Aaron Van Camp Takes Part in Confederate Spy Ring

Aaron Van Camp (June 23, 1816–September 15, 1892) was an espionage agent for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.

He was a member of the Rose O'Neal Greenhow Confederate spy ring, which in 1861 was broken up by Allan Pinkerton, head of the newly-formed Secret Service.

Van Camp was a well-known dentist in Washington, D.C., and, after his arrest and imprisonment in the Old Capitol Prison, was paroled in early 1862. During the remainder of the Civil War, he continued his spying activities for the Confederacy. He also served as Commercial Agent for the United States in the Navigator Islands (now American Samoa) from 1853 to 1856 and as Commercial Agent in Fiji from 1881 to 1884.

Espionage during the Civil War

In April 1861, shortly after the Civil War began, Van Camp's son, Eugene, enlisted in a Confederate cavalry unit and became an orderly for General P.G.T. Beauregard before the First Battle of Bull Run. Aaron and his son Eugene then assisted Rose Greenhow in smuggling information pertaining to Union troop movements prior to that battle. The elder Van Camp and Rose Greenhow were then imprisoned as suspected spies in downtown Washington in the Old Capitol Prison. Van Camp was released from custody in March 1862 after signing an oath of allegiance to the Union.

However, in January 1864, both Van Camps are reported to have been engaging in spying activities for the Confederates in the Vicksburg, Mississippi, area, according to a confidential letter sent to U. S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton by a Union sympathizer. They were alleged to be conducting such espionage under the cover of trading in cotton. No arrests are made, however.

In April, 1864, Van Camp arranges to secure a trading permit for Eugene to open a store at Union controlled Fort Pillow. In an attack by Confederate cavalry under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest a few days later, Eugene is badly wounded by a Confederate minie ball and is evacuated by Union forces to Illinois and then to New York.

In January, 1865, Van Camp sends a letter to President Abraham Lincoln seeking that Eugene be "protected from the draft" which request is denied, but Eugene is permitted to return with Van Camp to their family home in Washington, D.C..