All the Daring of the Soldier

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The fascinating stories of the women who worked as spies, as daughters of the regiments, or who disguised themselves as male soldiers to play their heroic part in the Civil War.
Historian Elizabeth Leonard has combed archives, memoirs, and histories to unearth the stories of the hidden and forgotten women who risked their lives for the blue or the gray. These women spied for their cause, remained on the front lines as daughters of the regiments, and even dressed as men and ...
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Overview

The fascinating stories of the women who worked as spies, as daughters of the regiments, or who disguised themselves as male soldiers to play their heroic part in the Civil War.
Historian Elizabeth Leonard has combed archives, memoirs, and histories to unearth the stories of the hidden and forgotten women who risked their lives for the blue or the gray. These women spied for their cause, remained on the front lines as daughters of the regiments, and even dressed as men and enlisted under aliases to take up arms and fight as soldiers. Here are the stories of Belle Boyd, a proud Confederate loyalist and key player in Stonewall Jackson's struggle to hold the Shenandoah Valley; army woman Annie Etheridge, whose four long years of courageous work on the field earned her a Kearney Cross for bravery; Sarah Emma Edmonds, who enlisted as "Franklin Thompson," remained with her regiment as a much-respected soldier for two years, fighting at Fredricksburg and elsewhere; and many other courageous women.
Leonard investigates why these women chose unconventional ways to help their cause. In doing so, she gives us a striking portrait of the lives women led in the nineteenth century and of their ability to break through the traditional barriers of Victorian womanhood.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
At the core of this well-researched investigation into the role of women in the Civil War armies is a sensitivity to the plight of Victorian-era women. Leonard (Yankee Women) notes that "domestic service continued in the late nineteenth century to represent the primary waged occupation for women." It's no wonder, then, that a few intrepid women decided that the war offered them a better chance to be all that they could be. A Colby College history professor, Leonard has plowed through archives to bring readers the stories of dozens of women who served in both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. Some were spies, but many more adopted men's names, dressed in men's clothes and lived and fought and died alongside mostly unsuspecting men. One Union general "became outraged when an unnamed sergeant under his command `was delivered of a baby,' which, he irately noted `is in violation of all military law and of the army regulations.'" Often, when women were discovered in the ranks, they were accused of being clever prostitutes who enlisted because of the promise of steady business. Leonard dismisses this theory, noting that there was hardly a need for prostitutes to go incognito. Leonard's engaging portraits of these female soldiers are neatly contextualized, and she makes it clear that women enlisted because they were patriots, because they wanted to be near husbands and brothers and, perhaps above all, because they felt the war offered them a chance at autonomy and adventure. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Spies, daughters of the regiments, and women disguised as men soldiers are among the figures Leonard (history and women's studies, Colby College, Waterville, Maine) portrays. She draws from archives, memoirs, and histories to tell the stories of women on both sides of the war who broke through the traditional barriers of Victorian womanhood. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of stories about women who spied for the Blue or the Gray or who disguised themselves in male attire to join the Civil War armies. Leonard (History/Colby Coll.) writes of famous documented female spies such as Belle Boyd, who provided intelligence to Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah; Rose O'Neal Greenhow, who reported Union intentions and positions to Confederate general Beauregard at the First Battle of Bull Run; Antonia Ford, who cultivated a friendship with Union general Stoughton while feeding information to Jeb Stuart that led to the ambush and capture of Stoughton, his troops, and supplies; Elizabeth Van Lew of Richmond, an antislavery Southerner who provided much underground intelligence to Yankee officers and tended Union POWs in Libby Prison; and Pauline Cushman, who scouted and spied for the Union Army of the Cumberland. Since the war was fought mostly on Southern soil, most female spies were Southerners who knew the land and people. Leonard offers many tales of women dressing as men who tried to follow their husbands or lovers into recruiting regiments where physical exams were minimal or nonexistent and who would mix with teenage "beardless boys." They were attracted by generous bounty money and steady pay that was much higher then what they could earn as domestics, but patriotism and desire for adventure also played a role. Most were discovered eventually but were treated with traditional chivalry; even spies were usually simply discharged and sent home. Other women performed valuable services—nursing, washing, cooking, and smuggling letters, scarce medicines, and supplies in their ample clothing—but were tagged with the derogatory term "campfollowers." Leonard also cites heroic female performances on the battle-fronts: women treating wounded, seizing fallen colors, and taking up arms themselves. Useful for its chronicle of an often forgotten facet of the Civil War.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393047127
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/28/1999
  • Pages: 275
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth D. Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History at Colby College. The author of several books, including Yankee Women, All the Daring of a Soldier, Lincoln’s Avengers, and Men of Color to Arms!, she lives in Waterville, Maine.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


