Rose O’Neal Greenhow was the perfect example of a Southern martyr. She was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817, and acquired her nickname at an early age. Rose’s father was murdered by his slaves the same year she was born, so her mother was forced to raise four daughters and take care of the family farm. When Mrs. O’Neal died, Rose and her younger sister were sent to Washington D.C. to live with an aunt, who ran a fashionable boardinghouse at what would later become the Old Capitol Prison. Now a teenager, Rose learned the art of social etiquette. Considered to be educated, refined, loyal, and beautiful, with olive skin and a rosy complexion, she was the epitome of high society, and cultivated relationships with politicians and military officers, including Daniel Webster and James Buchanan. Her closest confidant, however, was John C. Calhoun, the powerful statesman from South Carolina who served as senator, secretary of state, and vice president.
“I am a Southern woman,” Rose wrote, “born with revolutionary blood in my veins, and my first crude ideas on State and Federal matters received consistency and shape from the best and wisest man of this century.” When Calhoun succumbed to his final illness at the Old Capitol, Rose was in constant attendance.
In 1835, she wed wealthy Virginian Dr. Robert Greenhow with the blessing of famed society matron Dolly Madison. Rose was 26, and Greenhow was 43. The couple had eight children. In 1850, the family moved to Mexico City with the promise of greater financial gains, and then to San Francisco. Dr. Greenhow died from an injury in 1854, so Rose and her children moved back to Washington D.C., where she resumed the role of popular socialite.
When the War Between the States broke out in April, 1861, she was 44 years old. Staunchly pro-slavery, Rose immediately set to work contacting Confederate friends with information she obtained from pro-Union contacts. She and a close associate, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan, formed an extensive spy ring that included both men and women.
In July, Rose obtained one important piece of information that she sent to General P.G.T. Beauregard prior to the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run). Written in secret script, she sent the ten-word message via her assistant, Betty Duvall, who carried the note wrapped in silk and tied up in the bun of her hair. The note stated that the enemy, 55,000 strong, would commence from Arlington and Alexandria to Manassas. Because of this vital information, Beauregard and General Johnston were able to deflect the Union army’s advance and win the battle. Afterward, Jefferson Davis commended her achievement.
Rose’s activities raised the suspicions of Allan Pinkerton, head of the newly organized federal government’s Secret Service. After he spied into the windows of her home on 16th Street NW, and thought he had enough sufficient evidence, Pinkerton placed Rose on house arrest in August. Union soldiers showed her no dignity as they ransacked through her belongings, discovering maps, letters, notes, ciphered messages, and papers that she had attempted to burn. Rose didn’t hesitate to let everyone know about her plight by writing to Mary Chesnut and Secretary of State William Seward, whose letter was leaked to a Richmond newspaper. Defiantly, she still continued her spying activities, so Pinkerton sent her and her youngest daughter, 8-year-old “Little Rose,” to Old Capitol Prison in January. Rose reportedly wrapped the Confederate flag around her torso as she was being led to prison. Ironically, she and her daughter were contained in the same room where she spent hours with John C. Calhoun while he was dying. Needless to say, Confederate propaganda mills were given ammunition about the “brutal Yankees who would imprison a mother and child.”
While she was in prison, “The Rebel Rose” waved the Confederate flag from her window nearly every day, and continued her espionage. After a judge decided in March 1862 that it was too volatile to put her on trial, Rose was exiled to Richmond in June, once again draping herself with the Confederate flag upon her exit from Washington. She was greeted by cheering crowds as a heroine. In August 1863, President Davis appointed her to a diplomatic mission in France and England, and while there, she penned her memoirs, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington in an effort to gain European support for the Southern cause. The book immediately became a best seller. She was received by Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, was granted an audience with the Emperor at the Tuileries, and became engaged to the Second Earl of Granville.
Rose missed her home, however, so in September, 1864, she decided to return to America with classified information for the Confederacy. Sailing aboard the blockade runner Condor, she and her traveling companions attracted the attention of a Union ship on October 1. In an attempt to outrun it, the Condor ran aground on a sandbar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Afraid that she would be captured, Rose convinced the captain to let her take a lifeboat. Regardless of the stormy weather, he relented, and she set off with two others and $2,000 in gold sovereigns that she had earned from book royalties. Tragically, the tiny rowboat capsized, and the three people aboard were drowned.
