terrible storm, leaving behind a taunting note, which almost cost them their lives. Enraged by his insolence, orders were given to shoot or hang him and the others if possible, whenever and wherever they were apprehended, but he managed to get General Morgan to safety before he was captured again, and then escaped again, just before he was supposed to be hanged by the neck until dead.

Later after the assassination of President Lincoln, he was misidentified as John Wilkes Booth and had to escape from Federal jaws closing in on him. Holding a ferry boat pilot at gunpoint, he commandeered the boat and slipped away to Canada with just minutes to spare... and once again managed to frustrate the Union authorities and Pinkerton detectives, who considered Booth public enemy number one. Even so, he survived and yet never succumbed to divulging too much about his spying activities... other than a series in a magazine about his leadership of the “Northwest Conspiracy” when he led 60 Confederates out of Canada to try to free Confederate prisoners of war incarcerated at Camp Douglas in Chicago. After hostilities ended, he became a prominent lawyer in Kentucky where he eventually served as the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. 

  Dick Liddil and Robert Ford. Dick Liddil was a horse thief and train robber who worked with Jesse James, who was the most famous badman of all time, and believed to be the inventor of train robbing. He departed from the gang when he killed Wood Hite, the James boy's cousin, in a shootout. As the Law revved up, and the gang wound down, Jesse and Frank James announced their retirement, leaving their faithful desperadoes to fend for themselves. So they did, and in the process threw Jesse under the bus.

Robert Ford was “the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard,” better known as Jesse James. Both disillusioned members of the James Gang, Ford and Liddle had both been in communication with Pinkerton detectives and Governor Crittenden of Missouri, rushing to make a deal that would save their own hides. Fearful of reprisal from the James over Hite's death, Liddil gave a full confession, singing like a turkey on Thanksgiving... But nothing short of the life of Jesse James would keep either Ford or Liddil out of prison. Robert “Bob” Ford, a recent recruit in the gang, who some still believe was never more than a contemptible spy, had breakfast with the “Howards” and then shot wily Jesse in the back of the head, and “Thomas Howard” was dead before Dick Liddil could get there. Ford was reportedly afraid that he might not get immunity with anything less than playing the assassin himself. Both were pardoned after being sentenced to hang, for their crimes and their parts in the most famous, and some believe the most unconscionable betrayal in the annals of American crime.

Bad luck seemed to follow the Fords “for the rest of their born days.” Bob Ford and his brother Charles teamed up and traveled around in a sideshow, selling their grim celebrity, reenacting their treachery, for which many people never forgave. They were an attraction, but did not enjoy the kind of attention they got. A few years later Charlie (supposedly) committed suicide. Dick Liddil and Ford got together and opened the Bank Saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Later Robert was tracked down in Crede, Colorado where he had set up a tent saloon, not seeming to get the message after his permanent establishment had burned to the ground... then a James partisan shot him down in cold blood, knowing in advance such a bold killing would result in his own prosecution and imprisonment. As far as I know, there is no cute poem about the cold-blooded killer that shot down the dirty little coward. Still he must have thought it was all worth it to take that sneer off of his face... His sentence was later commuted for health reasons, and still Edward O'Kelley could not stay out of gun play... HE was shot and killed in 1904 while trying to shoot a policeman.

Dick Liddil lived to see a measure of forgiveness for his role in the demise of Jesse James. In later years he became a noted racehorse breeder and horse racing enthusiast. Then out of the blue, in 1891 the state decided to prosecute him for the murder of Wood Hite. They must have rattled his cage pretty hard, for the pressure became too great and he died at the tracks a few months later of a heart attack.

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