Philip Henson

Philip Henson (b. December 28, 1827) was a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.


Henson was born in northeast Alabama. He left home at an early age and traveled from Kansas to New Mexico. Returning to his native state, Henson still found time to roam through Georgia and Mississippi. When the Civil War erupted, Henson was married and working comfortably in a country store. He avoided serving in the Confederate army and later took a loyalty oath to the Union, not out of coercion but because, as he said, “I believed in it.”

Career as a spy

In 1862 General U.S. Grant came to Mississippi, and Henson began his career as a Union spy. After he completed his first mission—that of buying as much cotton as he could for the Union—he was then sent to work for General William Rosencrans. Henson was returning from a mission behind Confederate lines when the Union stopped him. They were wary of anyone with a "Southern drawl" and took him to General Dodge. Dodge was so impressed with Henson that he procured Henson's services for himself.

Henson was then sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi to gather information on the Confederate forces in the city. Much to Henson's good fortune he was introduced to General John C. Pemberton (the CSA commander of the city). Henson informed General Pemberton of the inhumane treatment the Confederate prisoners were receiving from the Union. Pemberton then asked him to share his information with the troops in Vicksburg—giving him free run of the city. The information he gathered was used by General Grant in preparing for his attack on Vicksburg.

Next Henson again went South, and this time put himself in the good graces of Generals Lucius Polk and Sterling Price. There he became a member of their staff and stayed until he had gathered the necessary information. Other Confederate Generals that Henson used were: Daniel Ruggles, Samuel Gholson, James Longstreet, and Nathan Forrest. He was arrested by some of Forrest's men, but used the guise of double-agent to have himself released. In 1864 he was again captured and this time Forrest imprisoned him until February 1865 when he was released to aid Forrest by joining the 26th Mississippi. However, he escaped and returned to Union lines in time for Confederate surrender.


*Johns, G. S. (1887). "Philip Henson, the Southern Union spy. The hitherto unwritten record of a hero of the War of the Rebellion." St. Louis: Nixon-Jones Print. Co.

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