"The Ladies Were Terrific"

* * *

A Handful of Civil War Women Spies


[At first] it was not deemed possible that any danger could result from the utterances of non-combatant females.... That this policy was a mistaken one was soon fully proved....
Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion, 1883


Lydia Barrington was born in Ireland in 1729. In 1753, at the age of twenty-four, she married William Darragh, the son of a clergyman and himself a teacher. Not long thereafter the couple immigrated to colonial Pennsylvania, where they produced nine children, four of whom died in infancy. In Philadelphia, Lydia Barrington Darragh established not only her family but also her career as a combination midwife, nurse, and undertaker, by means of which occupations she served as her family's primary wage earner. Throughout her four decades in Philadelphia, Darragh provided important personal services to the members of her community, particularly its women; she also provided important services of a different sort to the army of George Washington during the American Revolution.

    In 1827, almost forty years after Lydia Darragh's death in 1789, an anonymous author published in the new historical journal, the American Quarterly Review, what amounted to a summary of direct testimony received from Darragh and others regarding her activities on behalf of the patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. According to the article—whose segment on Darragh in turn became the coreof most later published treatments of her story—once the British army occupied Philadelphia in September 1777, Darragh began on a regular basis to provide her son Charles—an officer in Washington's Continental army—with bits and pieces of information regarding the enemy army's plans, which she gathered primarily from eavesdropping on the conversations of the several officers who were stationed at the headquarters of the British commander, General William Howe, near her home. These items of information were written in a simple code on scraps of paper that Darragh then typically hid inside the large buttons of the garments she and her trusted messengers wore, to be conveyed at strategic moments to the proper authorities.

    Several weeks after she had taken up the role of a regular intelligence operative serving the patriot army, the significance of Darragh's surreptitious activities increased exponentially when she and her family became unwitting hosts to Howe's chief administrative assistant, the Adjutant General. One evening in early December 1777, the Adjutant General informed Darragh that her family must retire early as he needed the back room of her house for an extended private conference with other British army luminaries. As ordered, Darragh sent her husband and children to bed. But her own curiosity had been aroused by the apparent seriousness of the meeting, and she positioned herself outside the door of the conference room, where she overheard a plan for a surprise attack on General Washington's troops, stationed about ten miles north of town at a place called White Marsh.

    Determined to convey this information to the general as quickly as possible in order to save not only her son's life but the lives of many others, Lydia Darragh returned to her own room, where she remained in bed until the officers knocked at her door to let her know they were leaving. When they knocked, Darragh rose slowly in order to convince them that she had been deeply asleep all the while. Then, on the following day when the time seemed right, Darragh told her family that she had to go to a mill some distance away to purchase flour—a trip for which she persuaded General Howe to grant her a pass through the British lines. Once beyond the pickets, Darragh hastened towards the Americans' encampment, encountering one of Washington's subordinate officers—a Lieutenant Colonel Craig—to whom she disclosed what she had heard. Craig then saw to it that Darragh was fed while he himself proceeded to transmit the information to Washington, who gave it full credence and set about undermining the plot. Back home, Darragh anxiously awaited the consequences of her deed. When the British troops returned to Philadelphia, she quickly learned that her efforts had successfully foiled their plans. The Adjutant General's suspicions fell for a time on members of the Darragh family, but they fell most lightly on Lydia, who, he recalled, had been sound asleep when he and the others had concluded their conference. In the end, he remained mystified and frustrated, and Darragh escaped detection.

