J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Belle Boyd”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 1)

In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to feature several Confederate women who supported the cause. Since I’m starting this series a little late, I will continue the posts throughout next month as well.

Belle Boyd

(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Belle Boyd

Cleopatra of the Secession

Belle Boyd was only seventeen years old when she began her illustrious career as a Confederate spy. She quickly learned the art of espionage after her hometown of Martinsburg, Virginia became overrun with Yankees.

Born on May 4, 1844, Isabella Maria Boyd was the eldest child of a wealthy family. Her father ran a general store and managed a tobacco plantation. Belle grew up with several brothers and sisters, dominating them all with her tomboyish ways. She attended Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore at age twelve, and after completing her education four years later, enjoyed the life of a fun-loving debutante. Described as having shining blue eyes, thick light brown hair, and a fine figure, she was considered attractive but not beautiful, and made up for it by being overly feminine, flirtatious, and outgoing. A brilliant talker, she dressed colorfully and wore feathers in her hats.

At the onset of the Civil War, Belle’s father enlisted with the Virginia Cavalry, Stonewall Jackson Brigade. It wasn’t long before Belle was confronted with the enemy. On July 2, 1861, Union troops skirmished at nearby Falling Waters, and occupied Martinsburg on July 4. After looting the town, a band of drunken Union soldiers stormed into Belle’s home, tore down the Confederate flag that the Boyd Family proudly flew over their home, and attempted to hoist up the Stars and Stripes. Belle’s mother protested, and was attacked by one of the Yankees. In retaliation, Belle shot him, justifying her actions by stating, “…we ladies are obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.” Subsequently arrested, she was soon acquitted without reprisal for her action. “

The commanding officer,” she wrote, “inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had ‘done perfectly right.’” Belle’s home was constantly guarded by sentries afterward to keep an eye on her activities.

She soon became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson, carrying information, confiscating weapons, and delivering medical supplies. By early 1862, she had developed a reputation for herself, dubbed in the press as “La Belle Rebelle,” the “Siren of the Shenandoah,”the “Rebel Joan of Arc,” and the “Amazon of Secessia.” Using her feminine qualities to allure unsuspecting Yankees, she befriended the invading soldiers to obtain information for the Confederacy. One evening in midMay, she eavesdropped through a peephole on a Council of War while visiting relatives in Front Royal, whose hotel

was being used as a Union headquarters. With the information she obtained, she rode fifteen miles to deliver the news to General Stonewall Jackson.

On May 23, she ran out onto the battlefield to give General Jackson last minute information. She later wrote that “the Federal pickets … immediately fired upon me…my escape was most providential…rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me … so near my feet as to throw dust in my eyes…numerous bullets whistled by my ears, several actually pierced different parts of my clothing.”

Jackson captured the town and later acknowledged her bravery in a personal note. She was subsequently awarded the Confederate Southern Cross of Honor, and given honorary captain and aide-de-camp positions.

Belle was arrested on July 29, 1862 and incarcerated at Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C., but was released a month later as part of a prisoner exchange. She was arrested again in July 1863. Not a model inmate, she waved Confederate flags from her window, loudly sang “Dixie,” and sent information to a contact person outside who shot a rubber ball into her cell. She then sewed messages inside and threw it back.

She was released in December, but was arrested again in 1864, and this time was released for health reasons (typhoid fever). On May 8, she was sent to England as a diplomatic courier, but was captured while aboard a blockade runner, The Greyhound. She escaped to Canada with the assistance of Union naval officer Lieutenant Sam Hardinge, who she charmed into convincing him to marry her and switch sides. The two traveled to England, where Belle went to work for the Confederate Secret Service. Hardinge was court-martialed and disgraced for his actions. The two were married on August 24.

Belle stayed in England for the next two years, wrote her memoirs, entitled “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison,” and achieved success onstage. When her husband died in 1866, she returned to America, where she continued her stage career and lecture tour, billing her show as “The Perils of a Spy,” and touting herself as “Cleopatra of the Secession.”

In 1869, she married John Swainston Hammond, an Englishman who had fought for the Union army, but sixteen years and four children later, divorced him. She married Nathaniel High, Jr. two months later in January 1885. He was an actor seventeen years her junior.

Belle continued the touring circuit. On Sunday, June 10, 1900, while at a speaking engagement with the GAR in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Belle died of a heart attack. She was 56 years old and in poverty. Union veterans paid for her funeral. She is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.”

