I’m proud to present another review for my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. Feel free to share your thoughts!
When it comes to war (no matter the era), men tend to gravitate toward the bloody bodies and the weaponry, and while some women think the idea of war as romantic, others are horrified at the cruelty. I’ve never seen war as romantic, anything to be proud of, or even remotely good, and parts of JDR Hawkins book was difficult for me to read. That being said, A Beautiful Glittering Lie is a very good story, well written with extremely engaging characters. The historical aspect is excellent and once I could get my head wrapped around the war and violence, I found this Southern family very engaging. I’m very interested in learning where the next book in Hawkins’ series will take us.
Our past holds many secrets. Delving into our heritage can be a fascinating journey in our quest to find out where we came from and what transformed our ancestors’ lives.
One example is that, following the Civil War and the defeat of the South, some Confederates decided to continue their cause, so they moved outside of the U.S. Many congregated in Brazil, because slavery was still legal there. It wasn’t long before slavery was abolished, but Confederate heritage remained, and is still celebrated today. Here is an article describing the celebration that takes place every year in that country.
The aroma of fried chicken and biscuits roused the appetite of over 2,500 people as the country sounds of Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson, and Johnny Cash played over the loudspeakers. It was the annual “Festa Confederada”-the “Confederate Party”-an annual celebration of southern heritage held each April in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, in São Paulo, Brazil.
A sign explaining “What the Confederate Flag Really Means” in both English and Portuguese greeted the roughly 2,500 visitors at the entryway of the American Cemetery. Inside, women wearing Antebellum-style hoop skirts square danced with men clad in gray Confederate uniforms. Couples in T-shirts were doing the two-step.
After the WBTS ended in 1865, some 8,000 to 10,000 Southern soldiers and their families left the defeated Confederacy and went to Brazil. In São Paulo state, they established a somewhat culturally homogeneous community that maintained its southern traditions for generations. Their descendants still celebrate them to this day. But for the first time, this year, just outside cemetery grounds, stood black activists protesting the April 28 party with signs and banners saying, “Down with the Confederate flag.”
Brazil’s Confederados continue to speak English and to practice their Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian faiths, introducing “Protestantism” to the Catholic country. The “American Cemetery” was established because their ancestors were laid to rest-as “Protestants,” in other words, they were barred from burial alongside Catholics. The “Fraternity of American Descendants” has for years held a low-profile, annual celebration of their southern heritage which for decades has been uncontroversial.
But recently, professor Claúdia Monteiro of UNEGRO, “leader” of Brazil’s national Unified Black Movement, have declared the “Confederados” to be “racists” and the Fraternity of American Descendants to be a “hate group.”
Brazilian media outlets are reporting that “100 civil society groups from across the country” have “signed a manifesto criticizing” Festa Confederada as a “white supremacy” gathering and calling on the government to end it.
(Article courtesy of Dixie Heritage Newsletter, May 19, 2019 ed.)
April is Confederate History Month. Because I began posting this series last month in honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to continue the series throughout the month of April to highlight women who helped the Confederate cause. I hope you enjoy.
During the American Civil War, two sisters went above and beyond the call of duty to prove their allegiance to the Confederate cause, and their daring adventures become legendary. Although they worked individually, together they became two of the South’s most notorious spies.
The girls were both born in Virginia, but when they were young, their father, a physician, moved the family to Oxford, Ohio. (Their home is on the National Register of Historic Places.) Both girls were popular and had many suitors. Charlotte, the oldest, who was known as “Lottie,” became engaged to none other than Ambrose Burnside. Legend has it that she was a runaway bride who jilted him at the altar. She eventually married Jim Clark, who became a Common Pleas judge.
At the onset of the Civil War, Lottie was 31, and her younger sister, Virginia, or “Ginnie,” was 16. When their father died, their mother, Cynthia, enrolled Ginnie in school at the Oxford Female College. However, the school was pro-abolitionist, and Ginnie did not share the same sentiment. She asked the school president to allow her to move to Tennessee to be with her mother, but the president refused. In retaliation, Ginnie shot out every star on the U.S. flag that flew over the college grounds. She was immediately expelled, so she traveled to Memphis to stay with Cynthia. The two wrapped bandages and nursed wounded soldiers, and after Memphis fell in June 1862, Ginnie passed through enemy lines, sneaking supplies and information while pretending to meet a beau.