    It is not known whether Darragh continued to provide information to Washington's army in the wake of this incident, or whether she instead counted herself lucky for not having been caught and subsequently retired for the duration of the war to care for her family and pursue her own work. An obituary from January 1790 suggests the latter, for it pays no attention to Darragh's wartime espionage activities, focusing instead on her many contributions to her community's health and welfare, particularly in her capacity as a midwife. Still, it is beyond question that Lydia Darragh had at a crucial moment performed dangerous service as a spy on behalf of the patriot cause. Even in the early twentieth century, one source fondly lifted her up as "the Brave Quakeress" whose timely act "Saved Washington's Army from Destruction."

    Whether or not they personally knew the story of Lydia Darragh's intelligence activities on behalf of the Continental army during the American Revolution, an untold number of women of both the North and the South bravely upheld the tradition of American women's engagement in spy work during the Civil War. Undoubtedly the most famous of these female Civil War spies—in her own time and in historical memory—was Maria Isabella ("Belle") Boyd, born near Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), in 1843. By 1861 this childhood tomboy—known for climbing trees, racing her horse through the woods, and relentlessly bossing her playmates around—had grown into a compelling young woman whom many considered beautiful, and who many more insisted had an uncanny knack for making the most of her numerous charms to win the hearts and confidence of men. At least as important, when the Civil War broke out, the teenage Boyd (whose family, although not wealthy, was well connected to the Confederate leadership) proved herself, in the words of one contemporary Northern journalist, "insanely devoted to the rebel cause." For this reason above all others, Belle Boyd dedicated herself immediately to doing what she could on the Confederacy's behalf.

    On July 3, 1861, prior to the Union and Confederate armies' first real engagement at Bull Run later that month, federal troops occupied Martinsburg. Soon after, a number of drunken soldiers barged into her family home and attempted, among other things, to hoist a United States flag on the roof. In the process, one of the soldiers seems to have insulted Boyd's mother, who refused to see the Stars and Stripes raised over her home. In response to the soldier's rudeness, Boyd took out a pistol and shot him. Whether or not Boyd killed the young soldier is unclear, but her violent action nearly provoked a riot, and the Union forces' commanding officer subsequently demanded that she appear before him in connection with the incident. However, persuaded by powerful cultural notions that prevailed throughout most of the war deeming it unchivalrous to adopt, unless absolutely necessary, any "resolute measures ... toward those of the weaker sex" regardless of the odiousness of their activities, the officer failed to find Boyd guilty of any punishable offense. The only significant consequence of Boyd's action was the posting of a guard at her home to forestall similar occurrences in the future.

    If he hoped to encourage the eager young Boyd to take an early retirement from her prosecession activism, the federal commander at Martinsburg was destined for disappointment. Instead, Boyd's attack on the Union soldier marked the beginning of her career as a Confederate operative determined to provide the Southern army with whatever information she could obtain about the movements and plans of the enemy's troops. In her 1865 memoir, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, Boyd recalled that her residence within the federal lines and her acquaintance with so many federal officers gave her easy access to important strategic intelligence. "Whatever I heard I regularly and carefully committed to paper, and whenever an opportunity offered I sent my secret dispatch boy ... [to] some brave officer in command of the Confederate troops." Working initially without a cipher and apparently without even trying to disguise her handwriting, Boyd almost immediately found herself in trouble again when one of her notes ended up in Union hands. This time federal authorities promptly took Boyd into custody and warned her that her actions were treasonable. Once again, however, traditions of chivalry—combined with a general shortage of prison facilities considered appropriate for housing a woman with even a modicum of social standing—led authorities to release her, thereby unavoidably allowing Boyd to continue her spy work. Gradually learning the use of a cipher, Boyd continued to ride through the countryside on horseback transmitting her encoded messages until March 1862, when she was again arrested. This time frustrated federal officials in Martinsburg held her for a week in a converted hotel while they pondered her case. As before, however, at the end of the week she received her release from General John A. Dix, the commander of the Union's Middle Department. Dix sent Boyd to join her family at Front Royal, about forty miles south, with nothing more than a stern admonition to cease and desist.

