Throughout the Civil War, many of the spies were slaves who were desperate for the North to win, and thus secure their freedom. These slaves, both men and women, risked their lives passing information on to the Union army. In addition to the slaves, there was also a great deal of spying being done by well-to-do white women. Women spying for either the North or the South used their large hoop skirts to hide weapons, secret documents and other contraband, as well as other means.
Eugenia Phillips was born in 1819 at Charleston, South Carolina, to very prominent Jewish parents. Following her marriage to Philip Phillips in Charleston, the couple moved to Mobile, Alabama. Here her husband became a U.S. Congressman. Philip, an attorney, declined reelection to a second term in Congress, and in doing so moved from Alabama to Washington. D.C., where he practiced law, handling Supreme Court cases.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Philip, who was against secession, sided with the North. Unbeknownst to him, his wife Eugenia, now a wealthy, socialite Washington hostess, had sided with the South and had joined Rose Greenhow's spy ring. Philip first became aware of his wife's activities when in August 1861, federal detectives arrived and placed the entire household under house arrest. One week later, Philip was released, but his wife and two daughters were kept under this continued arrest. With help from his friends and congressmen, Philip finally won their release; however, under the agreement that they would move to the South. Settling in Richmond, Eugenia continued her spying activities. While visiting the home of President Jefferson Davis, she delivered to him Union military maps and plans that she had smuggled out of Washington.
Philip, Eugenia and their daughters then moved to New Orleans, Louisiana which, by this time, had been captured and was occupied by Union troops. Within a short time Eugenia again rubbed the Yankees the wrong way by laughing out loud at a Union funeral procession, in violation of the Women's Order issued by General Benjamin Butler, which read:
"As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subjected to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans, in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered, that hereafter, when any female shall, by word, gesture, or movement, insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States, she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.
Upon this Women's Order being issued, Mayor John T. Monroe of New Orleans protested on part of the citizens. General Butler immediately placed him under arrest and issued the following elaboration on the Women's Order:
"There can be, there has been, no room for misunderstanding of General Order No. 28. No lady will take any notice of a strange gentleman in such as form as to attract attention. Common women do. Therefore, whatever woman, lady, or mistress, gentle or simple, who by gesture, look, or word insults, shows contempt for, thus attracting to herself the notice of my officers or soldiers, will be deemed to act as becomes the vocation of a common woman, and will be liable to be treated accordingly. I shall not, as I have not abated, a single word of that order; it was well considered. If obeyed, it will protect the true and modest woman from all possible insult; the others will take care of themselves."
For her actions, General Butler arrested and imprisoned her on mosquito-infested Ship Island in the Gulf of Mexico, used mostly as a yellow fever station. Eugenia always claimed that she was not laughing at the funeral procession, but at the time the procession passed her house, she was having a child's party and was laughing from something happening there. Butler did not believe her and labeled her, "a vulgar woman of the town." As she was being taken to a ship for her trip to Ship Island, in defiance she said to Butler, "It has one advantage over the city, sir, you will not be there. It is fortunate that neither the fever nor General Butler is contagious."
Eugenia spent several months on Ship Island before her husband Philip could arrange for her release. By this time she was very sick due to the lack of proper care, and weak with fever. Upon her release, Philip, Eugenia and their family fled to the safety of Confederate territory. The year in which she died is unknown.