Isabella (Belle) Boyd
1843 - 1900
Boyd, the daughter of a successful merchant, was born in 1844 in a part of the Shenandoah Valley later incorporated into West Virginia. Her real name was maria Isabella, but everyone knew her as the irrepressible Belle.
When she was 11 years old, her parents told her she was too young to be seated with adults at the dinner table. The defiant child rode her horse into the dining room and in the presence of startled guests said to her horrified parents, "My horse is old enough, isn't he?" Boyd's later life was shaped by that same brashness. She never learned to hold her tongue or know her place. She lived her life as if she were the central character in a romance novel. When she died in 1900 at age 56, The New York Times called her "the most determined spy the United States ever had."
"Dubbed "La Belle Rebelle,"by a French war correspondent, she
worked as a spy for the Confederacy and also served as a courier and scout for
Col. John S. Mosby's guerrillas. Like many women, Belle participated in many
fund-raising activities at the outbreak of the Civil War to support the Confederacy.
After Union troops occupied Martinsburg in 1861, however, Boyd was able to aid
the Confederacy in ways that most women did not. Boyd operated as a Confederate
spy, using her father’s hotel in Front Royal as a cover. She was especially
useful during the Spring campaign of 1862, providing Generals Stonewall Jackson
and Turner Ashby with valuable information. She had overheard Union officers
discussing their plans to withdraw and destroy the town’s bridges. Jackson rewarded
her loyalty by making her a captain and an honorary aide-de-camp. She continued
to spy openly for the Confederate Army.
She was arrested on July 29, 1862 and held in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington DC for a month. Part of a prisoner exchange program, she was sent into exile to live with relatives upon her release. She was again arrested in June of 1863. Boyd was not only physically brave but bold with words. When she was brought before Union Gen. Benjamin F. "Beast" Butler before her second release from federal custody in 1863, the general asked why she trembled. She answered that Butler's reputation preceded him. The general was flattered, until Boyd explained.
"I mean, General Butler," she said, "that you are a man whose atrocious conduct and brutality, especially to Southern ladies, is so infamous that even the English Parliament commented upon it. I naturally feel alarmed at being in your presence."
Suffering from typhoid, she was released. Six months later the Confederacy sent her to Europe as a courier. She was to deliver letters from Jefferson Davis. The union captured the blockade runner before she could complete her mission. Union officer Samuel Hardinge, placed aboard as prize master, fell in love with Boyd. Following his discharge from the Navy for allowing the captain of the blockade runner to escape, they married in England in August 1864. Hardinge died in 1865, and Boyd continued to live in England until 1866. In England, she published her memoirs, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, and began a career as an actress and, later, a lecturer. She died in Wisconsin while touring on a speaking engagement.