At Wonders & Marvels, our inaugural Books We Love feature has allowed us to indulge our passion for espionage. Last week began with dossiers on two female Union spies who play a central role in Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy — and today we continue by featuring profiles of her major female Confederate spies. So satisfy your curiosity by reading on, and be sure to join us for this week’s giveaway as well (see below).
NAME: Belle Boyd
ALIAS: “The Siren of the Shenandoah”; “The Secesh Cleopatra”; and, in Paris, “La Belle Rebelle”
BORN: May 1844, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
AFFILIATION: Confederate spy
MARITAL STATUS: Resolutely unattached. Operative was said to be engaged to one Dr. Cherry, a wealthy soldier from Mississippi, but wedding never transpired. Since then, she’s been linked to Union General James Shields and Major Dick Long of the Seventy-Third Ohio. She has a particular affection for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, desiring to “occupy his tent and share his dangers.”
BACKGROUND: On July 1, 1861, this 17-year-old operative shot a Union soldier who threatened to raise a flag over her home. She then became a courier and spy for the rebel army, and is often spotted wandering through Union camps, wheedling information from federal officers. Contemporaries have deemed her “perfectly insane” and “the fastest girl in Virginia—or anywhere else for that matter.”
SKILLS AND CIRCUMSTANCES
• Operative conceals dispatches under a false dog skin, cut precisely to fit over her pet’s body.
• It is believed operative obtained top-secret information by eavesdropping on a Union war council. In May 1862, at the Battle of Front Royal, she ran onto the field and into gunfire, bullets tearing the hem of her skirt, to deliver a message to Stonewall Jackson.
• Detective Allan Pinkerton is conducting surveillance on operative in the hope of entrapping her.
• Operative sometimes dresses as a man, donning the gray wool frock coat and butternut kepi of a rebel private. When she does wear a riding dress she is known to show off her legs, described as “the best in the Confederacy.”
• Operative is also described as having “large teeth” and a “loud, coarse laugh.” Certain journalists call her the “camp Cyprian” who has “passed the first freshness of youth.”
• Operative has violent tendencies, once instigating a knife fight between two Confederate regiments. It is reported she also dropped a brick on a prison guard’s head.
NAME: Rose O’Neal Greenhow
ALIAS: “Rebel Rose”
BORN: 1813 or 1814, Montgomery County, Maryland
AFFILIATION: Confederate spymaster
MARITAL STATUS: Widowed. Her deceased husband had been a high-ranking official at the state department for more than 20 years, allowing Rose to develop relationships with numerous powerful politicians, both Democrat and Republican. Five of her eight children died, one shortly before Lincoln’s inauguration. One daughter, eight-year-old “Little Rose,” still lives at home with her in Washington, DC.
BACKGROUND: In spring 1861, a Confederate captain asked Greenhow to form a spy ring, which she runs from her home near Lafayette Square—“within easy rifle range of the White House,” as one rebel general observed. She counts among her sources (and conquests) several Northern politicians, including an abolitionist Republican who serves as Lincoln’s chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. “You know that I do love you,” read one love letter. “I am suffering this morning. In fact, I am sick physically and mentally and know nothing that would sooth me so much as an hour with you.”
SKILLS AND CIRCUMSTANCES
• Operative provided crucial information to the Confederate army before the First Battle of Bull Run, hiding the dispatch in a 16-year-old courier’s hair.
• Operative uses her daughter in her spying exploits, tucking messages in Little Rose’s pantalets and sending her out to the yard to meet Confederate “scouts.”
• Detective Allan Pinkerton has begun a dossier on her, and notes that she uses her “almost irresistible seductive powers” to aid the rebels.
• Seven years after her husband’s death, operative still dresses in mourning, wearing heavy black silk. She can be spotted daily on Capitol Hill, watching Union general George McClellan drill his troops and scribbling in a brown leather diary.
• Operative is an expert seamstress and stitches dispatches, maps of Union fortifications, and other contraband into the lining of her gowns.
• Operative is a virulent racist, and alternately calls Lincoln “beanpole” and “Satan.”
• It is believed that rebel president Jefferson Davis plans to send her to Europe to lobby on behalf of the Confederacy.
Now that you’ve had a chance to meet the women of the Union and the Confederacy, we’d love to know: Who’s Your Favorite Spy?
Spy vs. Spy Fan Favorite Poll
(For an extra vote, tell us in the Comments below why she’s the best.)
Subscribers to Abbott’s weekly newsletter “Secrets & Spies: A Peek into LTSS” will win a Teaser Chapter on the Winning Spy.
So if you’d like to learn more about the dangerous world of Civil War espionage — and hear some of the salacious tales surrounding these women — be sure to Cast Your Vote by 11:00pm EST on August 23 and Subscribe to the newsletter below.