    At Front Royal over the next several weeks, Boyd continued to operate in opposition to the Union army, eavesdropping—like her Revolutionary predecessor Lydia Darragh—on federal war councils being held at her aunt's hotel in town or even in her own home, and compiling bits of information from seemingly informal conversations with federal officers and soldiers who were as yet both unfamiliar with her face and growing reputation and perhaps also foolishly naive about the curious young woman's motives. Whatever information she gathered over the course of the early spring Boyd faithfully transmitted to significant figures in the Confederate military.

    It was in late May 1862, in connection with Confederate General Thomas J. ("Stonewall") Jackson's campaign to defend Virginia's Shenandoah Valley against further Yankee encroachment, that Boyd performed what has come to be known as her most important piece of work for the Confederacy. Having accumulated, through various channels, a cache of information she believed relevant to Jackson's strategy, on May 23 Boyd raced out on horseback to notify the general in person at his headquarters several miles away. Major Henry Kyd Douglas later recalled Boyd's daring venture, in which he became an unexpected but enthusiastic participant. Boyd, Douglas wrote, was dressed in white as she hurried in his direction, and she "seemed, when I saw her, to heed neither weeds nor fences, but waved a bonnet as she came on, trying, it was evident, to keep the hill between herself and the village." Under orders, Douglas rode out to meet this "romantic maiden whose tall, supple, and graceful figure struck me as soon as I came in sight of her." Boyd, he wrote, was nearly breathless as she gasped out her message for Jackson: "Go back quick and tell him that the Yankee force is very small—one regiment of Maryland infantry, several pieces of artillery and several companies of cavalry. Tell him I know, for I went through the camps and got it out of an officer. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." With that, she was gone. Moments later Douglas conveyed her words to Jackson, noting that even as he spoke with his commanding officer, "I saw the wave of her white bonnet as she entered the village and disappeared among its houses."

    As tradition has it, Boyd's maneuver allowed Stonewall Jackson and his men to claim an important victory that day, driving the Yankees garrisoned in Front Royal back across the Potomac River towards Washington. For her timely deed the general expressed his gratitude by rewarding Boyd with a note of acknowledgment that became one of her most treasured possessions. "I thank you," Jackson wrote, "for myself and for the Army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." Indeed, as a result of this and her other exploits, by the summer of 1862 Boyd's reputation as a spy was well established. "You have heard or read of `Belle Boyd,'" wrote one federal officer to a relative towards the end of June; "a lady of considerable notoriety all over the valley.... [T]hat she is a precious rogue I think no one questions though no one can prove it." The troublesome Boyd, wrote another, had a flair for crossing federal lines "with perfect ease and impunity, whenever she wished, in spite of their efforts to the contrary. They say," he added, "she is a wonderfully keen intriguer."

    At the same time that word of her deeds was spreading, federal officials were growing weary of treating Boyd's interference in their plans for the region as nothing more than a minor inconvenience. In late July 1862, following one of Boyd's expeditions to carry dispatches, they took her into custody again, this time with the intention of bringing a halt to her activities. On July 30 Brigadier General Julius White, at Winchester, Virginia (about twenty miles north of Front Royal and the same distance south of Washington, D.C.), wrote to Assistant Secretary of War C. P. Wolcott to inform him of Boyd's arrest and to request further orders. "Mr. [Alfred] Cridge is here with Miss Boyd as prisoner," wrote White. "What shall be done with her?" Later that day Wolcott responded succinctly: "Direct Cridge to come immediately to Washington and bring with him Belle Boyd in close custody, committing her on arrival to the Old Capitol Prison. Furnish him with such aid as he may need to get her safely here."

