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 onto 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.
famous woman spy for the South was Belle Boyd (1843-1900), who was also known
as La Belle Rebelle, named by a French correspondent. Born in Martinsburg,
Virginia, (now West Virginia), Belle was only seventeen when the war began.
Living in the Shenandoah Valley, her home was soon overrun by both Union and
Confederate troops. On one occasion a Union soldier attempted to raise the
American Flag over her house, and in protest, Boyd shot and killed him.
Arrested for murder, she was later acquitted for justifiable homicide.
Having sided with the Confederate cause, she soon began talking with Union
soldiers, and then carried the information to the Confederacy. Belle worked
directly for General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Colonel John S. Mosby's
guerrillas and President Jefferson Davis, carrying messages for him as far as
Europe. On information received by a former close friend of hers, she was
arrested on July 29, 1862, on the order of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
Convicted of spying, she spent one month in the Old Capitol Prison in
Washington, D.C., before being released through the prisoner exchange program.
In June 1863, she was again arrested and spent six months in jail, where she
As part of her
recovery, Boyd traveled to Europe on December 1, 1863, and in doing so, took
with her various letters for President Jefferson Davis. Upon her return to
America and the South, her blockade runner ship was captured by a Union
warship, commanded by Captain Samuel Hardinge, whose duty it was to take this
ship to the North. Soon thereafter, Boyd fell in love with Captain Hardinge.
Because of their relationship, Hardinge allowed Boyd along with a Confederate
captain to escape to Canada and England on the blockade runner. For his
actions, Hardinge was court-martialed and dismissed from the Union navy.
Following his discharge, Hardinge went to England in pursuit of Boyd, where
they were married in August 1864.
Following the war, while in England, Boyd took up a career as an actress, and
later published her autobiography, "Belle Boyd in
Camp and Prison." In 1866, her husband died, and
she returned to America where she made her stage debut in 1868.
remainder of her life she worked as an actress and lecturer, and died in 1900,
while touring the United States. General Stonewall Jackson wrote of Boyd,
saying, "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for your immense
service that you have rendered your country today." In appreciation,
Stonewall Jackson also made her an honorary member of his staff, giving her
the rank of captain.
Copyright © 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and
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