In my historical romance, THE LADY AND THE OFFICER,
Madeline Howard had never intended to become a spy. But when military
intelligence practically falls into her lap, how could she not serve her country
behind enemy lines? While researching this novel, I discovered plenty of
real-life spies whose lives of intrigue provided plenty of inspiration. Here is
a little bit about three of them:
Probably the most famous Confederate spy was Belle Boyd. At 17, Belle was
arrested for shooting a Union soldier who had broken into the family’s home.
Though Union officers cleared her of all charges, they watched her closely.
Young and attractive, Boyd used her charms to gain information, which she passed
along to the Confederacy. After repeated warnings to stop her activities, Union
officials sent Boyd to live in Front Royal, Virginia. Soon after her arrival,
she began working as a courier between Confederate generals. Stonewall Jackson
credited Belle with helping him win victories in the Shenandoah Valley. In July
1862, Boyd was arrested and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. She
was released a month later and deported to Richmond, but was soon caught behind
federal lines and imprisoned for three more months. In 1864 she was arrested
while smuggling Confederate papers to England. She fled the country and a few
months later married Samuel W. Hardinge, one of the Union naval officers who had
detained her. After her husband’s death, Belle wrote a book and embarked on a
speaking career, often describing her clandestine wartime experiences.
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a Washington socialite when she began spying for the
Confederacy. Greenhow obtained information about Union military activity and
passed coded messages to the Confederates. One of her most important messages,
hidden in her hair, helped Gen. Beauregard win the First Battle of Bull Run.
Suspicious of Greenhow’s activities, Allan Pinkerton, head of the new Secret
Service, gathered enough evidence to place her under house arrest. But Greenhow
continued her espionage. In January 1862, she and her daughter were transferred
to Old Capitol Prison. Several months later she was deported to Baltimore where
Confederates welcomed her as a hero. President Davis sent her to Britain and
France to gain support for the Confederacy. In September1864, Greenhow was
returning to the South on a British blockade-runner with $2,000 in gold. With a
Union gunboat in pursuit, the ship ran aground on a sandbar near North Carolina.
Against the captain’s advice, Greenhow tried to escape in a rowboat with two
other passengers. The boat capsized and she drowned, presumably weighed down by
the gold she carried. Her body washed ashore the next day and was buried in
Wilmington with full (Confederate) military honors.
Born to a wealthy Virginia family, Antonia Ford was 23 when she provided
intelligence to Confederate cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart. Ford gathered
information from soldiers occupying her hometown, halfway between Washington,
D.C. and Manassas, Virginia. In October 1861, Stuart gave Ford an honorary
commission as aide-de-camp. He ordered that she “be obeyed, respected and
admired.” In March that document was used to accuse her of spying for John
Singleton Mosby. Mosby’s rangers had captured Union general Edwin H. Stoughton
in his headquarters—one of the most famous cavalry raids of the war. The Secret
Service suspected Ford was involved because Stoughton and Ford had spent time
together. When the Secret Service sent a female operative, pretending to be a
Confederate sympathizer, to meet Ford, Ford showed her Stuart’s commission.
Antonia was soon arrested with smuggled papers hidden in her clothing. After
months at the Old Capitol Prison, she was released thanks to Union major Joseph
C. Willard—one of her captors. Willard resigned from the Union Army, and he and
Ford married in March 1864, after she took an oath of allegiance to the United
Mary Ellis has written
twelve bestselling novels set in the Amish community.
Before "retiring" to write full-time, Mary taught middle school and worked as a
sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. She has enjoyed a lifelong passion for American
history and is currently working on several historical romances. THE LADY AND THE OFFICER is
her latest release. Please visit her at her website. Thanks to the Smithsonian Magazine for
providing biographical information.
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