Writing description: the Confederate Secret Service

I’ve encountered a problem when describing the Confederate Secret Service in the American Civil War novel which I’m writing. I’m not sure whether to even describe it as a secret service because that gives it an importance which might not be justified.
The Confederacy staged a few missions, and operated a few spies, but that seems to be about it. Apparently there was no central control, no co-ordination, and no central command structure.
The Northern or Union secret service wasn’t much better, apparently, so it wouldn’t be right to criticise the Confederacy unduly.
In fact we shouldn’t criticise either the North or the South for their alleged inefficiency; it’s wrong to judge a mid nineteenth century situation by modern standards.
The problem is, I have to describe the Confederate Secret Service as a secret service, even though it wasn’t really a secret service, at least, not in the modern sense.
I’ve described it like that, but it’s pretty embarrassing,
For example I have a character who at one point has to introduce himself, which he does like this: ‘Colonel Samuel Burroughs, of the Confederate Secret Service.’
It’s like someone who has a one man internet trading business which he operates out of a back room at his home introducing himself like this: ‘Samuel Burroughs, of International Global In Fact The Entire Planet Internet Trading Solutions.’
At the moment I can’t think of way around the problem, maybe a solution will come to me.
I have had one small success, though.
Rather than write that the Confederate Secret Service wasn’t that great, I’ve got a character to say it.
I’ve written: ‘The Confederate Secret Service, as it might be described, was fairly efficient, he decided.’
Note the ‘he decided.’
It means that he thinks this, not me; it’s someone else’s opinion, not necessarily my opinion.
If he’s wrong he’s wrong, it’s nothing to do with me, I’m just a writer, I’m not responsible for what my characters say.
This gets me out of trouble – covers my ass, as the Americans say.

Author: Paul Gresham

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