Double Death: The True Story of Pryce Lewis, the Civil War’s Most Daring Spy
by Gavin Mortimer, Walker & Co.
Pryce Lewis, who emigrated from Wales at age 28, joined Alan Pinkerton’s detective agency in 1860. Soon after George McClellan called on Pinkerton to establish a secret service, Lewis was dispatched to the West. McClellan was preparing to cross the Ohio River and drive the Confederates from western Virginia, and it would be Lewis’ job to check out the area.
The Pinkerton man seems to have done a brilliant job. Several Southern officers told him their plans and even invited him into their camps. The intelligence Lewis secured turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Acting on his report, a subsequent Union advance through the region in July 1861 captured supplies and 1,000 prisoners— and made McClellan a national hero.
Later sent to Richmond to help out another Pinkerton man, Timothy Webster, Lewis was arrested—and Webster became the first spy hanged during the war. Lewis himself spent 19 months in prison before being exchanged.
Double Death is a rare wartime history that relies on fresh material, three volumes of Lewis’ memoirs that languished in university archives until 2008, when Gavin Mortimer discovered them. Mortimer unfortunately laces his account with fictionalized dialogue. But readers who can tolerate his style will enjoy this richly descriptive memoir, evocative of wartime espionage.
Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.