    Formerly a boardinghouse, the Old Capitol Prison was a three-story building made of "dingy brick," which one Washington provost marshal, William E. Doster, later described as "one of the many makeshifts to which an unexpected war had driven the authorities," where the "real walls were necessarily the bayonets, the bullets, and above all the incorruptibility of the soldiers who guarded the premises...." There, nineteen-year-old Boyd underwent a brief investigation, culminating in her bold refusal to take the oath of allegiance. Boyd then began a monthlong imprisonment, during which she enjoyed the admiration and affection of many of her fellow inmates. On August 1 fellow prisoner William F. Broaddus described Boyd in his diary as a "graceful" person and a "remarkable character," whose dress was "simple," whose manners were "easy," and whose "style of conversation" was "interesting." Of her secessionism Broaddus noted approvingly that "she spoke in the most fearless manner [of] her determination to work while she lived for the Southern cause, and to die, if need be, in its defense."

    Sometime later D. A. Mahony—a Northern journalist imprisoned at the Old Capitol for his own secessionist proclivities—similarly described Boyd's defiant attitude towards the Yankees. This she displayed, among other things, by her frequent singing of the anthem "Maryland, My Maryland," whose words, "stirring enough to Southern hearts, were enunciated by her with such peculiar expression as to touch even sensibilities which did not sympathize with the cause which inspired the song." According to Mahony, Boyd was kept confined in her room most of the time, but had permission to keep both her door and her window open. Her appearance at either the door or the window simultaneously exposed her to the worshipful gazes of her admirers and the abuse of her detractors. Federal prison guards and soldiers stationed near the prison in particular treated Boyd rudely, as if to suggest that her imprisonment in and of itself placed her beyond the pale of chivalry's protection. Treating her instead as a "common woman," soldiers and guards taunted her with pretended jabs with their bayonets and with "coarse jests, vulgar expressions and the vilest slang of the brothel ... made still more coarse, vulgar and indecent by the throwing off of the little restraint which civilized society places upon the most abandoned prostitutes and their companions." Boyd refused to break down in the face of such defamatory behavior, and instead responded in kind, "hurrahing for [Confederate President] Jeff[erson] Davis and Stonewall Jackson," mocking those who insulted her with comments such as "How long did it take you to come from Bull Run?" and indicating her disdain for soldiers who were stationed on guard duty rather than at the front: "Go meet men, you cowards. What are you doing here in Washington?" By the time she left the Old Capitol, Mahony recalled, Boyd's irrepressible nature had won over many of her sworn enemies, so that there was "not one, Federalist or confederate, Prisoner of State, officer of the Old Capitol, as well as prisoner of war, who did not feel that he was about to part with one for whom he had at least a great personal regard." As if to confirm the truth in Mahony's words, former provost marshal Doster—who knew her while she was imprisoned at the Old Capitol—later recalled Boyd with fondness. "During the whole stay," he wrote, "she was never, to my knowledge, found in ill-humor, but bravely endured a tedious and companionless imprisonment."

    Her irrepressible nature aside, evidence suggests that the challenges of her captivity—not least of all the oppressive late-summer heat in the capital—wore Boyd down physically. Late in August, in part, apparently, because of her physical suffering, federal officials decided to release Boyd, banishing her to Richmond, where they hoped she would leave her spy career behind once and for all. On August 29 Brigadier General James S. Wadsworth, stationed in Washington, wrote to General Dix at Fortress Monroe—the headquarters of the Union's Department of Virginia, located on the tip of the Virginia peninsula—directing him to place Boyd beyond the federal lines at the first opportunity. Shortly thereafter, Boyd enjoyed a rousing welcome in the Confederate capital, where her exploits on the nation's behalf had become well known.

    Determined not to let enemy officials restrict her movements in any way, however, Boyd soon left Richmond for an extended tour of the South, ending up in occupied Martinsburg again sometime in early 1863. By the late summer she was arrested anew for being within federal lines in contempt of the orders pertaining to her banishment. She was subsequently returned to Washington and imprisoned at the Carroll Prison—an annex of the Old Capitol—this time for three months. As before, Boyd's health declined under the stress of her confinement, and again she was sent south. When doctors in Richmond suggested that she take another long trip to improve her health, Boyd conceived what became the final work of her espionage service to the Confederate military: bearing dispatches from the Confederacy to its supporters in England. According to one source, Jefferson Davis provided her with five hundred dollars to cover her expenses.

