J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the tag “spy”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 11)

Nancy Hart

Nancy Hart

“The Rebel in the Family” 

The life of Confederate spy Nancy Hart is shrouded in mystery. Old documents refer to her with a mixture of fact and folklore. It is believed that she was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to John and Rebecca Hart in 1846. Her mother was a first cousin of Andrew Johnson, who later became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Harts were devout Christians, and her father frequently held family worship services. While Nancy was still an infant, they moved to Tazwell, Virginia. 

Nancy was tall, lithe, and black-eyed. She was a middle child who had six, or possibly twelve, siblings. In 1853, she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and William Clay Price, in Roane County, Virginia, which became West Virginia in 1863. The family lived in the wilderness, so Nancy learned how to be an accomplished hunter and rider, but she never learned how to read and write. When the Civil War began, the Roane County held divided loyalties. Friends, neighbors, and families were separated by opposing beliefs. William was not a Confederate soldier, but he did his part by assisting them. After drawing suspicion, Union soldiers confronted him at his farm and ordered him to go to nearby Spencer to take the oath of allegiance. He departed with the Yankees, but never made it to Spencer. His body was discovered three days later. He had been shot in the back and left in the road. 

The murder of William spawned Nancy’s loathing for the Federals. She revered the Southern Cause, even though two of her brothers went to fight for the North. In early 1861, her neighbors, the Kelly’s, held a going away party for their two sons who had joined the Confederate Army. While the party was commencing, Union officers marched past the house in the moonlight. Nancy hollered, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Four rifle shots rang out in response, and four minie balls struck the front stoop, one of which lodged in the door. Three days later, Nancy joined the Moccasin Rangers, who were pro-Southern guerrillas, and rode with their leader, Perry Conley (or Connolly) at the head of the column, leading the Rangers while working as a spy, scout, and guide to the local region. She travelled alone at night to deliver messages between Confederate armies, and slept during the day. She also saved the lives of many wounded Rebel soldiers by hiding them with Southern sympathizers and nursing them back to health. Posing as a farm girl, she peddled eggs and vegetables to Union detachments to obtain information, and scouted isolated Federal outposts to report their strength, population, and vulnerability to General Stonewall Jackson. She even led Jackson’s cavalry on several raids. In the fall of 1861, Conley narrowly escaped the Federals, but Nancy was captured. Deciding she didn’t know anything, they released her, which was a big mistake, because she reported back to Conley with valuable information about the Yankees. 

Nancy married one of the Moccasin Rangers, Joshua Douglas. Conley was mortally wounded in an engagement with Ohio Infantry in early summer, 1862. He fought off his attackers until he ran out of ammunition, and then the Yankees clubbed him to death. Afterward, the Rangers disbanded. Nancy’s husband joined up with the 19th Virginia Cavalry, and she moved into the mountains of Nicholas County, where she continued her work as a messenger. A reward for her capture was issued, and it wasn’t long until Union Lieutenant Colonel Starr recognized “Peggy,” as Nancy was known by both armies. She and a female friend were discovered in a log cabin, crushing corn. They were taken prisoner, and confined to the second-story of an old, dilapidated house in Summersville.  Soldiers were quartered downstairs, and a sentry was posted to guard them in their room.  

While there, 20-year-old Nancy was allowed to roam the jail grounds of her own free will. She gained the attention of several soldiers, including telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, who convinced Starr to transfer the young women to the Summersville jail, and supplied them with sewing materials and illustrated papers. When an itinerant photographer showed up to hone his trade, Kerner persuaded Nancy to pose for a picture, although she said that she didn’t have clothes “fittin’ to be pictured in.” Kerner requested clothing from some Union women, and fashioned a Yankee officer’s hat by folding the bill and inserting a plume. The resulting photograph is the only one in existence of Nancy Hart, who, according to legend, refused to smile because she had to wear Yankee attire.  

Here is where the story differs. One version states that, later that night, Nancy tricked a naive soldier. After talking to him extensively, she convinced him to show her his pistol. The young, enamored Yankee willingly obliged. She promptly fired into his heart, killing him instantly. Nancy jumped headlong out of a second-story window into a clump of tall jimson weeds, and escaped bareback on Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse.  

A week later, on July 25, she returned with 200 Confederate cavalrymen. She was still riding Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse. At 4:00 a.m., the Rebels burned three buildings, including the commissary storehouse. They also destroyed two wagons, and captured eight mules and twelve horses. In all, only ten shots were fired, and two soldiers were wounded. The Confederates easily arrested the slumbering Yankees, including Starr, who was shipped off to Libby Prison with his officers. Marion Kerner was also captured, but Nancy convinced the Confederate officers to release him because of the kind treatment he had shown her. He was immediately arrested, however, after attempting to send a telegraph to Union forces. 

Nancy faded out of the picture as an active partisan, no doubt knowing that, if she were to be captured again, a rope would be waiting for her. After the War Between the States ended, her husband returned, and they lived in Greenbrier County, raising two sons. Nancy’s last public appearance was in 1902, when she testified at the Courthouse in Lewisburg on behalf of her son, Kennos, who was charged with killing a man at a dance. Nancy died in either 1902 or 1913.  