Judge Price became involved with the Knights of the Golden Circle, an underground Confederate network, and received secret messages from the organization. When he got a dispatch requesting that a message be delivered to Kentucky, Lottie volunteered for the job, thus embarking on her career of espionage. Disguising herself as an old Irish woman, she took a boat from Ohio to Lexington, met Colonel Thomas Scott, and gave him the papers to deliver to General Kirby Smith. She then returned to Oxford by train, but not before using her acting talents to tearfully convince a Union general to ensure her passage north. Once she got a taste of the excitement of intelligence life, she delivered more messages. This attracted the attention of Confederate sympathizers in Canada, who invited her to Toronto. They set her up with forged papers, giving her claim as a British subject, and sent her back to the states. She traveled to Washington, supposedly met Secretary of War Stanton, and bluffed her way into Virginia by telling Union officials she needed to travel there for health reasons.
Meanwhile, Ginnie continued her work in Memphis, and in 1863, while she was in Jackson, Mississippi, she learned that valuable information needed to be dispatched to the Knights of the Golden Circle in Ohio. She volunteered and took her mother along, convincing her that they would be safe because they had relatives there. Union officials were now wise to women posing as Confederate spies, and Ginnie was no exception. (See propaganda cartoon below.) She and her mother arrived in Ohio un-detained, and received the necessary paperwork and supplies. They boarded a boat to return south, but one of the commanders became suspicious, so he ordered that the two be searched. Ginnie’s reaction was documented in her memoirs:
“There was a slit in my skirt and in my petticoat I had a Colt revolver. I put my hand in and took it out, backed to the door and leveled it at him across the washstand. ‘If you make a move to touch me, I’ll kill you, so help me God!’”
The captain backed down long enough for Ginnie to withdraw the secret message she had hidden in her bosom, immerse it in water, and swallow it. She and her mother were then taken to the provost marshal’s office, where Union officials searched the two ladies’ trunks. Inside one they discovered a heavy quilt, so they ripped it open and found that it was filled with medicine. A Federal officer supposedly pushed Ginnie’s hoop skirts aside so that he could close the door, and saw that her skirts were also quilted. A housekeeper was ordered to search her. “Forty bottles of morphine, seven pounds of opium, and a quantity of camphor” were discovered in her skirts, on her person, and inside a giant bustle attached to the back of her dress. The two women were promptly taken to a hotel and placed on house arrest. Ginnie protested, and insisted that she see her sister’s previous beau, General Ambrose Burnside. The general had recently been assigned as new commander of the Union Department of the Ohio in Cincinnati, and was busy prosecuting Confederate sympathizers. An order he issued stated that anyone who displayed Confederate leanings would be tried for treason, and anyone caught helping the Rebels would be hung. Ginnie’s request was granted the following day, and when Burnside saw her, he reportedly held out both hands.
“My child,” he said, “what have you done this for?”
“Done what?” Ginnie asked.
“Tried to go south without coming to me for a pass,” he replied. “They wouldn’t have dared stop you.”
Learning of her family’s quandary, Lottie set out to rescue them. Disguising herself as an English invalid, she confronted Burnside, who immediately recognized her and placed her under house arrest as well. The three women remained captive for three months. Ginnie was required to report to General Hurlburt at ten o’clock every morning, but apparently this wasn’t enough to deter her spying activities, because she was commanded to leave Union territory and stay out. Eventually, all charges were dropped.
After the war, Lottie went back to Ohio to become one of America’s first female journalists, and traveled all over the world to cover stories. Ginnie returned to Memphis, but her restless nature got the best of her, so she traveled around the country, and eventually ended up in Hollywood. She landed bit parts in two movies: “The Spanish Dancer” and “Robin Hood” in the 1920’s. From there, she went to Greenwich Village in New York City, where she lived until her death at age 81.