    In May 1864, at Wilmington, North Carolina, Boyd boarded a blockade runner called the Greyhound and set sail for Europe. Her venture and her spy career, however, were cut short by the Greyhound's swift capture by the USS Connecticut and its forced return to Fortress Monroe hundreds of miles up the Atlantic coast. As it turns out, the incident did not prove a total loss to Boyd: among the Connecticut's crew was a young ensign named Samuel Harding who seems to have fallen in love with her on the journey back to Fortress Monroe. On August 25, 1864, the two married in England, having found their way there by separate routes following Boyd's final release from federal custody and Harding's dismissal from the navy "for neglect of duty." In England, Boyd composed and began to market her memoir, in part to raise funds to support herself after Harding returned to the United States—possibly carrying Confederate dispatches—where he was arrested and imprisoned as a Southern spy. The two reunited briefly, only to be torn apart again by Harding's sudden early death.

    After the war, the young widow took up a theatrical career in England and America, centering many of her performances on her exploits as a Confederate spy. Boyd supplemented her income by giving lectures at veterans' gatherings across the United States where, according to one source, "many an old soldier remembered her as the most daring woman in the Confederacy." In addition, Boyd bore three children over the course of two subsequent marriages—first to a former officer of the British army named John S. Hammond, with whom she went to live in California, and, after their 1884 divorce, to the son of a Toledo, Ohio, clergyman named Nathaniel R. High, with whom she lived until her death. In the early 1870s a tired and careworn Boyd briefly spent time in a mental hospital in Stockton, California, her unexpected disappearance from the public eye leading to the publication of a number of false reports of her untimely death. On November 12, 1874, the New York Times reprinted an article that had originally appeared in the Atlanta News a few days earlier, describing a woman who was traveling the country posing as Belle Boyd and giving lectures. This article alleged that Boyd's "stormy career" had landed her in a California lunatic asylum in 1872, where she had died. "It is cruel," the article lamented, "this attempt to drag from her grave in California the poor woman whose many faults were more than atoned for in her tragic end, and whose unwomanly career deserves forgiveness and forgetfulness in its really ardent and patriotic devotion to the South." Boyd's actual death came in 1900, at the age of sixty-seven, in Kilbourne, Wisconsin, apparently the result of a heart attack. In 1929 the United Daughters of the Confederacy arranged to have her remains removed from the cemetery in Kilbourne and transferred to the town of her birth.

    Boyd was by no means the only American woman during the Civil War to take up the sort of spy work that Lydia Darragh had performed during the American Revolution. Rather, she was joined in her Civil War espionage operations by a host of other women, among them four who left sufficient records for us to flesh out their stories in some detail: Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Antonia Ford, Elizabeth Van Lew, and Pauline Cushman.

    Born in 1817 in rural Montgomery County, Maryland, Rose O'Neal—like Belle Boyd—came from a family of limited financial resources and little education. Far more so than was the case with Boyd, however, O'Neal's humble beginnings failed to inhibit her climb up the social ladder. As a teenager Rose O'Neal traveled with her sister Ellen Elizabeth to Washington, D.C., where they stayed with an aunt who maintained a boardinghouse in the Old Capitol building (later, ironically, to become the Old Capitol Prison). There, the attractive young sisters had the opportunity to associate with a number of their aunt's male boarders, many of them up-and-coming politicians, and Rose in particular developed a taste for living an active social life and rubbing shoulders with people in power. Some years later, when, at the age of twenty-six, she married forty-three-year-old Dr. Robert Greenhow, Rose O'Neal demonstrated her determination to leave behind what she considered the dull country life of her childhood. Dr. Greenhow, a Virginian, was both wealthy and socially well placed; marriage to him promised Rose continued access to the sort of world to which earlier visits to her aunt's boardinghouse had accustomed her.

