4th Division, 9th Corps
Elias Coates (Cotes)
Recipient of the U.S. Military’s highest decoration - The Medal of Honor - for his bravery at the Battle of the Crater
When Gen. Joseph Hooker took command of the Army of the Potomac on 27 January 1863, he immediately saw the need for an effective centralized intelligence system. On 11 February, Col. George H. Sharpe, an attorney and an officer of New York state volunteers, accepted the post of head of the Army's intelligence service. Under Sharpe, with direction from Hooker, the Bureau of Military Information (BMI) was created. Its sole focus was collection of intelligence on the enemy; it had no counterintelligence responsibilities. It soon developed into the first "all-source intelligence" organization in US history. Sharpe obtained, collated, analyzed, and provided reports based on scouting, spying behind enemy lines, interrogations, cavalry reconnaissance, balloon observation, Signal Corps observation, flag signal and telegraph intercepts, captured Confederate documents and mail, southern newspapers, and intelligence reporting from subordinate military units. This structured approach, which ended with the Confederate surrender, was not re-institutionalized until 1947, when the CIA was created.
Sharpe's BMI was well established when Charlie Wright, a young black man, arrived at Union lines from Culpeper, Virginia, in June 1863. While being debriefed, his extensive knowledge of units in Lee's army became apparent. He had an excellent memory for details. On 12 June, Capt. John McEntee, an officer from the BMI who had deployed with Union cavalry forces just after the battle of Brandy Station, telegraphed Sharpe the following:
A contraband captured last Tuesday states that he had been living at Culpeper C. H. for some time past. Saw Ewells Corps passing through that place destined for the Valley and Maryland. That Ewells Corps has passed the day previous to the fight and that Longstreet was them coming up.
Shortly thereafter, McEntee also reported that Wright was well acquainted with these two corps and that he believed Wright's information was reliable. Wright identified more than a dozen separate Confederate regiments from both Ewell's Corps and Longstreet's Corps. The key intelligence Wright provided was that these troops had passed through Culpeper bound for Maryland.
Thanks to the Bureau's records and all-source information, Sharpe was able to confirm Wright's descriptions of the various Confederate units. This confirmation convinced General Hooker of Wright's assertion that Lee's army was moving into Maryland. Hooker ordered his army to shadow the Confederate forces' movements while traveling on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains out of view of Lee's troops.
This movement by the Union Army shielded Washington from Lee's forces and eventually forced the battle at Gettysburg.