Harpers Weekly, Lampoon of Southern Female Spies
If it wasn’t for Laura Ratcliffe, Colonel John Mosby, the infamous “Grey Ghost,” might have been captured by the Yankees. Not only did she aid Mosby in his mission to serve the Confederacy as a Partisan Ranger, but she also provided valuable information to Confederate cavalry commander Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart.
Laura Ratcliffe was born on May 28, 1836 in Fairfax City, Virginia. Her parents were Francis Fitzhugh and Ann McCarty (Lee) Ratcliffe. Laura was a distant cousin to General Robert E. Lee on her mother’s side. When her father died, she moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (now Herndon) in Fairfax County, just south of Washington D.C. Once the Civil War broke out, the area bore witness to numerous raids and encampments from both sides.
Laura and one of her sisters volunteered to serve as nurses. During the winter of 1861, while they were assisting wounded soldiers, Laura met General J.E.B. (James Ewell Brown) Stuart, and the two became friends. He wrote several personal letters and four poems to her, imploring her to continue with her espionage. In return, she provided him and fellow cavalryman Colonel John Singleton Mosby with valuable information concerning Union troop activity in the county.
A year later, Stuart led his cavalry on several raids in the area, and he visited Laura at her home many times. While at the Ratcliffe home, Mosby asked if he could remain there and continue operations instead of going into winter quarters. Stuart consented, and departed the area. Mosby and nine other soldiers from the 1st Virginia Cavalry continued to use the Ratcliffe home as their headquarters. Oftentimes, Mosby met Laura at a large rock near the top of Squirrel Hill to exchange information. Following one particularly lucrative raid, he requested that Laura keep the Federal greenbacks he had confiscated for safekeeping, so she stashed them beneath the rock.
In February 1863, Mosby captured several Federal soldiers, and returned their plunder to local citizens. Laura discovered that the Yankees had set a trap for Mosby, so she warned him of the intended ambush. Because of her valuable information, Mosby avoided arrest and captured a sutler’s wagon.
Captain Willard Glazer with the 2nd New York Cavalry complained that Laura “is a very active and cunning rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements … by the means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellious sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed.”
In March, Mosby managed to capture Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton by surprising him in his sleep. Arriving in the general’s room, Mosby asked him, “Do you know Mosby?”
“Yes,” replied the general. “Have you captured the devil?”
“No,” Mosby responded. “The devil has caught you.”
Mosby captured the general, two of his captains, and 58 horses without firing a single shot. When President Abraham Lincoln heard of the event, he reportedly said that generals are replaceable, but he deeply regretted the loss of so many good horses.
Although it was obvious to the Federals that Laura’s house was being used for Confederate headquarters, she was never arrested or tried for any crime. After the war ended, she lived with her mother in an old farmhouse named “Merrybrook.” In 1890, Laura, who was now 54 years old and destitute, married a neighbor, Union veteran Milton Hanna. She became wealthy because of it, but her husband died in an accident seven years later.
Laura was a very private person, and never sought or received recognition for her courageous contributions to the Confederacy. Instead, she directed her attentions to the poor and unfortunate. In 1914, she fell and presumably broke her hip, but because she refused to receive medical treatment from a male doctor, the diagnosis was never verified. However, the accident left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Before her death at age 87 on August 8, 1923, she requested that “a neat grey granite stone” be placed at her gravesite with the names of Ratcliffe, Coleman, and Hanna carved into them. In 2007, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Laura Ratcliffe Branch, erected such a marker.
Merrybrook is now under direct threat. The current owners are striving to have the home preserved, but development is encroaching. The rock where Laura and Colonel Mosby exchanged information still exists, and a monument on the country highway nearby has been erected with an inscription that reads:
This large boulder, located just south of here, served as an important landmark during the Civil War, when Col. John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) assembled there to raid Union outposts, communications, and supply lines. Laura Ratcliffe, a young woman who lived nearby and spied for Mosby, concealed money and messages for him under the rock. Mosby credited her with saving him from certain capture by Federal cavalry on one occasion. She also was a friend of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
Among the items discovered in her effects after her death was a gold-embossed brown leather album, which contained several poems, as well as the signatures of General J.E.B. Stuart, Colonel Mosby, and Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee. A gold watch chain belonging to Stuart was also found with her possessions.