    Indeed, by the time she was in her mid-thirties, the mother of four daughters, and living with her husband and family in the nation's capital, Rose O'Neal Greenhow had not only established strong connections with the Washington political elite but had herself become a person of significant social influence—and cunning. Surrounded by the many advantages that her prestigious husband could offer her, wrote one contemporary, Greenhow became well known for "her beauty, the brilliance of her conversation, her aptitude for intrigue, the royal dignity of her manners, and the unscrupulous perseverance with which she accomplished whatever she set her heart upon." In 1850 Greenhow and her husband left Washington for four years, heading west, where the doctor thought he saw the opportunity for great financial gain. Instead, an injury led to his early death in San Francisco. His widow returned to Washington, moved with her daughters into a small home near the White House, and resumed all the valuable contacts that she had established prior to the family's western sojourn, presumably living off her late husband's wealth. As the 1850s gave way to the 1860s, Greenhow enhanced her independent status as a premier Washington hostess and socialite, as well as her reputation as a woman to be reckoned with, thanks to her ability to obtain favors, influence members of Congress, and advance her friends' careers.

    As sectional tensions increased, Greenhow, like Boyd, openly revealed herself to be a woman of "pronounced rebel proclivities," and at the war's outbreak she immediately became an activist on the Confederacy's behalf. She linked up with Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan (alias Thomas John Rayford) of Virginia, a former quartermaster in the United States Army who was in the process of developing an elaborate Confederate spy network in the federal capital. From Jordan, Greenhow learned the use of a simple, twenty-six-symbol cipher, and she began to exploit her connections with prominent Unionists for the purpose of eliciting information that she then transmitted in code to relevant figures in the Confederacy. Greenhow and Jordan also invented an elaborate system by which she could convey significant information to him or to their trusted assistants by raising and lowering the shades of the windows on one side of her house. Over time, Greenhow and Jordan enlisted the regular help of various others, forming an extensive spy ring that included both men and women.

    Greenhow became most famous for her spy work that gave the Confederate army the edge in its first major confrontation with the soldiers in blue at the battle of Bull Run in July 1861. An 1863 letter written by General P. G. T. Beauregard—second in command to the Confederate army's ranking officer, General Joseph E. Johnston, in the summer of 1861—confirms that on July 10 Greenhow sent an attractive young woman named Betty Duvall to Beauregard's post at Fairfax Court House, just a few miles from Bull Run, bearing—tightly wound in her chignon—a message concerning Union commander Irvin McDowell's preparations to advance on the Confederacy six days later. General Milledge L. Bonham of South Carolina received the message and transmitted it directly to Beauregard, who notified President Davis and then immediately began preparations to undermine McDowell's advance. On the sixteenth, Greenhow communicated a second time with Beauregard, who was now encamped with his army near Bull Run. With the help of George Donellan, a former Interior Department clerk, Greenhow sent Beauregard an encoded dispatch containing the news that, as Beauregard later wrote, "the enemy—55,000 strong, I believe—would positively commence that day his advance from Arlington Heights and Alexandria on to Manassas [near Bull Run], via Fairfax CourtHouse and Centerville." This news Beauregard also forwarded by telegraph to President Davis, who ordered General Johnston, stationed fifty miles away, to bring his troops into the area as reinforcements. While awaiting Johnston's arrival, Beauregard shifted his own troops to meet the advancing federals, and on July 21 the Union suffered a stunning and humiliating defeat. The following day Greenhow received from Thomas Jordan an expression of Jefferson Davis's gratitude for her loyal service, similar to that which Boyd later received from General Jackson. Wrote Jordan: "Our President and our General direct me to thank you. We rely upon you for further information. The Confederacy owes you a debt."

