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"I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." Thus wrote Confederate General Stonewall Jackson to 18-year-old Belle Boyd in appreciation of information she brought him, braving enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt.


The following is from a separate account.

Belle Boyd

May 9, 1844 - June 11, 1900

"One evening, about nine o'clock, while seated at my window, I was singing 'Take me back to my own sunny South', when quite a crowd of people collected on the opposite side of the street, listening. After I had ceased they passed on; and I could not help heaving a sigh as I watched their retreating figures. What would I not have given for liberty!" - Belle Boyd, from Carroll Prison in Washington, D.C., August, 1863 (1)

Belle Boyd, perhaps the most beautiful and sensational Southern spy during the Civil War, was captured several times but always released. She depended on her beauty and was rarely completely secretive about her actions, winning the hearts of everyone, even her captors.

Belle was born to Benjamin Reed Boyd, a prominent store and tobacco plantation owner, and Mary Rebecca Boyd of Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia). She received a classical education from the Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore from the age of 12 to 16. Belle had the opportunity to spend some time in Washington D. C., but was forced to return to Martinsburg at the beginning of the Civil War.

On July 3, 1861, the Federal army entered Martinsburg. This would provide Belle with the opportunity to begin her career as a fiercely loyal Confederate. On the 4th of July, a Union soldier entered her home to raise the flag. Belle's mother resisted and, when the soldier became abusive, Belle shot him. By all accounts, Belle's act was met with sympathy, and no action was taken against her. (2)

Belle's role as a Confederate spy became official when she was appointed to be a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson in fall, 1861, at the age of 17. She was still greatly inexperienced, writing notes in her own handwriting and allowing her beauty to gain her recognition.

Belle was captured and imprisoned in Baltimore, but released after a week. She then moved to live with her grandmother outside Front Royal, Virginia. She was barely ten miles away from the troops of Stonewall Jackson. During the trip from Baltimore to Front Royal, and through friends in Front Royal, she learned of Union plans to burn several key bridges, thus preventing an attack by Jackson upon the Union forces of General Banks. Belle recounted the story in her autobiography with a fairy-tale-like quality:

"I soon cleared the town and gained the open fields... hoping to escape observation until such time as I could make my way to the Confederate line... I had on a dark blue dress, with a little fancy white apron over it, and this contrast of colors, being visible at a great distance, made me far more conspicuous than was just then agreeable." Union pickets opened fire, and "the rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me, and more than one struck the ground so near my feet as to throw the dust in my eyes." (3)

Belle's message reached Jackson, the bridges were saved, and Jackson proceeded on to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. She became notorious, and was arrested as soon as Union troops re-occupied Front Royal in the summer of 1862. This lead to her first stay at the Carroll Prison in Washington, D.C., better known as the Old Capitol Prison. She was released a month later in an exchange of prisoners and went to Richmond to visit relatives.

Almost exactly one year later, Belle was back in Martinsville and in the middle of the push towards Gettysburg. When Union troops entered Martinsville in 1863, she was arrested and sent back to the Old Capitol prison. This time, she remained for several months, until she contracted a severe case of typhoid fever and was released in December, 1863.

Belle's last major mission was carrying Confederate dispatches aboard a ship going from Wilmington, North Carolina to England. The boat was captured and boarded as a blockade runner. She destroyed the letters, but she was sent to a prison in Boston.

While in jail, she was told to go to Canada, and, after her release, she moved to Quebec and then to England. She married Samuel Hardinge, Jr. in England on August 25, 1864, but he died two years later, leaving Belle with very little. At this point, she wrote her autobiography, Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, and began acting. Belle returned to the United States in 1866, where she continued acting until she married John Hammond in 1869. Despite having four children, she was unhappy with the marriage, and even wrote of spending time in an insane asylum in California (4). She and Hammond got divorced in 1884, after fifteen years of marriage. Six weeks later, she married a man 17 years younger than she, Nat High, and began acting and making public appearances again. She died sixteen years later in Wisconsin, at the age of 56, following a heart-attack.

Jones, Katherine M. Heroines of Dixie. New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1955, p. 257.

Snow, Richard F, "Belle Boyd," in The Civil War: The Best of American Heritage, Stephen W. Sears, ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991, p. 89.

Ibid., p. 90.

(4) Ibid., p. 91.


Source: www.glue.umd.edu/~cliswp/Bios/bbbio.html, which, unfortunately, is no longer available on the Internet.

If any of you have a chance to visit Martinsburg you will find the house at

126 East Race Street

Martinsburg, WV 25401

Admission is free and it is open Monday - Saturday, 10:00 am to 4 pm

© 2006 Winifred Ledoux