For more information, and to learn how you can help with preservation, please visit:
Juliet Opie Hopkins was a pioneer in the advancement of women at a time when most were overlooked for supervisory positions. Her extraordinary abilities awarded her the position of leadership and power that didn’t exist anywhere else.
She was born on May 7, 1818 at her family’s Woodburn Plantation in Jefferson County, Virginia. Her father owned around 2,000 slaves, which established him in elite society. During her childhood, Juliet was home-schooled, and was sent to Miss Ritchie’s private school in Richmond when she reached adolescence. When she was sixteen, however, her mother died, so she left school to return home, where she helped manage Woodburn.
In 1837, Juliet married Commodore Alexander Gordon of the United States Navy. However, Gordon died in 1849, leaving her a young widow. She remarried in 1854, to a widower who was twenty-four years her senior. Arthur Hopkins was a lawyer and prominent businessman who had served as a United States senator and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. They adopted a niece, and considered the girl to be their daughter.
When the War Between the States broke out, Juliet sold her estates in New York, Virginia, and Alabama. She donated the money to the Confederacy for the establishment of hospitals. The Confederate military system dictated that each state was responsible for the care of its own patients.
In June 1861, she moved to Richmond and began organizing money and supplies that were sent from Alabama. In August, she set up a hospital for Alabama’s soldiers, and by November, had established a larger second hospital as well. During the November session, the Alabama legislature assumed responsibility for supporting the hospitals and appointed Juliet as chief matron. In the spring of 1862, she established a third hospital, and received the help of 92 women’s auxiliary groups in Alabama who made clothing and collected supplies.
During the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862, she was shot twice in the leg while attempting to rescue wounded men from the battlefield. Her injuries required surgery and left her with a permanent limp.
Although her husband was technically named State Hospital Agent, she was the one in charge. Regardless of her tremendous responsibilities, Juliet found time to personally care for soldiers by writing letters, making furlough requests, providing books, and keeping a thorough list of the deceased. She even collected hair samples from the dead to send to their families, which was common practice at the time.
A nurse in the Third Alabama Hospital, Fannie Beers, wrote about her:
“I have never seen a woman better fitted for such work. Energetic, tireless, systematic, loving profoundly the cause and its defenders, she neglected no detail of business or other thing that should afford aid or comfort to the sick and wounded. She kept up a voluminous correspondence, made in person every purchase for her charges, received and accounted for hundreds of boxes sent from Alabama containing clothing and delicacies for the sick and visited the wards of the hospitals every day. If she found any duty neglected by nurse or surgeon or hospital steward, her personal reprimand was certain and very severe. She could not nurse the sick or wounded personally, for her whole time was necessarily devoted to executive duties, but her smile was the sweetest, I believe, that ever lit up a human face, and standing by the bedside of some poor Alabamian, away from home and wretched as well as sick, she must have seemed to him like an angel visitant.”
In March 1863, the Confederate Medical Department assumed control over all hospitals. Many patients were sent to larger facilities, which prompted the closure of 35 units, including two of Juliet’s hospitals. The third hospital was closed in October, so she moved back to Alabama. Finding supplies scarce, she had the carpets in her Mobile home cut up and used for blankets. She continued her work in Tuskagee and Montgomery hospitals. When the state was invaded in April 1865, she and her husband fled to Georgia.
After the war ended, they returned to Mobile, and her humanitarian efforts became more well-known, making her a living legend.