    Over the next several weeks Greenhow continued to gather and transmit information to her contacts in the Confederate army. "I was urged to leave the city by more than one," she later wrote, "and an escort offered to be furnished me if I desired; but, at whatever peril, I resolved to remain, conscious of the great service I could render my country, my position giving me remarkable facilities for obtaining information." With relative ease Greenhow seems to have gotten her hands on valuable military secrets, including details about Union military strength in and around Washington. However, even as Greenhow moved about with apparent impunity, federal officials were growing determined to put an immediate halt to all leakage of strategic military information. In connection with this goal, they reached the conclusion that the influential and outspoken Greenhow must be a key player in the suspected ring of prosecession intelligence operatives functioning in the capital. By late July the head of the federal government's newly formed secret service organization, Allan Pinkerton, ordered the close surveillance of the Greenhow home and—despite his wariness about angering Greenhow's many powerful friends in the United States Congress—the investigation and arrest, where appropriate, of any and all persons entering or leaving the house. Finally, on August 23, having gathered what he believed to be sufficient evidence of her treasonable behavior, Pinkerton placed Greenhow herself under house arrest. He immediately stationed a number of men inside the house as guards, authorizing them to arrest any of her coconspirators who might unsuspectingiy come to call.

    The thorough search of the house that followed initially produced little incriminating evidence, thanks to Greenhow's timely destruction of a number of relevant papers. Over the next few days, however, the men who tore apart her clothes, furniture, and other personal belongings found copies of eight intelligence reports dating from July and August which clearly demonstrated the extent of Greenhow's knowledge about Northern military plans and fortifications. "No more troops have arrived," Greenhow had written on August 21. "Great activity and anxiety here, and the whole strength concentrating around Washington, and the cry `The Capital in danger,' renewed. I do not give much heed to the rumors of [Union General Nathaniel] Banks' command arriving here, although he has advanced this way." Greenhow's reports also implicated a number of her cohorts and heaped suspicion upon some decidedly prominent Unionist figures who had come under her sway, not the least of whom was the powerful senator from Massachusetts, Henry Wilson, who seems to have been one of Greenhow's primary—if foolishly unwitting—sources and perhaps even her lover. (Many interpreters of Greenhow's papers believe that Senator Wilson was the author of a stack of love letters also found in her home.) Although the evidence on this score is not conclusive, that Wilson provided Greenhow with important military information is indisputable. "Wilson told me last night," Greenhow mentioned in her August 21 report, "that they had ... fifty guns of heavy calibre,—confirmed by my scouts. Wilson goes on [Union General George B.] McClelland's [sic] staff today as aid and adviser. I regret this...." Meanwhile, Greenhow was outraged by the intruders' treatment of her things. "Everything showed signs of the contamination," she wrote later. "Those unkempt, unwashed wretches—the detective police—had rolled themselves in my fine linen; their mark was visible upon every chair and sofa.... Every hallowed association with my home had been rudely blasted—my castle had become my prison."

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Introduction 15
Ch. 1 "The Ladies Were Terrific": A Handful of Civil War Women Spies 21
Ch. 2 "The Women Are the Worst of All": The Broad Scope of Female Espionage and Resistance during the Civil War 65
Ch. 3 "Half-Soldier Heroines": A Handful of Civil War Army Women and Their Predecessors 99
Ch. 4 "As Brave As a Lion and As Pretty As a Lamb": More Civil War Army Women, Real and Fictional 143
Ch. 5 "The Beardless Boy Was a Universal Favorite": Deborah Sampson and a Handful of Civil War Women Soldiers 165
Ch. 6 To "Don the Breeches, and Slay Them with a Will!": A Host of Women Soldiers 199
Ch. 7 "A Devoted Worker for Her Cause": The Question of Motivation 227
Afterword 273
Notes 277
Selected Bibliography 343
Index 361
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2001

    Civil War women soldiers

    Leonard does a good job as a historian of pulling togther and analyzing the various data, anecdotal and otherwise, to indicate that women were on the Civil War battlefields in far greater numbers than previously imagined. She has been criticized for giving some credence to the exploits of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, which some claimed have been 'disproved.' Where, pray tell? Although Velazquez did dissemble at times, some rather objective and documented evidence exists to support some of the main parts of her story, as I have reported in 'Patriots in Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil War' and as subsequent research has also tended to confirm.

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