-Jefferson Davis

Advertisements

March is Women’s (Civil War) History Month

greenimage11

Throughout the course of history, women have repeatedly demonstrated their strength, power, and resilience. The Civil War changed the role women played in American society. For the first time, women were allowed to participate in the war effort, not only by joining traditional sewing groups, but by volunteering as nurses and hygienists. Prior to the war, nurses were primarily men. But this changed with the advent of such notable women as Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke, Clara Barton, who later founded the American Red Cross, Louisa May Alcott, who went on to write “Little Women,” and Florence Nightingale, to name a few. The new PBS television series, “Mercy Street,” accurately portrays what it was like to be a nurse in a Civil War hospital. With all the trials presented to them, including the lack of medical technology, these women withstood danger on the battlefield and criticism from their peers to persevere.

women2

Many cases of women fighting on the battlefields have emerged over the years. Some of these brave souls disguised themselves so they could fight alongside their husbands, brothers, or friends, while others retained their hoopskirts and acted as spies for both the Union and the Confederacy. Belle Boyd, who supposedly crossed enemy lines to smuggle Union strategy plans to General Stonewall Jackson, traveled around the country after the war to tell her fascinating stories. Many other brave women smuggled supplies, including desperately needed drugs, across enemy lines to support the troops and the cause for which they believed in. A few also smuggled slaves and POW’s.

spies

Women who were left at home while their menfolk went off to fight were faced with the everyday obligation of tending to their farms, businesses, and families. These women, although not as famous, deserve as much recognition for surviving insurmountable challenges and achieving amazing accomplishments. According to Clara Barton, the four-year time period of the Civil War advanced the social position of women by fifty years. Prior to the war, American women were expected to behave according to strict Victorian standards, but afterward, women’s roles in America changed dramatically.

Belle Boyd

Belle Boyd was only seventeen years old when she began her illustrious career as a Confederate spy. She quickly learned the art of espionage after her hometown of Martinsburg, Virginia became overrun with Yankees.

Born on May 4, 1844, Isabella Maria Boyd was the eldest child of Mary and Benjamin, who ran a general store and managed a tobacco plantation. Belle grew up with several brothers and sisters, dominating them all with her tomboyish ways. She attended Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore at age twelve and completed her education four years later, enjoying the life of a fun-loving debutante. Described as having shining blue eyes, thick light brown hair, and a fine figure, she made up for her lack of radiating beauty by being overly feminine, flirtatious, and dramatic. A brilliant talker, she dressed colorfully and wore feathers in her hats.

Three years later, upon the onset of the Civil War, her father enlisted with the Virginia Cavalry, Stonewall Jackson Brigade. It wasn’t long before Belle was confronted with the enemy. On July 2, 1861, Union troops skirmished at nearby Falling Waters, and occupied Martinsburg on July 4. After indulging in confiscated alcohol, a band of drunken Union soldiers stormed into Belle’s home, tore down the Confederate flag that the Boyd Family proudly flew over their home, and attempted to hoist up the Stars and Stripes. Belle’s mother protested, and was attacked by one of the Yankees. In retaliation, Belle shot him, explaining it as follows: … “we ladies are obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.” She was soon acquitted without reprisal for her action. “The commanding officer,” she wrote, “inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had ‘done perfectly right’.” Her home, however, was constantly guarded by sentries afterward to keep an eye on her activities.

She soon became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson, carrying information, confiscating weapons, and delivering medical supplies. By early 1862, she had developed a reputation for herself, dubbed in the press as “La Belle Rebelle,” the “Siren of the Shenandoah,” the “Rebel Joan of Arc,” and the “Amazon of Secessia.” Using her feminine qualities to allure unsuspecting Yankees, she befriended the invading soldiers to obtain information for the Confederacy. One evening in mid-May, she eavesdropped through a peephole on a Council of War while visiting relatives in Front Royal, whose home was being used for a Union headquarters. With the information she obtained, she rode fifteen miles to inform General Stonewall Jackson. On May 23, she ran out onto the battlefield to inform General Jackson of last minute information. She later wrote that “the Federal pickets … immediately fired upon me…my escape was most providential…rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me … son near my feet as to throw dust in my eyes…numerous bullets whistled by my ears, several actually pierced different parts of my clothing.” Jackson captured the town and later acknowledged her bravery in a personal note. She was subsequently awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.

Belle was arrested on July 29, 1862 and incarcerated at Old Federal Prison in Washington D.C., but was released a month later as part of a prisoner exchange. She was arrested again in July 1863. Not a model inmate, Belle waved the Confederate flag from her window, loudly sang “Dixie,” and sent information to a contact person outside who shot a rubber ball into her cell. She then sewed messages inside and sent it back. She was released in December, but was arrested again in 1864, and this time was released for health reasons (typhoid fever). On May 8, she was sent to England as a diplomatic courier, but was captured while aboard a blockade runner, The Greyhound. She escaped to Canada with the assistance of Union naval officer Lieutenant Sam Hardinge, and the two traveled to England, where Belle went to work for the Confederate Secret Service. Hardinge was court-martialed and disgraced for his actions. The two were married on August 24.

Belle stayed in England for the next two years, writing her memoirs, entitled “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison,” and achieving success onstage. She returned to America in 1866, newly-widowed, and continued her stage career and lecture tour, billing her show as “The Perils of a Spy,” and touting herself as “Cleopatra of the Secession.”

She married John Swainston Hammond, an Englishman who had fought for the Union army, in 1869, but sixteen years and four children later, divorced him. Two months later, in January 1885, she married Nathaniel High, Jr., who was an actor seventeen years younger than she. Sadly, Belle found herself stricken by poverty. She died of a heart attack while on tour in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin, and is buried there in Spring Grove Cemetery.

Post Navigation