Judge Hopkins died later that year, so Juliet left Alabama to live on property she still owned in New York City. Because she and her husband had lost most of their wealth, she lived the rest of her life in relative poverty. She died on March 9, 1890 while visiting her daughter in Washington D.C. Scores of veterans attended her funeral, including Confederate Generals Joseph Wheeler and Joseph E. Johnston, as well as Union General John Schofield. Members of the Alabama congressional delegation served as pallbearers. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in the same gravesite as her son-in-law, Union General Romeyn Beck Ayers.
In 1987, a marker was finally placed on her grave.
It is estimated that Juliet donated between $200,000 and $500,000 for the Southern cause. She was so revered by her peers that her picture was printed on Alabama Confederate paper currency 25-cent and 50-cent bills. She is a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.
On occasion, women became heroines of the Confederate cause purely by accident. Such is the case of Emma Sansom.
Born on June 2, 1847, Emma was a beautiful girl, tall and elegant, with large, deep blue eyes, auburn hair, and a fair complexion. In 1852, she moved with her family from Georgia to Gadsden, Alabama. Six years later, her father died, but the family managed to maintain their farm. Once the Civil War commenced, Emma’s brother, Rufus, enlisted with the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment while she, her mother, and an older sister ran the farm.
Emma had just returned from shopping one sunny morning when suddenly, she heard the sound of approaching men and horses. Still standing in the yard, holding the reins, she watched as hundreds of Union soldiers arrived.
“We were home on the morning of May 2, 1863, when a company of men wearing blue uniforms and riding mules and horses galloped past the house and went on towards the bridge. Pretty soon a great crowd of them came along and some of them stopped at the gate and asked for some water. One of them asked me where my father was and I told him he was dead.
‘Do you have any brothers?’ asked the Yankee soldier.
‘I have, sir,’ I said.
‘Where are they?’
‘In the Confederate army,’ I told him.
‘Do you think the South will whip us?’
‘What do you think?’
‘I think we will win because God is on our side,’ I said.
‘I think God is on the side with the best artillery,’ said the soldier.”
Emma stubbornly held onto her horse’s reins until another soldier snatched them away from her.
Still, the women refused to panic. The soldiers searched their house for guns and saddles. Discovering Rufus, who was home recuperating from a wound he had received, they took him prisoner. The Yankees proceeded to nearby Black Creek, which was swollen from recent heavy rains, and torched the wooden bridge. The women were standing on the front porch, grieving Rufus, when Nathan Bedford Forrest appeared.
“Can you tell me where I can get across this damn creek?” he asked.
Fifteen-year-old Emma told him that the bridge had been burned, and that there wasn’t another one for two miles. She informed him of a ford two hundred yards away where she had seen cattle cross in low water, and where he and his men could likely cross, despite the raging current. Emma offered to escort him if one of his men would saddle a horse for him.
Forrest replied, “There is no time to saddle a horse; get up here behind me.”
Taking her hand, he pulled her up behind him on his steed, and assured her mother that he would return Emma safely. The duo rode down to the riverbank, but came under enemy fire, so they rode into the foliage and dismounted. Finding the spot she had referred to, they emerged from the cover of trees, and were once again fired upon.
Emma placed herself in front of Forrest. “General,” she said, “stand behind me. They will not dare to shoot me.”
Forrest, being the gallant cavalier that he was, refused. “I’m glad to have you for a pilot, but I’m not going to make breastworks of you.”
He left her under cover behind the roots of a fallen tree. Crawling on his hands and knees, he looked back behind him, and saw that she had followed. With some consternation, he confronted her about going against his wishes.
“Yes, General,” she said, “but I was fearful that you might be wounded; and it’s my purpose to be near you.”
Defiantly, she waved her bonnet in the air. The Union soldiers on the other side realized they had been shooting at a female, so they immediately dropped their weapons and gave three cheers. Emma started for home, but soon came upon General Forrest again. He told her that one of his men, who had been killed, was laid out in her house, and requested that her family bury him in a nearby graveyard. After asking that she send him a lock of her hair, he rode off to later become victorious in the campaigning. By bluffing the Yankees into believing his troops were larger in number, he succeeded in capturing Colonel Abel Streight’s Union forces. He also returned Emma’s brother to her.
