Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lady Spies of the Confederacy, Part 1

Rose O'Neal Greenhow

       My wife asked me yesterday for some information on women who spied for the Confederate States of America. I did a little research, but I think she wanted more out of me. So this blog is written special for her. The blog is so long, I've decided to write it in two or three parts. You may wonder why there were so many female spies during the Civil War and I've read that although the United States threatened to hang these brave ladies, they never did. Therefore it was safer when a woman was caught spying because a man would be quickly hanged. 
       One of the most famous female spies for the Confederacy was Rose Rosetta O'Neal. Rose was born in Maryland. She married Dr. Robert Greenhow and they lived together in the nations capital. Rose was 45 when she was arrested in Washington D.C. on charges of espionage. She had passed coded messages to Thomas Jordan, Beauregard's chief of staff during the First Manassas Campaign. Head of the Secret Service Allan Pinkerton found incriminating evidence at Rose's home and she was placed in the Old Capital Prison. Her eight year old daughter and namesake "Little Rose" was permitted to stay there with her. 
       Rose was released from prison and sent through the lines to Richmond, Virginia. She was so loyal that she went to Europe and sold her memoirs. She was returning with two thousand dollars worth of gold (her own royalties) to place in the Confederate treasury. When her ship ran aground, she climbed into a rowboat at Wilmington, North Carolina. A wave capsized the boat and she drowned because of the gold around her neck. 
       Her body was recovered and buried in Oakdale, Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina. My wife is president of her chapter of the Order of the Confederate Rose which is named in her honor.

Belle Boyd

       Another famous female Confederate spy was Belle Boyd. She was only sixteen years old when South Carolina seceded from the Union. Belle was born in what is modern day West Virginia. She shot and killed a Federal soldier that had cursed her mother and was exonerated by a court of inquiry. She then charmed Federal Captain Daniel Keily into telling her military secrets. She sent messages to the Confederates by her servant girl Eliza Hopewell. She also hid in a closet and eavesdropped on a meeting of Federal General James Shields and his staff. She rode through the lines that night to give the information to Confederate General Turner Ashby who passed the information on to his commander Stonewall Jackson. When Jackson took Front Royal (where Belle lived) she ran into the street to meet him. Jackson was so impressed with her that he made her an honorary captain on his staff. 
       Belle was arrested for spying three times during the war. In 1864, she traveled to England and ironically married a Federal naval officer. When he died, she returned to New Orleans, Louisiana and married John Hammond. They divorced soon thereafter and she married a third time. She would spend the rest of her life touring the United States and making lectures about her war exploits. She died of a heart attack while on one of these tours in Wisconsin and was subsequently buried there. 

female Civil War spy

Antonio Ford

       Antonio Ford was born in Virginia and she was 23 years old and unmarried when South Carolina seceded. She reported everything that she heard from Federal officers staying at her home during the Manassas Campaign and passed all the information on to Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. Like Jackson would do a year later with Belle Boyd, Stuart made Antonio an honorary member of his staff. She would continue to pass information to J.E.B. Stuart and John Mosby. She is credited with helping Mosby capture Federal General Stoughton. She was finally found out and arrested on March 10, 1863. She too was placed in the Old Capital Prison in Washington. 
       Her health failing, Federal General Joseph Willard had fallen in love with her, persuaded her to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States. This gained her release and they soon were married. She would only survive until 1871 when she died and is buried in Washington D.C. It is believed her death was a direct result of her captivity during the war. 

Nancy Hart

       Nancy Hart was just 14 when South Carolina seceded from the Union. She was born in North Carolina but her family moved to Virginia just a few miles east of what was to become the state of West Virginia. Nancy grew up as what would today be called a tomboy. It was said she could ride and shoot as well as any man. When Federal soldiers came to the home where she lived and carried off a citizen named William Clay Price and killed him, a hatred of Federals began to grow in Nancy. She left home and joined the Moccasin Rangers and became a scout and guide. 
       She was soon captured and taken to Summersville, West Virginia where she was ordered to wear a dress and pose for a photograph. The photographer said she refused to smile because she hated wearing a dress (although an interesting story, no one smiled in photographs back then). Nancy escaped that very night and joined another unit. Following the war Nancy married a fellow ranger Joshua Douglas and moved to West Virginia. She died while milking cows in 1913. 


  1. Thank You for this post.Greetings from Russia

  2. I'm writing a long narrative about these ladies. The first book is about Belle Boyd and called The Shenandoah Spy (ISBN 9781595959027) and Antonia Ford makes a brief appearance. The second is called "The Queen of Washington"(ISBN 9781595951717) and is about Rose Greenhow. That one starts in 1850 and is about her possible work as a spy for the French and the British as they tried to split the USA and encouraged session. Both are also available in e-book form and will shortly be available as audiobooks through

    Francis Hamit
    Brass Cannon Books