Confederate Spy Belle Boyd, The Siren Of Shenandoah
She was called the Siren of the Shenandoah, the Cleopatra of Secession, and the La Belle Rebelle. Isabella “Belle” Boyd was one of the most famous Confederate spies during the Civil War. Still a teen when the war broke out, Boyd’s heroic exploits during the Civil War and her adventurous life afterward have made her one of the most interesting women of 19th century America. Let us look at the extraordinary life of the Rebel Belle, Belle Boyd.
Teenage Belle Boyd Shot a Union Soldier
Born in 1844, Belle Boyd was a smart and precocious child. She graduated from Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore at age 16 and then returned to her parents’ home in Martinsburg, Virginia, where her father was a shopkeeper. Belle assisted her mother in running the shop when her father enlisted in Stonewall Jackson’s unit. While Belle’s father was away, a Union soldier entered the family shop and assaulted her mother. Belle shot him dead. She was arrested but later acquitted of the killing, but the deed made her a heroine of the South.
Boyd Maximized Her Girl Power
Belle Boyd took full advantage of the fact that men in her day truly believed that women were the weaker sex. No woman, they thought, could pose a threat, let alone serve as a spy. Belle knew this and used it to help her spy efforts for the Confederacy go undetected. She became a messenger and delivered important information to both Stonewall Jackson and Pierre Beauregard, two key Confederate generals. She was caught a few times, but the Union soldiers assumed she was an unwitting naive teen so the message was confiscated and she was let go with a reprimand.
Belle Flirted to get Information from Union Soldiers
Although Belle Boyd was not described as an extraordinarily beautiful young woman, she was still popular among the young Union soldiers. She was said to have a fine figure and stylishly dressed. It was, however, her flirtatious personality that helped her get close enough to some Union soldiers to glean vital information from them. As she was wooing the Union soldiers, Boyd later recalled in her memoir, “I allowed but one thought to keep possession of my mind—the thought that I was doing all a woman could do for her country’s cause.”
Belle Literally Spied Through a Keyhole
On May 23, 1862, Belle Boyd was in Front Royal, Virginia, at a hotel frequented by Union troops. There, she spied, quite literally, through a keyhole at a group of Union officers who were potting their next military moves. With the information she overheard, Belle rode between the enemy lines to deliver the information to the Confederate officers. Armed with this information, the Confederates won the battle and Belle Boyd received a personal note of thanks from General Stonewall Jackson.
Belle’s Exploits were Coming to Light
As the war raged on, the tactics and exploits of Belle Boyd were becoming well-known to the Union officers. The U.S. Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, issued an arrest warrant for Belle Boyd on July 29, 1862. Boyd was arrested and placed in the Old Capitol Prison. Her punishment was banishment to Richmond, Virginia. She continued her espionage career. By the end of the war, Belle Boyd had been arrested six times, jailed three times, and exiled twice, the second time to Canada.
Belle Continued Flirting with Union Soldiers even after the War
At the conclusion of the Civil War, Belle Boyd seemed to forget that the Union soldiers were her sworn enemies. She twice married former Union soldiers. The first was Samuel Harding, a Union naval officer. She wed him in 1864 and quickly became pregnant with her first child. Harding left her, however before she gave birth. In 1869, she married again, this time to an ex-Union officer named John Swainston Hammond. Together, they had four children before Hammond divorced her in 1884. Her last marriage was to a young actor, Nathaniel High, who was nearly two decades younger than her. They wed in 1884 just a few months after Belle’s divorce was finalized.
Belle was a Single Mom
Between her first and second marriages, Belle Boyd was a single mother with an infant daughter to care for. To earn money, Belle became a stage actress, as well as an author. She wrote an autobiography called Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, which was published in 1865. The memoir told of her exploits during the Civil War, but historians now believe that much of the book was exaggerated and sensationalized, most likely to sell more books.
Belle Boyd Died a Most Ironic Death
After her third marriage to an actor, Belle returned to the stage. This time, she portrayed herself and reenacted many of her spy days adventures for audiences. It was while she was on stage playing herself, at a playhouse in Wisconsin, that Belle Boyd suffered a massive heart attack and died in a truly theatrical way…on stage in front of an audience. It was June 11, 1900, and Boyd was 56 years old. The Siren of the Shenandoah, the Belle Rebelle, lived a daring and exciting life as a Confederate spy and died reliving those exploits.
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