Emma could have faced severe retribution for aiding General Forrest. She escaped from her close call unscathed, except for a few bullet holes that had passed through her skirt.
“They have only wounded my crinoline,” she casually remarked.
Forrest was so grateful for Emma’s heroic gesture that he gave her a note of thanks:
Hed Quaters in Sadle
May 2 1863
My highest regardes to miss Emma Sansom for hir Gallant conduct while my posse was skirmishing with the Federals across Black Creek near Gadsden Allabama.
N. B. Forrest
Brig Genl Comding N. Ala
After the war, the state of Alabama awarded Emma with a gold medal, and awarded her a section of public land “as a testimony of the high appreciation of her services by the people of Alabama.”
She married in 1864, moved with her husband to Texas, and had five sons and two daughters. Emma died on August 9, 1900, and is buried in Little Mound Cemetery, twelve miles west of Gilmer, Texas. Her legacy lives on in a poem written by John Trotwood Moore. In 1946, she was featured in a comic book called “Real Heroes.”A monument was erected by the UDC in her honor, and a school is named after her. Both are in Gadsden, Alabama.
More than one Southern lady stepped up to the plate to do her share in preserving the Confederacy. Such is the case of Belle Edmondson, a Memphis belle who risked her life to do her part.
Born to Mary Ann and Andrew Jackson Edmondson on November 27, 1840 in Pontotoc, Mississippi, Isabella Buchanan Edmondson was the youngest daughter of eight children. In 1849, her father was elected clerk of courts in Holly Springs, Mississippi. “Belle” and her sisters attended Franklin Female College nearby. In 1860, the family relocated to a farm in Shelby County, Tennessee, eight miles southeast of Memphis on Holly Ford Road, which is now Airways Boulevard.
Once the countryside became engulfed in the Civil War, it wasn’t long before the Edmondson’s got involved, because they were staunch supporters of the Confederacy. Two of Belle’s brothers enlisted for the Southern cause. They both fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and Belle tended to wounded soldiers as a nurse.
When Memphis fell in June 1862, Belle’s family farm became located between opposing lines. Pickets and scouts from both sides patrolled the area. The Rebel army was less than 30 miles south.
Finding herself in a position to assist the Confederates, Belle passed information she gathered in Memphis during the day, and risked her life to transport it to the Rebels at night. She also delivered needed supplies, such as medicines and amputation tools, in her petticoats, and letters and money in her bosom, knowing that Union soldiers were reluctant to search women.
At one point, she met with Generals Forrest and Chalmers. In an entry to her diary dated February 27, 1864, Belle wrote:
Annie Nelson and myself went to Memphis this morning – very warm, dusty and disagreeable. Accomplished all I went for – did not go near any of the officials, was fortunate to meet a kind friend, Lucie Harris, who gave me her pass – ‘tis a risk, yet we can accomplish nothing without great risk at times. I returned the favor by bringing a letter to forward to her husband, Army of Mobile. I sat up until 8 o’clock last night, arranging mail to forward to the different commands. It was a difficult job, yet a great pleasure to know I had it in my power to rejoice the hearts of our brave Southern Soldiers … God grant them a safe and speedy trip.
On March 16, she wrote:
At one o’clock, Mrs. Facklen, Mrs. Kirk and I began to fix my articles for smuggling, we made a balmoral of the grey cloth for uniform, pinned the hats to the inside of my hoops – tied the boots with a strong list, letting them fall directly in front, the cloth having monopolized the back and the hats the side. All my letters, brass buttons, money, etc. in my bosom – left at 2 o’clock to meet Anna at Mr. Barbie’s – started to walk, impossible that – hailed a hack – rather suspicious of it, afraid of small-pox, jumped in, with orders for a hurried drive to corner Main & Vance … arrived at pickets, no trouble at all, although I suffered horribly in anticipation of trouble. Arrived at home at dusk …
Her diary entry of April 16, 1864, reads:
Another day of excitement – about 30 Yanks passed early this morning, only six came in for their breakfast, they did not feed their horses – they behaved very well, and seemed to be gentlemen, in fact we so seldom see gentlemen among the Yankees that we can appreciate them when they are met with.