The other version of her story isn’t nearly as colorful, and is much sadder. According to Hart family legend, Nancy was born to rebel, and paid with her life after she was arrested and confined in Summersville. Because Union troops didn’t want the locals to know, her hanging on Cold Knob Mountain was kept a secret. Nancy remained calm, but once allowed to speak, she hollered out the Rebel yell, as well as “Wahoo! Whoop! Hurrah!” and “Yay for the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis!” However, there is little or no evidence suggesting that Nancy was executed by hanging. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence stating that she ever married, either, and no official record of her killing a Union soldier. Census records are sketchy at best, as are family records. 

She is buried at Mannings Knob Cemetery in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, near Richwood, where the Mannings family buried their slaves. The cemetery is also known as Nancy Hart Cemetery. She was originally buried with only a pile of stones to mark her grave. Years later, Jim Comstock, a publisher and Civil War buff, decided that she deserved a proper marker, so he and Nancy’s granddaughter found the top of Mannings Knob, but the area had been bulldozed to make room for a beacon tower. Her grave was never located. However, a marker was erected in the cemetery in her honor. 

Hart Grave 

Marion H. Kerner, the Union officer who convinced Nancy to pose for a photograph, said that the last glimpse he caught of her was shortly after the Summersville raid, and he never “heard of her since. She may be dead.”  He later wrote about her, making her story famous in Leslie’s Weekly Magazine. The article was published in 1910. A large rock, known as “Nancy’s Dancing Rock,” still exists on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha River, near the place where Nancy grew up. 

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Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 6)

Loreta Janeta Valazquez

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Loreta Janeta Velazquez (Harry T. Buford)  

Library of Congress 

 

Loreta Janeta Velazquez – Fact or Fiction? 

A spy … 

A civilian pretending to be a soldier … 

A widow four times 

All of these phrases describe one of the most fascinating, thrill-seeking characters of the Civil War. Because she was a woman, Loreta Janeta Valezquez was able to fool her contemporaries while supporting the Confederate cause she so adamantly believed in. 

 Born to a wealthy Cuban family on June 26, 1842, her mother was French-American, and her father, a Spanish government official, owned plantations in Mexico and Cuba, but developed a strong hatred for the U.S. government when he lost an inherited ranch in the Mexican War. In 1849, Loreta was sent to stay with an aunt in New Orleans, where she was taught English and French in addition to her native Spanish at Catholic schools. Her idol was Joan of Arc, and she wished to become just like her. When she was only fourteen, Loreta met a handsome Texas army officer named William, but because her parents opposed their union, they eloped in 1856. The newlyweds traveled around to various army posts until, four years later, when Loreta was eighteen, they were in St. Louis mourning the deaths of their three children. When the Civil War broke out, she insisted that her husband join the Confederacy, and begged to join with him, but he disallowed it, so she simply waited for him to leave. She disguised herself in one of two uniforms she had tailored in Memphis, donned a wig and fake moustache, bound her breasts, and padded the sleeves of her uniform, transforming into Harry T. Buford. Self-appointing herself as a lieutenant, she fooled fellow officers and soldiers by walking with a masculine gait, perfecting the art of spitting, and smoking cigars. She immediately went to Arkansas, and in four days raised a battalion, the Arkansas Grays, consisting of 236 men. She then sent them to her husband in Pensacola, Florida, where she turned them over to his command. William’s astonishment was short-lived, however, because a few days later, he was accidentally killed while showing his troops how to use their weapons. 

The bereaved Loreta turned his battalion over to a friend, and soon after, searched for military adventure on the front, finding it at the First Battle of Manassas, where she observed her comrades. “The supreme moment of my life had arrived, and all the glorious aspirations of my romantic girlhood were on the point of realization. I was elated beyond measure, although cool-headed enough … Fear was a word I did not know the meaning of; and as I noted the ashy faces, and the trembling limbs of some of the men about me, I almost wished that I could feel a little fear, if only for the sake of sympathizing with the poor devils.” 

Soon, Loreta grew weary of camp life, so she borrowed a dress from a local farmer’s wife and made her way to Washington, D.C., where she was recruited as a Confederate spy. She claimed to have met Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. When she returned to the South, she was rewarded for her services by being assigned to detective duty. Apparently, espionage didn’t offer enough excitement for her either, so she put on her disguise and traveled to Tennessee, where she fought in the siege of Fort Donelson until its surrender. Wounded in the foot, she escaped detection by fleeing to New Orleans, but was arrested while in uniform for suspicion of being a Union spy and impersonating a man. Once she was released, she enlisted again to escape the city, and immediately went back up to Tennessee. There, she found the battalion she had raised in Arkansas, so she joined them in the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. After the battle, she was wounded by a stray shell while she was on burial duty. Unfortunately, a doctor discovered her. Fleeing back down to New Orleans, she was there when Union General Benjamin F. Butler took control of the city in May 1862. Because she thought too many people were now aware of her true identity, she put away her uniform and traveled to Richmond, Virginia. 

