Spies

In addition to saboteurs like the women described previously, another daring “profession” for women at home was espionage. “Anyone engaged in espionage did indeed stand to lose everything, for spies were not publicly identified by those they represented, and their eccentric, unconventional conduct often aroused suspicion, damaged their reputation, and made them a target for abuse and ridicule.” explained Massey.

Some lesser known spies include Nettie Slator, Mrs. Baxley, Augusta Morris, Elizabeth Van Lew and Pauline Cushman, but the two women most written about in Civil War history are Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow.

Rose O’Neal Greenhow. “Wild Rose” or “Rebel Rose” was a passionate secessionist and one of the most renowned spies in the Civil War. Because of her birth in a wealthy family in Washington, D.C., in 1817, she became conversant with the Washington political society, which she effectively utilized to spy for the Confederacy. Rose also established a network of fifty spies, forty-eight of them women, covering the Confederacy from Texas to Washington. It continued to operate even when Rose was imprisoned. Rose had already established the groundwork for her spying career during the President Buchanan’s administration. She knew everyone of official consequence and was regarded as a person of influence to whom people went for help in getting introductions and appointments. Margaret Leech, in her book, Reveille in Washington, described the extent of her contacts after the outbreak of hostilities. She was not estranged from her friends among the Republican leaders. She still received Secretary Seward, and commented that she found him convivially loquacious after supper. Senator Wilson of Massachusetts was frequently a guest in her little house across from St John’s church. That plebeian abolitionist had none of Mr. Seward’s social grace, but he was a powerful figure in the Senate. He was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Described as a “charmingly mysterious woman,” Rose could attract, repel, or frighten men as she chose and was adept at getting them to divulge secrets. In justifying her contacts with Republicans, she avowed, “To this end I employed every capacity with which God had endowed me and the result was far more successful than my hopes could have flattered me to expect.” In May, her friend, then Captain Thomas Jordan of the United States Army, but soon to be Colonel Jordan of the Confederacy, approached her, suggesting she transmit military information to the Confederate Army in code. Rose enthusiastically agreed. Before leaving Washington for his new position as adjutant general in General Beauregard’s Confederate army, Jordan provided Rose with a cipher code. General Beauregard received his first message from Rose around July 10, 1861, concerning the Federal advance. It was delivered by Rose’s assistant, Bettie Duvall, tucked in her hair, in a package the size of a silver dollar and sewn up in black silk. Rose claimed she forwarded the map used by the Senate Committee on Military Affairs with red dotted lines showing the proposed route to Manassas. During the evening of July 19, a man named Donellan secretly ferried across the Potomac bringing a coded message to Mrs. Greenhow from General Beauregard. She replied in the same cipher, “Order issued for McDowell to march upon Manassas tonight.” After receipt of her message, the general ordered his outpost commanders to fall back before the enemy to already designated positions. He also sent a urgent telegram to Richmond, asking that General Joe Johnston’s forces, located in the Valley, be permitted to join him. As a result, the Confederacy had not one, but two armies to confront the Federals at Manassas. Following the Confederate victory at Bull Run, Rose was under immediate suspicion and her every move watched. She continued to supply the Confederates with information, such as “verbatim reports” of the Cabinet meetings, and the Republican caucuses, exact drawings of the Washington fortifications and the “minutes of McClellan’s private consultations, and often extracts from his notes.” Major E. J. Allen, otherwise known as Allan Pinkerton, General McClellan’s chief detective in the secret service, placed her under house arrest on August 23, 1861. In his official report, Pinkerton paid tribute to “her almost irresistible seductive powers” that she unscrupulously used on “persons holding places of honor and profit under the government.” Five months later she was relocated to the Old Capital Prison after officials had evidence of her continuance of sending information out of Washington. When Rose refused to take an oath of allegiance or give a parole not to aid the enemy, she was ordered to be “conveyed beyond the Union lines in to Virginia.” She proudly recorded President Davis’ greeting upon her arrival, “But for you,” he said, “there would have been no battle of Bull Run.” Once in Virginia, President Davis implored Rose to sail to Britain and France to help enlist the support of the sympathetic Europeans. While they are her memoirs, "My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington", were published and well received throughout the British Isles. She found strong sympathy and financial support for the South, especially among the ruling classes. Upon her return to the United States a year later, a Union gunboat pursued her British blockade-runner. To avoid capture, she fled in a rowboat, which capsized before reaching shore. It is said that the weight of the gold she carried as a result of the royalties she received from her book caused her to sink and drown. She washed onto shore a day later. Mrs. Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, wrote of her after her death in a letter to Mary Chesnut. "Nothing has so impressed me as the account of poor Mrs. Greenhow’s sudden summons to a higher court than those she strove to shine in. And not an hour in the day is the vivid picture which exists in my mind obliterated of the men who rowed her in across 'the cruel crawling, hungry foam' and her poor wasted beautiful face all divested of its meretricious ornaments and her scheming head hanging helplessly upon those who but an hour before she felt so able and willing to deceive. She was a great woman spoiled by education -- or the want of it. She has left few less prudent women behind her -- and many less devoted to our cause.” In October 1864, Rose was buried with full military honors in the Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Rose Greenhow


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