Belle’s frequent trips back and forth across the opposing lines soon attracted the attention of Union officials. General Stephen A. Hurlburt issued a warrant for her arrest. When Belle learned of this, she wrote an entry in her diary dated April 21, 1864:
…(Hurlburt) would be compelled to arrest me if it came to him officially, but as my father was a Royal Arch Mason, and I a Mason, he would take no steps, if I would be quiet.
And on April 25:
…I am so unhappy about the trouble I have got in – oh! what is to become of me, what is my fate to be – a poor miserable exile.
Belle fled south to avoid arrest. She traveled through Tupelo, Pontotoc, and Columbus before arriving at Waverly Plantation in Clay County, Mississippi on July 14, where she remained until the war ended.
When the war finally did end, Belle returned to Memphis, but details of her life after this are sketchy. In the early 1870’s, she befriended President Jefferson Davis and his family. She was engaged twice, but both of her fiancés backed out of their commitment. After announcing her third engagement to a mysterious “Colonel H,” Belle died two weeks later in 1873 from one of three epidemics that swept through the city. She was only 33 years old. Family legend dictates that “Colonel H” was a Yankee officer.
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.
(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)
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 mid–May, 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.”
As I mentioned last week, one of my favorite people from the Civil War is General Robert E. Lee. Here is an article about his experience at Fredericksburg, as well as an interesting trivia list about his life. Today marks his birthday. He was born on January 19, 1807.
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS – FREDERICKSBURG
DECEMBER 14, 1862
“General Robert E. Lee had a reason for hope at the end of 1862. The Battle of Fredericksburg had given the Confederacy a greatly needed victory. On December 13th, General Ambrose Burnside had thrown repeated attacks against Lee’s impenetrable line on Mayre’s Heights. In ponderous, deliberate waves, the Union troops had charged across a plain and into Southern shot and shell. Casualties were so heavy that the dead lay in heaps in front of the stone wall at the base of the heights. Burnside’s troops had limited success against Stonewall Jackson’s Corps, but were quickly repulsed. Clear days and freezing nights followed, and the field echoed with the pitiful cries of the wounded stranded between the lines. By nightfall on December 14, General Burnside had decided to withdraw his army from the plain and back to Fredericksburg. It was an evening few on either side would soon forget. As Lee’s soldiers worked on improving their defenses, Union troops slowly carried the wounded and dying from the field. At nightfall, the toil of both armies was suddenly illuminated by a celestial phenomenon – the Northern Lights – which cast the Virginia countryside in an unearthly glow. Few men from the deep South had ever seen the Northern Lights, and most stared in wonderment. Was this fantastic display a sign of Confederate triumph?
General Lee and his staff rode along Telegraph Road past Howison’s Mill, where his reserves had gathered before going to Marye’s Heights. The frigid water of Hazel Run cooled the riders while Lee, deep in thought, focused on tomorrow. The night’s chill and splendid display did not distract Lee form his preparation for another day of battle.”
(Plan for Victory, painting by John Paul Strain)
“In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength. Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light. It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, when summoned away, to leave without regret.” – General Robert E. Lee
On the night of December 14, the Aurora Borealis made an appearance unusual for that latitude, presumably caused by a large solar flare. One witness described that “the wonderful spectacle of the Aurora Borealis was seen in the Gulf States. The whole sky was a ruddy glow as if from an enormous conflagration, but marked by the darting rays peculiar to the Northern lights.” The event was noted in the diaries and letters of many soldiers at Fredericksburg, such as John W. Thompson, Jr., who wrote “Louisiana sent those famous cosmopolitan Zouaves called the Louisiana Tigers, and there were Florida troops who, undismayed in fire, stampeded the night after Fredericksburg, when the Aurora Borealis snapped and crackled over that field of the frozen dead hard by the Rappahannock …”
(Articles courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey camp 1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, vol. 43, issue no. 1, January 2019)