Female Heroes And Spies Of The Civil War
This article is a look at the contributions made by women during the Civil War. It primarily covers espionage and women in combat.
Move over James Bond and give the women their due. Our history has paid scant attention to the efforts of female spies during the civil war and it's time they had their say. The exploits of these resourceful women add an entirely new dimension to the chronicles of the war and they didn't have Bond's techno-toys for help.
Elizabeth C. Howland, trained in medicine by her father, utilized her knowledge to heal while at the same time spying. She was highly successful at both. In one episode, she secretly took specifications of a Yankee fortification. Elizabeth rolled up the paper and placed it inside a ham bone. Wisely, she sent her young son and daughter to carry the ham. Appearing innocent, the children were allowed to pass, still clutching the fugitive ham!
Belle Boyd was a quick-witted woman who used her charm and influence to successfully spy for the Confederate army. No shrinking violet, Belle was arrested at least six times and imprisoned twice. In Scarlett O'Hara fashion, she shot and killed a disorderly enemy soldier who entered her home. Belle inspired such nicknames as the "Siren of the Shenandoah," and the "rebel Joan of arc."
Antonia Ford, from Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia, proved herself a wily and resourceful spy, while still a teenager. Few suspected the sweet-natured young girl had other things on her mind besides ear-bobbs and hoop skirts. She gained much of her secret information from the Federal officers boarding at her father's house. Because the home was located halfway between Washington and Manassas, Antonia was able to keep close watch on Union troop movements. She was then able to report exactly which roads the soldiers were taking.
Elizabeth Van Lew utilized a carefully nurtured reputation as a harmless eccentric as a cover. Her neighbors nicknamed her "Crazy Bet" or more politely "Miss Lizzie." She proved to be one of the most effective spies in the Confederate capital. Later in the war, she broadened the scope of her activities by providing refuge and aid to fleeing Union prisoners of war.
Sarah Edmonds, was a courageous women who disguised herself as a black man, and cunningly spied for the Union army.
Emmeline Piggott took up secret service work, after her Rebel sweetheart died at Gettysburg. She became North Carolina's most famous spy and smuggler. For several years, she carried dispatches in the large pockets under her full skirts. She was nearly captured numerous times and was finally caught, arrested and imprisoned. Later she was released and sent home.
Although not a spy, Kady Brownell gained fame as a soldier. The wife of an enlisted man, Kady accompanied her husband into the field and participated in a number of engagements. She is one of several documented cases of women fighting in active combat during the Civil War. Bridget Divers joined her husband in the First Michigan Cavalry. They rode to war side by side. Bridget replaced fallen soldiers in the ranks and reportedly had two horses shot out from under her.
North or South is not at issue. Personal courage, determination, intelligence and resourcesfullness can be admired from either side.