Isabella Marie Boyd
Isabella Marie Boyd
(May 9, 1844 – June 11, 1900, best known as Belle Boyd
or Cleopatra of the Secession
, was a Confederate spy
Tactical or battlefield intelligence became very vital to both armies in the field during the American Civil War. Units of spies and scouts reported directly to the commanders of armies in the field. They provided details on troop movements and strengths. The distinction between spies and scouts...
in the American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...
. She operated from her father's hotel in Front Royal, Virginia and provided valuable information to Confederate
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...
general Stonewall Jackson
ຄຽשת״ׇׂׂׂׂ֣|birth_place= Clarksburg, Virginia |death_place=Guinea Station, Virginia|placeofburial=Stonewall Jackson Memorial CemeteryLexington, Virginia|placeofburial_label= Place of burial|image=...
She was born at Martinsburg
Martinsburg is a city in the Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia, United States. The city's population was 14,972 at the 2000 census; according to a 2009 Census Bureau estimate, Martinsburg's population was 17,117, making it the largest city in the Eastern Panhandle and the eighth largest...
, Virginia (now West Virginia), the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. Belle would describe her childhood as idyllic, living a care-free life of a reckless tomboy who climbed trees, raced through the woods, and dominated brothers, sisters, and cousins. Despite her family's lack of money, Belle received a good education. After some preliminary schooling, she attended the Mount Washington Female College at Baltimore at the age of twelve. She completed her training at the age of sixteen, and her family and friends arranged a debut in Washington. She became a fun-loving debutante.
Belle Boyd's espionage career began by chance. According to her 1866 account, on July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers saw the Confederate flag hung outside her home. They tore it down and hung a Union flag in its place. This made her angry enough, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Belle pulled out a pistol and shot the man down.She was fuming. A board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Keily, into revealing military secrets. "To him," she wrote later, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information." Belle conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. On her first attempt at spying she was caught and told she could be sentenced to death, but was not. She was not scared and realized she needed to find a better way to communicate.
One evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields
James Shields was an American politician and United States Army officer who was born in Altmore, County Tyrone, Ireland. Shields, a Democrat, is the only person in United States history to serve as a U.S. Senator for three different states...
and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole she enlarged in the door. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. That night, Belle rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Col.
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...
Turner Ashby, Jr. was a Confederate cavalry commander in the American Civil War. He had achieved prominence as Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's cavalry commander, in the grade of colonel, in the Shenandoah Valley before he was killed in battle in 1862...
, who was scouting for the Confederates. She then returned to town. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Belle ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt. She urged an officer to inform Jackson that "the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." Jackson did and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor
The Southern Cross of Honor is the name of two separate and distinct military honors presented to Confederate military personnel and veterans. The original wartime medal, aka Confederate Medal of Honor, was a military decoration meant to honor officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates for...
. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.
After her lover gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested on July 29, 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison
The Old Brick Capitol in Washington, D.C., served as temporary Capitol of the United States from 1815 to 1825, and became the Old Capitol Prison during the American Civil War. Razed in 1929, its site is now occupied by the U.S...
in Washington July 30, 1862, where there was an inquiry on August 7, 1862 concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody. Boyd was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe. She was later arrested and imprisoned a third time, but again was set free.
In 1864, she went to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
where she met and married a Union
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...
naval officer, Samuel Wylde Hardinge.
After the war, Belle Boyd became an actress in England. Following the death of her husband in 1866, she returned to the United States on November 11, 1869. She married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. After a divorce in 1884, Boyd married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.
While touring the United States (she had gone to address members of a GAR
The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, US Marines and US Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. Founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, it was dissolved in 1956 when its last member died...
post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City, Wisconsin (now known as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Dells is a city in south-central Wisconsin, with a population of 2,418 as of the 2000 census. It straddles four counties: Adams, Columbia, Juneau, and Sauk. The city takes its name from the dells of the Wisconsin River, a scenic, glacially formed gorge that features striking sandstone...
) on June 11, 1900. She was 56 years old. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is a nonprofit garden cemetery and arboretum located at 4521 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the second largest cemetery in the United States and is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark....
in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers. For years her grave simply read:
- BELLE BOYD
- CONFEDERATE SPY
- BORN IN VIRGINIA
- DIED IN WISCONSIN
- ERECTED BY A COMRADE