Upon her arrival, she was recruited as a Confederate spy, and traveled all over the country, crossing enemy lines while she wore both male and female disguises to traffic information, drugs, and counterfeit bills to the South. She married Confederate Captain Thomas DeCaulp, but he soon died at a Chattanooga hospital. Traveling back up north, she was hired by Union officials to search for “the woman … traveling and figuring as a Confederate agent,” or in other words, to search for herself. During that time, she attempted to organize a rebellion of Confederate prisoners in Ohio and Indiana, and helped to win the war of Costintin in 1864. 

After the Civil War ended, she traveled around Europe and the South. Loreta married a third time. She and her husband, known only as Major Wasson, went to Venezuela as United States immigrants. He died in Caracus, so Loreta returned to America, this time going out west. She stopped in Salt Lake City long enough to give birth to a boy, and met Brigham Young. Nearly penniless, she traveled to Omaha, and charmed General W. S. Harney into giving her blankets and a revolver. Two days after she arrived to a mining town in Nevada, a sixty-year-old man proposed to her, but she refused. Supposedly, she married a fourth time, but the name of this younger man is unknown.  

It wasn’t long before she was off again. “With my baby boy in my arms, I started on a long journey through Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, hoping, perhaps, but scarcely expecting, to find opportunities which I had failed to find in Utah, Nevada, and California.” Her money was dwindling, so in 1876, she wrote a memoir to support her child. Most of what is known about Loreta was written in her 600-page book, The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Valazquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. Upon its publication, General Jubal Early denounced it as pure fiction, but modern scholars have found some parts to be accurate. In 2007, the History Channel ran a special entitled Full Metal Corset, and verified some of the incidents described in the book, but there are still many facts in question. 

Loreta is last documented as living in Nevada. She never took any of her four husband’s names. After 1880, there is no further record of her life, including where or how she died, presumably in 1897. 

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

The Plot to Burn New York City

burnnyc-provost-fire

In the closing months of 1864, with the Federal noose ever tightening, the Confederate government began to contemplate enacting a so-called, “War of Attrition” in an effort to bring about negotiations to end the conflict. One such strategy would involve the burning of New York City. November 1864 would see a hand- picked group of former Southern soldiers leave their Canadian base and arrive in the city to carry out the deed. Commanded by Col. Robert Martin, the eight men were determined to bring to the North some of the horrors being suffered by the citizens of the Confederacy.

Armed with 144 bottles of “Greek Fire,” each man was detailed a specific location to set ablaze, mainly around the Broadway district. However, when the appointed time came, only a few of the group stepped up; the others were frightened by the arrival of large numbers of Federal troops to garrison the city when rumors of an attack leaked out. These bluecoats would leave the city by November 15, believing that danger had passed.

Election Day, November 25, 1864 came and the Southern plan went into effect; each remaining man was given 10 bottles of the incendiary and went from hotel to hotel setting fires before quickly making their escape to an appointed place. James Headley set fire to his room in the Astor House before continuing onto the City Hotel, Everett House and United States Hotel. As he left the last, he heard fire alarms ringing across the district and saw the consternation on the streets.

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Also, on fire was Barnum’s Museum, a place that was not part of the original plan. One of the raiders, Capt. Robert C Kennedy, having carried out his mission, paid a visit to a local hostelry, where his patriotism was restored, and still armed with the fiery liquid, Kennedy went into the museum and set it ablaze. Amazingly, no casualties ensued despite there being over 2,500 people attending a theatrical performance. Throughout the night, firemen rushed to quench the fires, dawn revealing that the Southern plot had done very little damage to the city while the search for Martin, Headley, Kennedy and their accomplices began. They would make their escape to Toronto before returning to the South, all successfully, except one; Capt. Robert Kennedy.

Between 1861 and 1864 there were at least three plots discussed in Canada; individuals involved in these were Clement Clay, Col. Jacob Thompson and John W Booth. One was the “Kidnapping Plot” whereby President Lincoln was to be taken captive and brought to face President Davis. This plan was shelved as it was considered too dangerous to carry out. A second plan was to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson and Secretary Seward led by John W. Booth. The third plan was the destruction of as many Northern cities and towns as possible.

(Irish In Blue & Gray: Remembering the Irish in America 1861-1865, editors: Liam and LaDona McAlister)

Additional information provided by this editor:

“Robert C. Kennedy was tried as a spy for his part in the setting of numerous fires in New York City in November, 1864. Places burned by him and others (who were never tried) included a number of hotels and Barnum’s Museum. He was executed on Governor’s Island. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the island in New York Harbor. All of the bodies buried on the island were disinterred in the late 1870’s and re-buried in Cypress Hills. It is probable that he is buried in an unmarked grave in the National Cemetery ” – John F Walter

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey camp 1452, Sons of Confederate Veterans, vol. 42, issue no. 11, Nov. 2018 ed.)

 

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.

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