The following day, Rose’s body washed up on shore. A Confederate soldier discovered it and took the gold, then pushed the body back into the sea. It washed up again, however, and was recovered and identified this time. (The soldier was so wrought with guilt that he returned the gold.) Rose’s body was taken to Wilmington, North Carolina, where it was laid out in state in a hospital chapel with a Confederate flag for a shroud. She was given a full military funeral, and her coffin was also draped with the Confederate flag. The marble cross marking her grave bears the epitaph, “Mrs. Rose O’N. Greenhow, a Bearer of Dispatchs to the Confederate Government.”
Rose’s diary, dated August 5, 1863 to August 10, 1864, and describing her mission in detail, is held in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. The National Archives has digitalized and made available in the Archival Research Catalog 175 documents that the U.S. Intelligence Service seized from Rose’s home in August 1861.
(The photograph of Rose and “Little Rose” was taken during their incarceration at Old Capitol Prison by Matthew Brady Studio.)
“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.
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.
Of all the written works created during the Civil War, Mary Chesnut’s diary is one of the most well known. Because of her ability to frankly describe the events that transpired, her diary is considered by historians to be the most important work by a Confederate author, and a true work of art.
Born to Congressman Stephen Decatur Miller and May Boykin on March 31, 1823 at Mount Pleasant plantation near Stateburg, South Carolina, Mary Miller was the eldest of four children. In 1829, her father became governor of South Carolina, and in 1831, he served as a U.S. senator. Mary was educated at home and in Camden schools before she was sent to a French boarding school in Charleston at age 12. She spent her school break at her father’s cotton plantations in Mississippi, but when he died in 1838, she returned to Camden. She met James Chesnut Jr., eight years her senior, in 1836, when he was at the boarding school visiting his niece, and although he began to court her, Mary’s parents opposed it. However, on April 23, 1840, when Mary was 17, the two were married.
For the next twenty years, Mary spent her time between Camden and Mulberry, her husband’s family plantation. James was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1858, so Mary accompanied him to Washington, where she nurtured friendships with many upper-class citizens, including Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis, John Bell Hood, and Wade Hampton III. When talk of war escalated in 1860, James was the first to resign his senate seat on November 10, The Chesnuts returned to South Carolina, where he participated in drafting an ordinance of secession, and served on the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. From February 1861 through July 1865, Mary recorded her experiences. She was in Charleston when Ft. Sumter was fired upon on Friday, April 12, 1861, and watched the skirmish from a rooftop. In her diary, she described the city’s residents, along with what is now known as The Battery, sitting on balconies and drinking salutes to the advent of hostilities.
James subsequently served as an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. During the war, Mary accompanied him to Montgomery, Columbia, and Richmond, where she entertained the Confederate elite.
After the war, the Chesnut’s returned to Camden, struggling unsuccessfully to get out of debt. James had inherited two plantations when his father died in 1866: Mulberry and Sandy Field. They were heavily damaged by Federal troops, and slaves who had become freedmen still depended on him. James and Mary’s mother died within a week of each other in January 1885. According to his father’s will, the land was to be passed down to a male heir, and because he and Mary never had children, she lost her claim.
Mary’s writing revealed her strong opinions concerning slavery and women’s rights, as well as criticism for conservative decisions made by Southern leaders, her husband included. She expressed her repulsion for lapses in morality caused by the male-dominated society of the South, using her father-in-law’s liaison with a slave as an example.
In the 1870’s, she edited her diaries in an attempt to publish them, but failed. She tried her hand at fiction, writing three novels, but was also unsuccessful at having them published, so in the 1880’s, she revised her diaries into a book entitled Mary Chesnut’s Civil War. Only a small excerpt was published in the Charleston Weekly News and Courier as “The Arrest of a Spy.” Her final years were spent supplementing her $100-a-year income by selling eggs and butter. She died of a heart attack on November 22, 1886. Historians believe she wasn’t finished with her work. In 1905, and again in 1949, her diaries were published in truncated and heavily edited versions as A Diary from Dixie. In 1981, C. Vann Woodward published a version that included her complete work, and won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1982.
(In 1874, Custis took up his mother’s crusade to obtain Arlington and won. Because the house was surrounded by a cemetery, he immediately sold it to the U.S. Government. Ownership was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Eventually, all of the Lee children’s remains were moved to the Lee Chapel.)
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.
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.”